What Did You Learn? l #12

Cliché questions engender cliché answers, so it’s no surprise that this hollow inquisition often provokes meaningless repeated answers about expanding world-views; I for one am certainly tempted to default to auto-pilot whenever I encounter something of the sort, and I would argue this is not even the full extent of the damage. To me, the vague and vapid nature of such questions is not only rehashed but downright insidious, due to the fact that, in this context, it opens people up to making generalizations about a limited experience in a usually foreign country. I cannot count of the number of times I’ve heard people (both well-intentioned and not), after doing some such trip to country X, making comments like “X-ns do this” “This happens here” “They do this here (in country X)” etc. My most recent and distinct memory is of a retired Australian man who stayed a few days in our hostel making comments about “Chileans” and “What they do in Chile” despite, per my questioning, only having spent a total of one week in Santiago. This is not to say at all that experiences as valuable as those of studying abroad shouldn’t be related, and I concede the classic rebuttal that “stereotypes are based in truth”. Rather, the point at which I’ve arrived while thinking about how to do this reflection is that being more precise, or at least more careful, seems to me to result in not only a more ethical and representative cultural depiction from the storyteller but also a more enjoyable and synthesizable experience for the listener. One more qualification: obviously by no means are my takeaways perfect, in that even with careful phrasing I still only left Buenos Aires once in the course of 3 months. I’m merely doing my best to keep to this standard (as is all anyone can ever do). So what did I learn? I learned what it’s like not to experience so much as witness machismo first-hand, instead of through literature or other people’s stories. I cannot speak as to its modern-day prevalence or trend, however I personally saw it every night we went out to a club or whatnot. This was a humbling look into a world I truly cannot even imagine. I also learned the spanish I learn in school, what is often not-so-humbly referred to as “el estándar” doesn’t really seem to exist (the only true generalizations are those that denounce other ones). I’ve detailed previously how wildly different Argentinian Spanish is from the classroom version, and I lost count of the number of times my boss at work corrected a sentence of one of my translations that would have been perfectly accepted at school, simply because “no se pasa el castellano así”. Finally, it would be impossible to avoid clichés altogether, so yes, I learned about myself. Despite a fair number of us attending the same school, I knew absolutely no one going into this trip, and 3 months later I have plans to consistently hang out with many of the people I met, something I never would have believed had you told me at the beginning. I’m still a raging introvert, but quite literally being forced to meet new people in the hostel and later being pulled to the night club by those very people taught me that if I have people I love supporting me, socializing actually can be quite fun (still exhausting, but fun), as well as the fact that there are many Argentinians who can dance much better plastered than I can stone-cold sober. My apologies for the relative heaviness of this post; I couldn’t be happier to be home, but leaving was also much harder than I anticipated. Additionally, I’ve been to several countries in Europe, however this was my first time ever in a culture I would consider substantially different from the United States, so I’m somewhat hyper-fixated on recognizing and respecting those differences. And with that, I’m off; thank you loyal readers, it’s been an honor and a privilege =) lots of goodbye pics this time around, couldn’t tell ya why

PC: Emily Wilbar
Puerto Madero, one last time
Puerto Madero, one last time
Just a boy and his boi
The Terrible Trio
The Dynamic Duo
Todo El Equipo
My overall coordinator/supervisor, Pilar
Don’t cry for me Argentina

2 thoughts on “What Did You Learn? l #12

  • August 14, 2017 at 7:30 pm
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    I love the responsibility you take towards representing your experience ethically rather than how some people generalize based on a very limited experience. When I am abroad and people ask me what the United States is like, it’s difficult for me to explain the limits of my experience while also speaking on some cultural norms that I’ve observed, and I’ve lived here my whole life. It’s such a tricky balance towards exposing people to differences while not leading them to generalize about a whole country or group of people.

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  • August 14, 2017 at 11:29 pm
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    Matt, I’m so glad you are back in the United States, but what a wonderful experience! Remember everything. I want to know everything. Love, Nana

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