Life is full of contradictions. I knew that my experience in Buenos Aires would push me to be more independent, but I never guessed that I would gain a new family and a network of relationships that would teach me about the importance of trusting and depending on those around me. My first days living in the city were exhilarating; taking the bus by myself for the first time without my host sister, ordering food at restaurants, and buying photocopies of course readings were really—as opposed to challenging my language skills—all mini-tests of my confidence. In an unfamiliar environment, I chose to throw myself into these situations and had to allow myself the possibility of failure. On more than one occasion I stared awkwardly out of the bus windows trying to determine where my stop was (or couldn’t even find the bus stop to get on the “colectivo” (bus) in the first place) but I was so proud when I finally reached my destination without any help. Once I was more comfortable getting around the city, I chose to participate in a tour of the Boca Juniors (one of the most popular futbol/soccer teams in the city) training center and take a clinic with one of their junior coaches, went to Yom Kippur services at a local Jewish congregation, started taking an improvisation-acting workshops, and began to attend weekly tango classes. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, I had to take the initiative to show up alone, practically without knowing anyone beforehand. Sometimes being independent wasn’t easy, though, and I slowly began to realize how much I had taken my University community for granted. The last time I truly was forced out of my comfort zone was freshman year, but even then, I was only one state away from my native California, and we lived within the protective bubble of our dorm building and the greater UO campus. So, amidst my early adventures in Buenos Aires, I had a wonderful host sister, made a few friends and met some really great people, but I still felt like I was missing my community.
Ironically, it was my independence that eventually led me to find my two new families in Argentina: Matemurga and a group of international friends. As a theatre major, I knew that I wanted to see different performances in the city and participate in a form of theatre that is distinct from the forms and styles with which we typically produce theatre in the United States. Instead of choosing an internship position coordinated by my host organization, I sought out an independent internship with Matemurga, a community theatre group, or teatro comunitario, based in the Villa Crespo neighborhood. The first day I arrived to watch a rehearsal, I found many people coming up to introduce themselves, and by the next week they were greeting me as if I was a long-lost friend. Through this experience, I not only collaborated on their new performance Herido Barrio and learned about the successes and struggles of producing theatre, but I learned about myself and about being a part of a multi-generational supportive organization whose focus is theatre “by the community, for the community”. Coincidentally, I first experienced teatro comunitario with another student, Fanny, from the University of Buenos Aires who ended up becoming part of my group of international friends. In the coming weeks, I met her other roommates and one of their cousins, and we bonded over a love of music and sense of humor. One of the most special experiences with them, though, was being able to share dinners with each other where we would cook foods from our native countries: the United States, Peru, France, and the island Reunion. If I hadn’t been confident enough to make conversation with Fanny that first day in class, I might have never had the opportunity to share my adventures with these amazing and inspiring people.
Unfortunately, joining these communities made leaving Buenos Aires bittersweet, and I left knowing that, even with Facebook and Skype, it can be difficult to stay in touch. Studying abroad gave me a new sense of independence and confidence in myself, but also an awareness of diverse cultures, histories, and the importance of teamwork and community. I hope that my new friends and family know that they are always welcome if they come to the United States, and I am filled with gratitude at their generosity and love and for welcoming me into their lives.
Ariella Wolfe, Buenos Aires, Argentina