When in doubt, feel it out.
I barely remember my first day in Argentina. I remember hugging my friend who met me in the lobby of her apartment building in funky pajamas; I remember flopping onto a blow-up mattress in exhaustion; I remember waking up to grey skies and a bleak cityscape.
I didn't feel inspired. I felt uncomfortable and slightly disappointed. My anxiety was at a high.
I'm a cranky traveler. Whenever I finish a long trip, the last thing I want to do is *appreciate* everything around me. I just want to crawl into a shell and stay there.
Combined with my attitude were some skewed expectations. I expected Buenos Aires to be filled with sunshine, pastel buildings, live music on the sidewalks, and people tangoing through the streets. The neighborhood I was staying in, Recoleta, didn't really align with that festive vibe.
Considered one of the wealthier neighborhoods in the city, Recoleta was more refined, more reserved. Small shops beneath gray buildings and uneven sidewalks lined neighborhood roadways. One of the area's most renowned sites is a cemetery. Not exactly a party-starter.
Expectations can be a roller coaster. If you're expecting something bad to happen--and it doesn't--you end up grieving over imaginary situations. On the other hand, once your mind conjures up a fantastical scenario, the snap back into reality can be just as cringe-inducing. Expectations are rarely helpful, and yet if you're a chronic over-thinker like me, they're nearly impossible to avoid.
My advice on expectations:
Do as much research as you can. Admittedly, when I booked my trip to Argentina, a need to escape New Jersey (rather than a fascination with Argentina) definitely influenced my choice. When my Italian friend Natascia messaged me on Facebook asking me to visit her while she was studying abroad, there was no doubt in my mind: I was going. And while my travel research was focused on Buenos Aires, my knowledge of Recoleta was much more limited.
Keep an open mind. Think of your perception of the world as a frame. The smaller the frame, the less of the picture you see. When you make generalizations about a place or a culture, your frame shrinks to fit those assumptions. Your view of the world is constrained, and stops you from noticing things outside of that frame. By tightening the frame, you close yourself off from learning and having genuine experiences which make your trip unique and authentic. You want that 360-degree panoramic view, don't you?
Adjust when necessary. Your attitude shapes your experience. When I was in Recoleta, I had wished it were something other than a city-like environment. I wanted to stay in a more relaxed area, not realizing my own aversion was causing me unnecessary stress and tension. Sometimes your ego is scared of what it doesn't understand. Acknowledge those feelings, and explore your new space calmly and with a friendly spirit.
Something I definitely did not expect my first day in BA was getting a public education. The University of Buenos Aires is a public university, but I wouldn't compare its campus to Rutgers or The College of New Jersey. The atmosphere is much more open, and a lot grungier. The ideology is very leftist, and the lecture hall I visited was prominently strewn with anti-Obama posters. As my friend Natascia explained to me, many Argentinians were unhappy that Obama was coming to increase diplomacy with the newly elected Argentinian leader Mauricio Macri, who is pro-privatization and anti-public schools. From my understanding, one of his policies includes fare hikes for public transportation to increase subsidies for big businesses.
The anti-Obama sentiment was admittedly a little threatening. Though I doubt my life was in any danger, seeing "Go home Yanquis (Yankees)" graffiti on the side of buildings did little to make me feel at ease. I don't blame them, however. If I despised my country's leader, and one of the world's most influential leaders came to show support, I might be putting up some posters, too.
It was just very strange to see so many political signs in what should be a neutral center for learning. As explained to me, a public university meant it was a university OF the public. If they felt a certain way, they could display it in a public space, even if that was smack-dab in the middle of a lecture hall.
This was just two days before President Obama tangoed his way through the Argentina state dinner. But while he was doing that, I would be out of the country completely. In the coming days, I'll tell you about my brief, but unforgettable love affair with Uruguay.