La Pompa

In The Art of Travel Spring 2017, 8. Bubble, Buenos Aires by Matthew G

Imagine the soap bubbles of your childhood.  Those filmy spheres floating in the air, reflecting flashes of pinks and greens in the light of the sun while you tried to pop them before they drifted to the ground.  As we all talk about ‘the bubble’ this week, this idyllic image fills my head, but the bubble I need to talk about is nowhere near as fun.  Without a doubt, I am stuck in the bubble.  I know it.  I’ve known it since the day I got here.  And I see how it’s standing in my way of appreciating and enjoying my time in this city.  But I promise you, I’m trying to do something about it.  

New York University Buenos Aires is housed in a regal building that formerly was the site of the Polish Embassy.  Today it is home to classrooms, administration offices, and lounge space for the students spread over four floors.  There are approximately 70 students studying abroad in Buenos Aires with me, and space has gotten tight.  Immediately, as you enter the building, you turn to our main lounge where we collectively congregate to chat, eat, or do homework.  This is a very popular area and usually filled with both people and sound.  Some try to find peace in the second floor computer room, but slowly this space too is filled with distractions.  In desperation, an even smaller number will track up four flights of stairs to a small room filled with the university’s book collection, but even here, silence is a rarity.  Wherever I turn, I am surrounded by my peers, which I realize might not seem so bad.  But I made the choice to study in Buenos Aires for very specific reasons, and to put it frankly, chatting with Americans wasn’t one of them.

I am in Buenos Aires to immerse myself in Latin American culture and live in an environment that will bolster my Spanish skills.  I want to learn about how Argentina’s history has shaped today’s society, both from the perspective of those who lived through military dictatorships and those who have only known democracy.  I am studying migrants who have left their country to seek opportunity in an entirely new place, I want to know their motivations and their experiences.  But am I doing any of that?  Well, honestly, I’m not so sure.

I’m terrified that I’m wasting my time here.  A few weeks ago, someone told me that we were about 40% through the semester and I couldn’t believe it.  I still wasn’t having conversations in Spanish regularly, didn’t spend time with anyone but NYU students, and wasn’t speaking up at my internship.  But it was a needed wake-up call.  I realized I’d spent so much time thinking that it wasn’t the experience I was expecting, but without taking the initiative to do anything about it.  

It’s been a few weeks since that conversation, and I’m happy to report some improvements.  I started speaking more with the administrators of NYUBA, both in English and Spanish, asking them about the education structure in the city.  I devoted more time to friends of my family who live nearby, a real Argentinian couple active in social action and political movements.  I asked my host grandmother if I could cook with her so I could learn Argentinian recipes and related vocabulary.  And I started seeing a young man who only speaks Spanish (I have to say, it’s a good feeling to realize that you’re proficient enough to flirt in another language).  But I’ve also been more active about going out and seeing things on my own.  I’m keeping a list of sites I want to see, and planning ahead for it.  When I need to study I try to visit new coffee shops or restaurants where I can can people watch while I procrastinate my work.  And it’s working!  I can feel the difference.  I feel engaged, I feel active, and I feel happy.  Sure, the bubble is still there, but I’m confident that with some determination and self-awareness, there is still enough time to pop it. 

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  • Costanera: Matthew G