Study Abroad Corner - Sarah "Kusho" Kakusho in Buenos Aires, Argentina (Fall 08)

 "Not afraid to soar."  This phrase became the words I lived by every day during my study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  I liken the person I was before study abroad to a tiny just-hatched bird.  SUA was my comfortable nest, and freshman and sophomore year cradled me in all of its Soka wonders.  But, behold, mama junior year flew in and kicked me out of the nest to send me out into the world.  It was too early for me and I knew I was not ready. But, once you start falling out of that comfort zone, you only have two options: to continue falling and land [painfully] or to spread your wings and hope something would happen.  Life, then, became a matter of learning to live or don't.

 The hot Florida summer turned to rainy winter in a heart beat and my two-month summer break of untouched Spanish left me estranged in a city where people spoke a different dialect of Spanish, Castellano.  When I arrived at the Buenos Aires airport, the Butler program welcomed me with open arms... and then put me in a taxi by myself en route to my host family's house.  The drizzling rain left a shroud of mystery over the city as we drove through it.  The only thing I clearly remember seeing were the cars next to us, literally close enough that if I were to reach out, I could touch the driver in the other car.  I thought I wouldn't live through the ride.

 The first few weeks alone were so mentally and physically intense; I didn't know how to get through the 5-month program.  Did you know that speaking and trying to understand a different language is very exhausting?  I didn't.  So combining that with the water heater in the building I lived in breaking down my first week, shopping for anything becoming a communication ordeal (you need to know how to say what you want in order to buy it), and getting around the city in cold weather that I was not accustomed to being another challenge; needless to say, the intensity got me sick in bed for a few days.

My Film Track Mates

During those days in bed while scribbling away in my blog, I realized that I was looking at my study abroad situation negatively.  The thought that I was studying in one of the most intense study abroad programs SUA had to offer plagued my mind and I knew that I needed to get rid of that thought and just enjoy what Buenos Aires and even Argentina itself had to offer.  I was in Buenos Aires for the Butler program on my own self-proclaimed mission: to study in the film track that the program offered, in a city renowned as the cultural epicenter among its people.  I wasn't going to let setbacks take that away from me.  They were only in the way of creating my own life-changing experience. 

With this newfound determination and rekindling of my purpose, I explored the city every day until classes started.  I slowly recognized the nuances in each of the barrios (neighborhoods) I regularly visited.  Boca was known for tango and El Caminito; Palermo was the largest barrio and had all the well-known clubs; San Telmo was the barrio of antiques and was where my film school was located; Mataderos had one of the largest ferias (a flea market) that I've known; Belgrano had some of the best food in the city and was where Chinatown resided; Barrio Norte had some of the most obscure shops I'd ever seen; Tigre was where the Rio de Plata flowed; and Recoleta, the ritzy, middle-high class barrio, was where I was living. 


Barrio Boca: El Caminito

And once classes started, I was able to meet and befriend Argentines who had the same interest as I did: filmmaking.  Although the film school was concentrated on film theory, I was able to produce a short montage film with the help of my friends.  Outside of the production, there were many, many readings.  Some classes had the same amount of readings as SUA (40-60 pages per night) and other classes required to finish a book every week.  It was probably one of the most academically brutal experiences I've ever encountered in my life.  I spent long hours, many times all-nighters just to finish my homework and even during finals week for my orals in these university courses, I only slept about 10-12 hours that entire week.

In the end, it was all worth it.  I learned so much from these classes and the city itself.  My love for the city continued to grow.  On weekends I would go out to dinner with my friends, both within my program and from the film school, or meet up with my fellow SUA comrades who studied in a different program.  After school, I would sit in cafes for hours at a time and have mate (herbal tea) with friends.  The city continued to expand and every day there was something new to experience: new food to taste, new museums to go to, new streets to walk along.  Everything.  It became clear: when you open up to the world, the world will open up for you.   


Cerrito Gloria monument in Mendoza, Argentina

I've done things I could never imagine: eat stewed cow intestines and blood sausage, hike up a foothill of the Andes in Bariloche, see waterfalls, step on Uruguayan land, see vineyards in Mendoza, see snow for the first time and hike up snow a meter deep the second time, see Tommy Lee Jones at a film festival.  But I think the most surprising thing that I could not imagine seeing until it happened was being able live in a new environment for almost half a year, overcoming each challenge, and completing my study abroad in Buenos Aires with no regrets.  Words truly cannot express all the things I've encountered in Argentina, the ups and downs, the struggles and victories. 

Studying abroad itself is inexplicable in words. It knows your weaknesses and it won't hesitate to hit you where it hurts the most. You feel like you're out there fighting out in the world, so far away from home and SUA, and yet the battle is almost too close to home... Because you're battling yourself, testing who you are.

You are your worst enemy.

Before arriving to Buenos Aires, I thought I had everything figured out: what I wanted to do, how I wanted to live my life, how I was, how I am, how I wanted to be. But, being in Argentina for 5 months has certainly opened my eyes. In the midst of academics, a new culture, a new city, a new life, I became a different person, whom I couldn't recognize. And, in this process of not knowing whose skin I was in, I'd lost all that I thought I was and all that I had: my comfort zone, my beliefs, my values, my identity...

And while living in this new environment and undergoing this process of becoming a new person and rediscovering myself, I was able to rediscover my beliefs, rediscover my values, rediscover myself. I was able to renew who I was, to make everything that was loosely a part of me something that is now the strong foundation of who I am today. And for that, I've never been more appreciative of everything that I have.

I remember looking out my room window on my last hour in Buenos Aires, thinking, Wow there's definitely a difference between the time I first arrived to Buenos Aires and today.  The rain welcomed me when I stepped off the plane in Buenos Aires.  It was damp and foggy, and my first view of the city was all a blur in the misty street side of Buenos Aires. The sun refused to show itself for the first few weeks and the wind was cold and ceaseless. On the last day, the sun was up and it definitely brought things into a newer, much clearer light; the city was all the more warmer and livelier.  

Basking in the sunlight on a foothill in Mendoza, Argentina
"Winter always turns to spring." This is what my mom told me during one of my most difficult times there.  And sure enough, winter transformed into spring, in my mind and my surroundings.  It might've been a regular summer's day for the porteños (the locals of Buenos Aires), but it was certainly a nice end to my study abroad, a very physical and figurative transformation.  And from that moment, it was time for me to fly with no fear to soar, from the vulnerable person I was to the person I am today, with a little of bit of Argentina safely tucked away in my heart.