Maybe it was just the 50 hours of travel that transpired between Rosario and Eugene after my six weeks abroad. Maybe it was the circumstances of life into which I returned with people coming and going throughout the period. Maybe it is just the absence of any semblance of routine that usually occupies the doldrums of summer.
Whatever it may be, I have been back in the United States for nearly two weeks and I still feel tired and disjointed and out of sync with reality. I know I should already be back on Pacific time and should be beyond the jet lag by now, but I still find myself yawning and lethargic in the morning and in the afternoon. I drink coffee, I take an afternoon mate break, but nothing seems to shake the doldrums.
It really all started while I was still in Rosario, the last classes finished and the farewell dinner in the rearview mirror. I was caught in the in-between zone where the obligations that bound me to Argentina were complete but I still had three days left in the country. Four of us wandered the city on that Saturday, visiting the Estadio Gigante de Arroyito and meandering to and fro from north to south and then westward and back again. We glimpsed the Fontanarrosa painting of the canalla, one of the group bought a couple kilos of tangerines, and eventually we stumbled our way to some beers.
Sunday involved much of the same, as I got up late and shared lunch with my host mom before meeting up with friends yet again. We sat along the river, splitting quarts of Quilmes among a group now whittled down to three. We took our merry time walking toward lomitos and then split back off to our respective residences. It felt like time had accelerated as I laid down for my penultimate night of slumber at the apartment I had called home for the past five weeks.
Monday was the last day really hanging out in Rosario. I wandered with Quinn buying last-minute souvenirs. I went home and ate some leftover cannelloni in the refrigerator. I killed time watching shows about soccer, and then that evening I wandered over to the hostel where the new students had arrived for one last visit with the staff and faculty of the program and the students that were in town for both sessions.
Upon getting home, a message was waiting from my wife. I got in contact to learn that a medical emergency in the family would prevent her from coming to San Francisco to meet me at the airport. Simultaneously tired and wired, I stayed up until two in the morning booking train tickets from California back home and steeled my nerves for what was amounting to 50 straight hours of travel that awaited my return to Eugene from Rosario. I laid my head on the pillow one last time, wanting nothing more than to already be home.
Yet I was still around for another day. Waking up on Tuesday, I packed the last items into my bags and changed the sheets on a bed I can almost guarantee I’ll never sleep upon again. I had one last meal with my host mom, sipping coffee and mate and eating chicharrones from the bakery across the street one more time. Then she went to work, I headed over to the program site, and dropped my bags before taking advantage of one final free lunch.
Then Zach and I went for two final quarts of Quilmes Bock at Silhouettes on Moreno and Urquiza before the Tienda Leon bus swooped me up for the commencement of my odyssey home. From 3:20 pm local time in Rosario until just after 1:00 pm local time in Eugene two days later, I was either on a bus or a train or an airplane or in a station waiting for the next departure. My itinerary looked something like this (with Pacific time in parentheses):
- Tues/3:15pm (11:15am): board bus to Buenos Aires
- Wed/12:50am (8:50pm): flight to Panama City
- Wed/6:22am (4:22am): arrive in Panama City
- Wed/9:55am (7:55am): flight to Houston
- Wed/2:05pm (12:05pm): arrive in Houston
- Wed/3:08pm (1:08pm): flight to San Francisco
- Wed/5:15pm: arrive in San Francisco
- Wed/6:09pm: BART train to Millbrae Station
- Wed/6:30-6:45pm: Caltrain to San Francisco Station
- Wed/8:30pm: Amtrak bus to Emeryville
- Wed/10:04pm: Amtrak train departs Emeryville
- Thu/12:29pm: arrival in Eugene
Naturally, not everything was on time. The flights worked out so that I arrived almost 45 minutes early in Panama City and about 15 minutes early in Houston (time I needed due to customs clearance). I caught an early bus from San Francisco to Emeryville. And then the train arrived late in Emeryville by nearly an hour, which set the last leg further back than desired.
All told, I probably mustered a grand total of less than five hours of fractured, restless sleep during the two-day trip. I had two meals and three whiskies in that time period. I arrived in Eugene to find my wife, my sister, and the seven-year-old cousin of my wife with whom I’ve been living the past six months there at the train station to greet me. We waited for my checked bag, and then it was off and back into the reality of my Oregon life.
On one hand, I find myself missing aspects of Rosario. I miss the close proximity of everything, how I could walk everywhere without difficulty. I miss the bakeries, I miss the prices for things like beer and cigarettes, and I miss hearing Spanish all the time in that idiomatic pronunciations and inflections that automatically identify the speech as Argentine dialect. I miss the people I met along the way, the places that became regular hangouts, and the food and wine that graced the table every night.
On the other hand, I find myself simultaneously happy to be back in the United States and perplexed by the sudden shift in my regular routines. Summer has always been the most listless time of the year for me, a guy who thrives on a daily schedule. It was doubly difficult to come back to the uncertainty of home, unsure about what I am supposed to be doing with myself in this interim period before classes start again at UO in the autumn. And after a weekend together in Eugene, it was tough to say goodbye yet again to my wife as she headed back to Seattle for work.
I know life will settle back into familiar rhythms again soon enough. Before too long Argentina will become little more than a series of sepia-tinged vignettes that live on in my brain, in my photographs, in the words I’ve written about the experience, and in the shared memories of those with whom I traveled to Rosario. Before too long, I’ll be focused on the tasks at hand as I conclude my senior year and work on my thesis and prepare to apply for postgraduate programs.
What is the optimum balance for somebody who returns home after living abroad? Is it better to cling for dear life to the experiences you just left behind? Is it more callous to hang on to the past at the expense of your present, or to let those memories fade away?
Ultimately everyone who spends an extended amount of time in a place is shaped by it in some way. Just as I have been shaped by my time living in Wisconsin, Wyoming, Texas, Iowa, Illinois, and Oregon, so too have I grown during my time in Argentina. My return to the US brought home a person who has changed in imperceptible yet meaningful ways between the entry and exit stamps in his passport.
I don’t know what the future will hold. I do know that I want to continue working on my Spanish more; getting out of the airport in San Francisco and hearing nothing besides English conversations all around was frankly disorienting after being forced to concentrate at all times during what amounted to Spanish-language immersion. I am excited to finally sit down and sift through the research materials I brought home from my time at the Parque de España. And I look forward to connecting with classmates I met down there and Professor Aguirre yet again, and with Beba when she visits UO in November.
In the short term, I find myself vacillating between wistful longing for the life that had started to become familiar in Argentina just when I had to leave. In the long term, I know that the experience will help drive me in my studies to try to set myself up to have the opportunity to live abroad again someday — possibly as a visiting professor teaching one of these classes much like Professor Aguirre. Wherever my studies or my career take me in the future, I know that I can survive alone in another place and adapt to the society in which I am residing for that period.
Thank you again to everyone who made the experience so powerful at such a formative crossroads in my academic and professional career. Both my family and friends in the United States as well as the new friends that blessed my time in Argentina were instrumental in making this trip worthwhile.