Argentina: an experience vs. an immersion
Issue date: 10/2/09 Section: Opinion
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Mind you, I don't feel as if I have shied away from expriencing this country. I´ve traveled all over the city, seen various neighborhoods, bars, and restaurants, traveled outside the city more than once to see other Argentine cities, and met locals at every point along the way.
So I´m right on the road to immersion, right? No, still far from it, and I say this for reasons you wouldn´t initially expect.
What has made me feel like there´s something missing in my experience? It´s what I realize as I customarily board the Subte (subway) listening to bands like the Killers, Coldplay, and Keane. It´s what I realize as I read the latest article of in The New York Times concerning the debate on U.S. health care reform. It´s what I realize as I decide to go out for a coffee with one of my American friends after a class. It´s what I realize while writing this very column for The Observer, for which I have to funnel my thoughts and opinions into an English medium. What I´ve realized is that true immersion is a far more personal and conscious process than I had previously imagined.
As it turns out, I have not found hordes of Argentines eagerly running up to me, wanting to become my best friend, and desiring to spend hours upon hours patiently dealing with my clumsy control of the language. Tango classes that aren't filled to the brim with tourists or other Americans are scarce. I do not have a cell phone full of my Argentine classmates´ numbers; they have their own boyfriends, girlfriends, jobs, problems, hobbies, and passions, and this semester is just another one tacked onto their lives, and I happen to be a temporary consequence of one tiny, incedental aspect of their lives. Buenos Aires is an enormous international city where a foreigner - literally one in a million - does not shock or impress a passerby.
A truly immersed student is not passive. Immersion in the true sense requires an active and voluntary change of daily habits and customs. It means completely changing the playlist on my iPod such that I can´t hear my favorite bands as a comfort on the way to class. It also means allowing myself to become somewhat ignorant of the happenings in the U.S. and instead concentrate on filling my mind exclusively with the events and problems of Latin America. It also means trying out bars and visiting neighborhoods alone, and ones outside the typically American-infested areas of Palermo and Recoleta.
In short, one can without doubt have a good experience studying abroad without making the extra efforts to abandon their old comforts and habits. But for me, the most important thing is to have a true experience where I get as close as possible to being an Argentine in every sense of the word.