After 96 tabs across 3 browser windows and an hour’s long bus detour in a last ditch effort to understand an entire semester’s worth of how digital video operates on the technical level, I walked away with sheer joy at how my último final/presentation went down. It was a moment that would not have felt so serene if not for the engaging professor, nor league of amigues in class. It felt like an insurmountable challenge a week out, and if you are feeling apprehensive or anything similar about studying abroad, let me be one thought bubble in a sky of soapy translucence.
There’s a narrative out there perpetuated everyday and every hour on pantallas from Argentina to Alaska. Encapsulated in phrases spoken with a cocked head and high-strung voice: “do it for the ‘gram!” lies an uncomfortable reality not only saturated on social media, but also in the day-to-day conversations found on just about every other street corner. It’s the pervasive idea that life is about happiness in however we reap it, and that our default state ought to be the oft spoken rebuttal to ‘how are you?’ in “I’m good!”
It’s easy to understand why one only offers a surface level answer to a question that at its best yearns to cull the deepest sentiments of one’s momentary matter (and stay with me as I promise this will eventually relate to studying abroad). It’s why social media is mainly a method to convey the average person’s better side, because why would most people want to scroll through publicized tears and/or frustration? It lacks validated happiness. And life, as many of us understand it to be, is a pursuit of happiness.
My time in Buenos Aires has been defined by the highs and lows, but maybe more so by the lows, personally. Whether it was bouts of sickness, feelings of isolation, or reactions to external forces, the bad times seemingly had an extra strength glue application, even dragging me down into territory of ‘this sucks, why did I put myself in this position?’ But as cyclical as those moments came, they left. I can resolutely say that studying abroad has made me a better person on the most transcendent of levels. Not because it has been all joy and no pain, but because there has been meaning.
I will admit I am co-opting this main idea from a TED Talk, but it is just as pertinent as it is paraphrasing. The pursuit of happiness is a beautiful sounding declaration, a creed to make every small decision by. But its shortsightedness is eclipsed by the ever inevitable state of discontent and sourness. Happiness can be nostalgically called upon as a rallying cry to revive oneself from the depths of despair, but it can never be instantaneously ousted. Which is why meaning, is, well, more meaningful.
Identifying a meaning or multiple meanings to live by and breathe for, is omnipresent. It amplifies the highest highs, and attempts to offset the lowest lows. Having a meaning in life is with you ‘till the end, ride or die. For many, this is religious. For others, it may be minimalistic or complex. For me, sonder is one of them.
While I would argue studying abroad in a locale requiring mastery of a foreign language is gold, as it attempts to crack open your mind from a thousand distinct angles, in reality anywhere that is not your customs of origin is more than sufficient to benefit from the experience. It will throw you into waters seemingly untreadable, and force you to reconcile with what constructs meaning in your own life.
In short, happiness is exactly that: short; momentary, ephemeral, impermanent. It’s the cream of the crop, as far as emotions go. Yet meaning is much more down to Earth, grounding you might say. It’s rather innocuous, not exciting yet not forgetful neither. If I could extract a pair of meanings attune for some college kid’s blog, it would have to be distilled to kindness and exigency. Kindness in the regard that we should all be wary of what others may be going through, and that what appears on the surface is not always reflective of what lies deep down. (And in my ideal world everyone would be pacifist and vegetarian, but, ¿qué sé yo?) Finally, exigency has been with me throughout my time in Buenos Aires, a city so fast paced there is not much time to be indecisive, so ya gotta just buckle down and pray you’ll make it across nueve de julio in one go.
Happy crossing, and may you meaningfully relish in times of out-of-the-way bus routes, they may just boost your final grade!