By Lena Castro
Dear Beloved School on the River,
I do miss you and your fall weather; we are rapidly approaching summer here in the Southern Hemisphere. I suppose you want to know what I’ve temporarily replaced you with.
Here in Buenos Aires, I live in a cozy apartment with a single mother, her 8-year-old daughter, another U.S. student from a different program, and their “ghost” dog that sneaks into my room to lay in me in the middle of the night. I think the 8-year-old likes me, she constantly is making me play dress-up with her – even though I’m always the villain, not sure what that is about – and tries to correct my major essays.
Each day, I commute my way across the city for class and other assorted adventures. I elect to take the bus because it has taken me so long to learn the system that now it only seems right for me to utilize this skill. I just now need to learn not to take the bus during rush hour, or else I will continue to almost knock down my fellow passengers like dominos as the driver surges and suddenly stops. I’m constantly in fear for my life with the drivers here; I quickly discovered that I cannot continue my habit of jaywalking if I want to ever see the St. Mary’s River again.
My classes are primarily in the morning, which frees up the rest of my day to go try new empanada flavors and read in the countless parks of my neighborhood. Sometimes there are outdoor markets, where I browse longingly at the wonderful items I’m too cheap to purchase, like countless leather products and artisan alfajores (cookies that will change your life).
On most Tuesdays, I go to one of the older neighborhoods of San Telmo to attend a mate conversation club. This club gives me a change to meet and exchange languages, fifteen minutes in Spanish and then fifteen in English, for native speakers to enjoy the change and to be both comfortable and tested. Here, I can consume endless amounts of mate tea and toast with dulce de leche and learn insults, flirtations, other bits of conversation you don’t necessarily learn in a Maryland academic literature course. The people who flock to this meeting typically are around my age, either travelers or permanent locals. Some of us have affectionately dubbed this weekly meeting “speed-dating for friends.”
I’m apparently blatantly American based on appearances; it’s hard to find a blonde who is not a middle-aged woman in denial about her age and the sleek, all-black city style is something I am constantly trying to achieve. As I walk into a store, the checkout person always seizes the opportunity to practice their English, while I just want to be taken seriously as a Spanish speaker. Despite this little setback, I am absolutely sure that my speaking ability has improved. Now, if I could just tackle that distinct Argentine accent.