When I first showed up in Argentina español was nonstop mental stimulation: I had to think double - listening in spanish and translating into english. The changes in schedule had me confused round the clock trying to figure out what would come next (It's 10:30PM... am I going to get dinner soon??). Just getting to know a new family and a new town is challenging enough, forget about cultural differences. The first few week were stressful and exciting - a high energy combination that didn't leave me much time to think.
But after a few weeks (it's been six now, I think) the novelty wears off, things slow down, and I start to settle down in this place I'll be living for the next several months. In that moment the homesickness can really hit.
A sense of loneliness hit me the hardest. In New Jersey I have a whole slew of friends, my family, and teachers who I love to talk to. Here I don't have those people. And, as it always goes, I realize how valuable those people are to me now that I'm separated from them.
When I hopped off the plane, I had zero friends in Argentina, only my host family. Yet I was never alone, so to speak, because Argentines are very friendly and eager to welcome you to social events. There was never a weekend when I wasn't invited to a party or a disco. But the discos got repetitive fast (dance, drink, and act like a fool until 6 in the morning. Next week? Dance, drink, and act like a fool until 6 in the morning). And after three weeks or so of the same discos, they actually started getting boring. I started opting to hang out instead with a group of kids from the university's Arts School (the Arts School is where I finally wound up in terms of classes. I am studying theatre). I wound up enjoying my time much more chilling out with these artsy kids than dancing at the clubs. And then I realized, "Oh, these people are my friends! Like, friends!"
That was a wonderful thing to realize. There's a difference between "Hey David, let's go party" friends and "Hey David, is everything going alright?" friends. I needed the latter. If you want to survive ten thousand kilometers away from home for five months, you absolutely need the latter.
Culture differences exist in almost every aspect of life here: the food, the schedule, the way you greet old people, what time of day you wear jeans, teacher-student interaction, what music you play when friends are visiting, the list goes on. But I've discovered two things that are constant: B.O. and friendship. When you go to the gym, people stink, in every country on the planet. Likewise unchanging is the concept of friendship. And I mean real friendship, as opposed to daily social interaction with your buds (which does change with culture). True Argentine friendship feels the same as true North American friendship. It doesn't matter USA, Paraguay, or Thailand - I've decided that the concept of true friendship knows no cultural boundaries.
To those of you who know me (and really know me, not just know me) it should make some sense why I wound up with the artsy kids as my core group of friends. They're sort of a variation on my core group of friends at home. Our preferred activity is sitting on a rooftop talking about philosophy and artistic expression. One night we got together, dressed up in costumes, mixed experimental techno music on a turntable, and collectively painted a nonrepresentational mural of sorts on a huge canvas. More than half of them play in one band or another (Always rock music, they detest cumbia, the more popular music in La Rioja), and at least half of them are homosexual. One time the band played at a political demonstration in the central plaza. Spectators were waving red flags with images of Che Guevara, and there were my friends rocking out on the guitar and bass.
They could be artists, scientists, or strippers. The point is, they're my friends. They are people who talk to me and want to know how I'm doing. The want me to feel at home and comfortable. They are people who I won't remember as "Argentine people I met in Argentina," but rather as "friends." As much my friends as my friends who I call my friends in the United States.