In the fall of 2018 I began on one of the most life-changing experiences of my life... I went abroad to study for four months.
My journey took me to Cordoba, Argentina for 3/4 of the months, and then to countries like Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, and Peru for the remaining month.
Growing up, I had traveled to a good portion of states within the middle and eastern United States, the Caribbean, and then for a week my sister and I were fortunate enough to visit Iceland. But none of those trips were done alone. Now, this trip to Latin America was with other students in my program, but we were all entrusted to be responsible for ourselves. At the time, this was a massive undertaking for myself. I still felt like a child. I could not speak Spanish, I had saved just enough money to take me through those 4 months, and I would be away from everything that was comfortable and familiar for longer than I had ever had to experience.
Needless to say, my fears for the trip evaporated very quickly once arriving.
If you have never been to Argentina, I strongly advise that you buy a plane ticket right now and get your butt down there as soon as possible (after COVID please). The people I met there are so kind and curious, and a few of them remain close friends with me to this day. Cordoba especially is a beautiful city to get to know. Unlike Buenos Aires, which has more of the feel of a large US city, Cordoba has a vibe much more similar to a small town. The city is expansive, but easy to navigate. People say hi to you on the street. The shop owners remember you and make conversation when you go to buy produce. And everyone is constantly sharing their mate with you! It's amazing.
This is the rooftop view from my apartment in Cordoba, Argentina.
Compared to the other countries we visited, Argentina really stands on its own. Each country has a feel all its own, so it was truly eye opening to pass through so many in such a short period of time to spot the similarities and differences.However, if I had to choose, my all time favorite destination was Valparaiso, Chile. Valparaiso is without a doubt, the most colorful, lively, and down-to-earth place I visited while abroad. The other students and myself competed in a week long design charrette there. We joined with other students from the Architecture school in Valparaiso, and some other students from neighboring countries, and designed a new waterfront condition in the port of Valparaiso. It was extremely fast paced, and completely enthralling. At the end of the week, each team comprised of two students from my school and 4 students from other schools, presented their project to a panel of professors and community leaders. My team was awarded first place, which made all of us sob and hug like we had never had happiness before this moment. Then the rest of the night was spent partying with the professors and students at a party hosted by the competition organization. If I could, I would relive that day over and over again forever, (even the part where I fell through an antique glass table towards the end of the night).
A secret foot path from downtown the to the building where we presented overlooking part of Valparaiso.
After the initial study portion of the trip was over, and all the other students on the trip had already flown home, myself and two others visited Torres Del Paine, a sublime landscape in southern Chile.
A hiking trail within the preserve of Torres Del Paine, Chile.
Having never visited a national park, I was completely blown away by the grandeur of the landscape in southern Chile. The water, the sky, the mountains, the wildlife: it was all so intense. My friends and I stayed in a hostel about a 2 hour drive from the preserve, but we looked forward to the 5am drive every single day because the entire way was packed with awe inspiring views and vistas. We did not go to Latin America prepared to camp, so if I were to ever return (which I do plan to) I would want to truly experience the environment through camping off one of the many many trails in the park.
Your first view when you enter the park from the east side is a huge glacier within the mountaintops.
Our last stop before returning home was to Peru. We only had a few days left, but we squeezed in a trip to Machu Picchu and the city of Cusco. I spent half the time there with extreme altitude sickness, since we had so little time to adjust to the 11,000 ft altitude. Luckily though, it didn't hit until after we hiked through the ruins of Machu Picchu. The towns and landscapes leading up to the famous ruins were completely wild. Before arriving in the touristy town of Aguas Calientes below Machu Picchu, it felt almost barren of people. It was truly incredible. If you do plan on visiting Machu Picchu during your lifetime (which you absolutely should do!) be warned that the less time you spend there, the more your wallet and your stomach will hurt. There are many cost effective ways to arrive at Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu from the Lima airport, but you need a week or more in order to do it (aka hiking, communal van ride, more hiking, etc). Being that my friends and I were there for only about four days, we had to practically sell our souls in order to get to the ruins and back in that time span. But, if you have the money to spend, the luxury of a panoramic train ride through the Peruvian mountains is absolutely worth the money.
Overlooking Agua Calientes from Machu Picchu
The experience of studying and traveling abroad is something that completely changed how I view myself and the world around me. Were moments of the trip uncomfortable or scary? Of course. But had I never put myself in those situations, I would not be the person that I am today. I will always recommend that you take a leap of faith and put yourself in those seemingly new and uncomfortable situations. Life is too short to experience it idly. Apply some of that mindful thinking we touched on yesterday, and see where the current takes you!
During my trip I journaled once a week while in Cordoba, and then everyday while traveling around the neighboring countries. There are hundreds of pages to this journal. I just recently was looking back at it, and had a flood of familiar emotion for the love that I found while in Latin America. It's impossible to touch on even a portion of my experience while abroad, so if you are interested in reading this journal, reach out to me and I would be more than happy to share it with you!