Cultural Exchange to Argentina | My Family Travels
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This was it! I was leaving everything I understood to travel to a place about which I knew very little. And so, as I glanced back at my family one last time, waving goodbye, my adventure began. 73 hours, 2 layovers, an AFS exchange student orientation, and 3 bus rides later; I arrived at the place I would call home for the next 7 months — Corrientes, Argentina. Due to long distances between cities and poor air connections, bus service dominates domestic travel in Argentina. The most reliable I found was Flecha Bus. When I finally arrived at my new home, I looked at a rusty green door in between a strange smelling health food store and a pharmacy with baby diapers stacked high against the windows. The door flung open with a bang and a short woman and tall stern man rushed to take me into their comforting grasps. “Bievenidos Hija!” they shouted kissing me on my cheeks.  Behind them stampeded the extended family, including four grandparents, an uncle and aunt, seven cousins of every age and a yippy white dog. This was going to take some time to get use to!

And so my new vibrant life that would throw me in every direction began. My struggle as an exchange student with their language, Castellano, became apparent the first time my mom asked me to buy bread at San Jose Pan, the best bakery in Corrientes. I accidentally asked for three pounds of bread instead of three pesos worth. However, grasping a new language was not the only challenge.  I quickly learned that due to crazy Argentina drivers, it was hit or miss trying to cross roads. Especially in Buenos Aires when crossing Nueve de Julio, the widest street in the world.  I got used to the idea that every day at 3 o’clock everyone in the town closed their doors and took a siesta. For travelers this is the perfect time to relax and walk on the waterfront next to the Parana River. I grew to love Sundays, which were spent with the whole family, sharing funny memories and cooking asado (barbeque). The meat is so tender in Argentina that you can cut it with a fork! Other great food in Corrientes is the ice cream at San Carlos heladaria, empanadas and olive pizza at Don Naza Pizzeria and chipa (balls of bread with cheese) sold by local venders. 

My first letters home described the poverty of Corrientes, the run down buildings and sidewalks with beggars. Gradually, I came to the realization that what I saw was only the veneer of the town and beneath this illusion was a culture rich in tradition and relationships. As I absorbed the culture of Corrientes, I learned a new way of thinking, a new way of seeing, and new way of life.

Stepping out of my comfort zone, out of my own subjective reality, I saw that my perception of the world as an American was one-dimensional. I never imagined the impact traveling would make on me until I returned home and saw my old friends. I looked at how they acted and I saw a reflection of how I used to be. People, who believe traveling is just a time to relax and escape their busy worlds, are missing an opportunity to experience a new culture, to see beyond themselves, and to see the world as a whole. For me, Argentina was the beginning, but just like others who love to travel, it certainly will not be the last.

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