One wall of my sixth grade classroom was covered with a world map. Each day that school year, I settled into my desk next to the wall and gazed at the continents beside me. This is when Argentina first entered my life. My desk lined up perfectly with the Southern Cone, and after a few weeks I had memorized the capitals of South America, wondered just how cold it was at the South Pole and tried unsuccessfully to pronounce ‘Uruguay.’
My interest in traveling and geography had begun. I took my first airplane trip that same year and longed for the age when I could travel and explore as I wished. As high school became college, I felt I was on the verge of traveling like I had dreamed about since sixth grade. I planned to set off for places only known on maps, learn a few languages and live happily ever after.
It was my junior year of college and the time to go abroad had come. Friends shared stories from semesters in Spain, Peru and Mexico which made me think very carefully about my own destination. For weeks I read brochures but always felt torn between rugged South America and tropical Costa Rica. In the end I chose to study with Academic Programs International in the sophisticated city of Buenos Aires, Argentina- a classic metropolis with a European twist in a country with nearly every geographic feature within its five international borders.
The first week in Buenos Aires was a blur of excitement, confusion and the first of many not-so-successful tango lessons. I soon fell in step with the metropolitan rhythm, and within a month I had conquered the subway system and located the best ice cream shops near my apartment. Just as Buenos Aires began its transition to summer, it was time for us to pull out our coats and hats again for an API group trip to the southern port town of Ushuaia.
As the postcards and penguin souvenirs show, Ushuaia is known for being the southernmost city in the world. Hourly tours on the ‘tren al fin del mundo’ (train to the end of the world) give tourists the opportunity to see the frigid landscape that was once home to the Fuegian people, the nomadic descendants of South American tribes who continued exploring southward until they reached land’s end. During my three days in Ushuaia, I realized that I too had reached an end. After four almost dream-like months in Argentina, I would soon pack, say my goodbyes, and return to Alabama. I wandered the streets of Ushuaia just before sunset thinking of my experiences and trying to plan the very day when I would return.
A bright blue concrete wall scribbled with graffiti came into view, and it was as if no better words (el fin no existe/there is no end) could summarize my experience abroad. Sure, my time abroad was winding down, but I realized that Argentina’s impact on my life will never end. What started in sixth grade as geography trivia and curiosity has grown into a dream come true with the potential to come true over and over again with each new passport stamp.