All posts by Zach Bigalke

Zach Bigalke recently completed his M.A. in History at the University of Oregon in 2017, with a focus on the impact of immigration on the development of sport, culture, and national identity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Writing about various football codes, he is a regular contributor at Sport in American History as well as a college football journalist for Saturday Blitz. Reach out on Twitter at @zbigalke.

After Argentina

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.


Nos vemos,


Day 36: (Part 1) Wrapping Up Soccer History

It was a rough morning. I was up until 5:30 in the morning finishing the final paper for the Soccer, Culture, and Politics in Latin America class that had been my initial impetus for coming to Argentina. After several kettles worth of mate and a lot of keystrokes, I finally managed to complete the assignment.

I laid down to try to get some sleep before my conversation final, but instead of blissful slumber all I managed to get was one hour of in-and-out drowsiness before somebody decided to start laying on the buzzer to the apartment. I hoped the first burst was just a dream and turned over. The second one rang louder and longer as I returned to full consciousness. The third involved 30 seconds or so of continuous ringing.

This went on for a (not-so-)good ten minutes or so, alternating short and long bursts of ringing making it impossible to reach any form of sleep — much less REM patterns. I dozed on and off for the next hour or so after whoever was downstairs finally gave up their game, but it was a rough day the rest of the way that involved plenty of caffeine.

I gave up on getting any actual rest and fired the computer back up, reading through the paper one last time before sending it off to Carlos. I have a feeling he knew exactly what he was in for when he wrote the assignment, considering I asked him during the last lecture on the Thursday prior whether there was any maximum length to go with the five-page minimum.

He smiled and said no, almost a challenge to the students, and what emerged from my late-night typing was 16 pages about the concurrent growth of soccer in Brazil and Argentina, from the sport’s introduction by the British in the late 1800s to the current rivalry between the two South American soccer powerhouses that manifested itself yet again this year at the World Cup.

Feel free to read it for yourself… and don’t hesitate to let me know what you think, whether in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.


READ The Contempt of Familiarity: The Concurrent Metamorphoses of Soccer in Brazil and Argentina (PDF)

Day 11: Wandering the River

I woke up early after getting a solid night of sleep for a change, ready to knock out my first assignment for my Conversation 3 class. The assignment, modeled after a Lonely Planet guide about Rosario that we had been required to read earlier in the week for class, involved writing a mini-guide about our hometown. Sunlight flowed through the windows as I started writing about Jackson Lake Lodge in the living room. Continue reading Day 11: Wandering the River

Day 10: From Boliche to Borracho

We flagged a taxi outside the apartment and made our way toward Juan de la Cosa, a bar owned by a friend of the two ladies with whom I was out on the town. They joked in the backseat as I sat in the front of the cab, weaving our way in directions I didn’t quite yet understand before we were deposited at the doorstep. Continue reading Day 10: From Boliche to Borracho

Day 9: First Sight of the Monument

My new schedule liberated my mornings on Thursdays and Fridays. After having a long day on Thursday, I didn’t have to worry about attending class until soccer class started at 12:30. But I still needed to talk to the program director about the switch to officially clear my move to level-three Spanish, and thus I was up and ready to head to campus at 9. Continue reading Day 9: First Sight of the Monument

Day 8: Moving Up

Apparently my Spanish is far better than I give myself credit. After studying a bit the prior evening, I had no problem with the vocabulary we had learned yesterday. We played a game of Pictionary in conversation class, using the vocabulary words as our guide, and I found no need to have the professor explain any of the words I drew. 90 short minutes later, we were already done with the class for the day, and everything seemed to be barreling along with ease. Continue reading Day 8: Moving Up