Story and photo by Matthew MacCormack
There was no shortage of incredible moments on my Dialogue to Argentina and Uruguay last summer.
I’ll never forget my excitement as our ferry approached the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia: the feeling of wonder as the icy, blue monstrosity took shape across the fog-cloaked water of Lago Argentina. I can almost still feel the cobblestone streets of Colonia del Sacramento against my feet, as friendly stray dogs brushed against my legs, and the winds of the Rio de Plata tussled my hair. And what about the dinner conversations with my host parents that stretched late into the night, long after our plates were cleared and our glasses were empty? My roommates and I would do our best to navigate the Spanish dialogue, gaining confidence with each story swapped.
Any student who has studied abroad can understand: there’s nothing like having the opportunity to immerse oneself in a different culture at such a young age. Although the Dialogue only lasted a month, I got the chance to explore the capital city of Buenos Aires for three weeks, meander through the historic port town of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, and take in the natural wonders of Patagonia. And that’s without getting to the reason why I went to South America in the first place: to hone my Spanish-speaking skills with native speakers.
For seven years I’d toiled away Spanish courses in the classroom, with little to show for it other than a handful of vocabulary terms and scribbled-in verb conjugation charts. But five hours of Spanish classes each day took the rust off quickly. Even more, I had to find ways to communicate with my host family, with cab drivers and with waiters at restaurants. With each interaction came a newfound sense of confidence and belonging, and by the end of the trip, I could actually hold solid conversations in a second language.
If you can’t tell by now, I really, really enjoyed my experiences in Argentina and Uruguay. I’d venture to say it was, albeit cliché, the time of life. So when the Dialogue’s instructor, Professor Claudia Sokol, approached me about returning on the trip as a Teacher’s Assistant, I jumped at the chance.
I’ve been asked by several relatives and friends: why would you go back to the same places? There’s a massive world out there that’s begging to be explored; why not try going somewhere else? These are valid questions, but I have valid answers.
To start, having the chance to get another month of Spanish immersion was hard to pass up. The improvements I made from the start of my trip to the end were exponential, and I’m hoping to build on that progress.
Gaining new perspective is one of the most interesting parts of traveling. I’ve been outside of the United States twice in my life, and each time I was astounded by the number of people who spoke fluent English. I only know a handful of bilingual people in the States, which begs the question; if other cultures learn English, shouldn’t more Americans try to embrace the linguistics of those other cultures? It’s always been a dream of mine to achieve a working fluency in Spanish, as mastering another language quite literally opens up a world of people and opportunities to explore.
And yes, I could have gone to another country and experienced something different, but I have my whole life to do that. When else will I get the opportunity to retrace my steps in the same country for an entire month?
If you’ve ever re-watched a movie and picked up on a subtle bit of foreshadowing, or re-listened to a song and suddenly noticed that poignant note or lyric, you’ll understand why I’m going back. I was in complete awe of basically everything in Argentina and Uruguay the first time around. Now, I’ll have a sense of comfort, and be able to pick up on all of the subtleties I missed before.
I’ll have seen the major monuments and eaten the signature dishes. This time, I’m free to experiment and explore different areas. I’ll likely discover more incredible things, and will probably run into others that make me cringe. But with that, comes growth.
Same trip, same teacher, same cities. Same old Dialogue, but an entirely new experience.