On December 18, John and I arrived back in Windsor to celebrate Christmas with our families. Then he flew back to Argentina on Boxing Day and I stayed here in Canada to return to my job as an education consultant. It was hard to see him off at the airport, and I know it was hard for him to see me putting my suitcases away for good while he was packing to go.
These past six months in Argentina were an amazing learning experience. Here's a brief and incomplete list of what I've learned (as well as things I already knew but were reinforced) from this experience:
Meeting people is one of the best parts of any trip. In Argentina, through my little bit of Spanish, their little bit of English and the universal language of pantomime we are able to communicate. People were helpful everywhere we went and I learned that language does not have to be a barrier to communication. I managed to survive for six months in a country without knowing how to speak the language when I arrived. The fact that Spanish alphabet is almost identical to the English alphabet made learning to read the language much much easier. I can speak a little bit of Spanish now but still struggle when listening to others speak Spanish. They seem to talk so fast and use so many words. I speak Spanish very very slowly and use a few nouns and a lot of pointing. I will be much more cognizant of my own use of language when speaking with people at home who are English Language Learners.
Go for it. I have learned that I am capable of taking on such a major life challenge with little notice and very little planning due in no small part to an amazing partner and incredibly supportive family.
Technology changes everything. While in Argentina I was able to continue my employment in a part time capacity by teaching online courses for a university. I was able to use email to stay in constant touch with my replacement at work and answer all his questions so that the transition back to work should be less stressful. We were able to download apps on our phones to learn Spanish and to translate signs and menus. Favourite apps were those that were able to function without using data such as WordMagic and BrainScape. I was disappointed that I wasn't able to use FaceTime very often as the wireless connection would often cut out and make it more frustrating than rewarding. However on the occasions when it did work, it was wonderful. If I was to do a trip like this again, I would definitely want to find out more about tools like Skype. Through Facebook, I was able to find other expats in Cordoba and share strategies and experiences. Through this blog, I was able to share my experiences with family, friends and strangers.
Home can be more than one place. Usually when I'm talking about home, I'm referring to our house in Windsor, or the house where I grew up in Comber. But many times John and I would be out for dinner or for a walk and when we would say, "It's time to head home" we were referring to whatever apartment we happened to be living in at the time. Even though it wasn't our furniture or our 'stuff' once we unpacked our bags and toured the neighbourhood, wherever we were living became home even if only for a few weeks.
Living somewhere is so different than being a tourist. I've toured lots of foreign cities but to actually live in one for six months is a whole different challenge. Things that I might have barely noticed as a tourist gradually grate on your nerves until you have to decide to either let it bother you all the time, ignore it or do something about it. For example, in Cordoba there is a real problem with littering and almost no recycling program. At first it bothered me a bit, but as time went on it drove me crazy to see garbage everywhere. I felt terrible as I dumped my plastic, paper and other recyclables in the garbage everyday. The litter still drives me crazy and even when I pick up some of it as I'm out for a walk, it doesn't make much of a difference in the overall mess. However, there are lots of people who earn money by going through the garbage looking for cardboard to recycle so I made sure to put my cardboard out separately so they could pick it up easily. I was so delighted when I got to El Calafate and Ushuaia to see that the residents there take exceptional care of the environment - not a scrap of litter anywhere!
Living in Argentina for six months gave me time to learn more about the country, the culture and the politics, the arts and the language, than if I had only been here on vacation. Grocery shopping, banking, laundry, going to the movies are all an adventure and a challenge when you are living abroad. It makes we want to go back to some of the places that I've been as a tourist and stick around for a bit longer to get to know those places too.
Born to roam. This experience reinforced what I've always known - I love to travel. I love to see new places, meet new people, experience new things. Even though it feels wonderful to be home, I can't wait to head out again whether it's for a quick getaway or a longer trip.
So this is my last blog entry ..... for now. It's back to work on Monday and back to my normal routines. I'm sure that the first few days will be a challenge - working online means no commute, no need for work clothes and make up, and no need to pack a lunch. But working online also means communicating in the virtual world, and I'm looking forward to seeing my colleagues and working together with them in the real world. But if and when opportunity knocks, my bags will be packed and I'll be off to the next adventure!!! Stay tuned.