The Fresh Princess of Yerba Buena

Now, this is a story all about how
My life got flipped-turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute
Just sit right and take heed
I’ll tell you how I became the queen of a town called Good Weed.

In west Philadelphia not born, but raised
In the streets was where I spent most of my days
Chillin’ out maxin’ relaxin’ all cool
And all playin’ some v-ball inside of the school
When I got the urge to move across the ocean
To Argentina where I caused a grand commotion
A few misunderstandings and my host mom was peeved
She said ‘You’re movin’ outta here and headin’ straight to Good Weed’

I begged and pleaded with her day after day
But I packed my suitcase and she sent me on my way
She complained to AFS and kinda gave me the finger.
like I was the loser in “All Star” and she the singer

First class, yo this is bad
Drinking orange juice out of a champagne glass.
Is this what the people of Yerba Buena living like?
Hmm this might be alright.

But wait I hear they’re prissy, bourgeois, all that
Is this the type of place that they just send this cool cat?
I don’t think so
We’ll see if I succeed
I hope they’re prepared for the Queen of Good Weed

Well, the minivan halted and when I came out
There was a giant new family waiting there with my name out
I ain’t trying to get attached yet
I just got here
My mom’s a sweetheart, my resolve disappears

My sister’s a carbon copy don’t know anything weirder
The details of our lives compare like lookin’ in a mirror
Middle blocker volleyball, a coincidence that’s rare
College major, likes, and habits matching everywhere

I pulled up to the house about 7 or 8
Switching families shoulda been a no braina
I looked at my kingdom
Claiming me as its “reina”
Sitting on my throne as the Queen of Yerba Buena

News flash: I’m living in another house with another family now. A necessary, sudden, and dramatic change.

I know. It’s been too long since I wrote for you guys.

And to be honest, I don’t really feel like explaining the hot mess that led to this transition, but reflection is good for the soul and you are probably dying of curiosity by now. Let’s get a little synopsis action going.

In Argentine Spanish there is a word that is difficult to translate exactly, but is basically snafu. It is a bad word so don’t say it unless your host mom watches your every move like a hawk, misinterprets your words and twists your actions, and shouts at you even louder when you try to defend yourself. Don’t say it unless you feel like you’re about to take the SAT every time you approach the house you’ve been living in for a month. Don’t say it unless you get super attached to your host brothers and sister and have to leave them because their mom, the Freud-loving psychology expert, has control issues and deflects the blame onto everyone else. Don’t say it unless you’ve tried time and time again to resolve your problems and she tells you to do some “serious introspection,” running through every aspect of your personality so you can CHANGE IT ALL. Don’t say it unless she promises to give you a second chance, then when you come back from a weekend at a friends house, she complains to your exchange advisor for a half an hour in front of your face and tries to wash her hands of you on the spot. Don’t say it unless you’re passed from volunteer to volunteer like a hot potato because your own host family wouldn’t take you back. Don’t say it unless you find out via Twitter that your old host sister is trying to fill the void you left in her life with A BABY KITTEN.

Don’t say it unless you have to move to a distant suburb, take the bus to school half an hour both ways, and have one foot in an awesome school in Center City and the other with the rich kids in a town that literally translates to Good Weed. Yerba Buena can also mean peppermint when written as one word, but I’m sticking with the far more appropriately inappropriate title. I find it more closely fits the situation. Of course, I adjust the way I represent this experience with the audience I have. To read my far more reflective and mature version of events (written for a scholarship for which they decided I am not eligible) scroll down to the double asterisk.**

“Quilombo.”

This has been the first month of my exchange, with all its ups and downs and adventures and misadventures and issues and nonissues that some people made into issues *cough cough* (Oh excuse me, I have a sore throat. A cold. In 80 degree Tucumán. Or maybe it’s Zika. Or better yet, Dengue). This is the Argentina I know, with its performers and pickpockets, its Instagram and eating disorders, its quinceñeras and eighteen parties, its mate and machismo, its extreme workouts and exquisite cuisine, its late late nights and early early mornings, its illusioned ecstasy and crushing reality, its Gancia and Fernet, its rooftop gardens and crumbling apartment buildings, its Squirtle internet memes and too-long WhatsApp audio messages, its music and silences, its European sweets and sour Tucumán lemons, its city streets and country roads, mountains and Tafi-del-Valles, its Catholics and criminals and Catholic criminals, its conflicting histories and uncertain future, its delirious abandonment and obsessive calculation, its fútbol and rugby, its stores with random names in English and questions about Donald Trump, its real sugar Coca-Cola and imitation Cheetos.

This is my study abroad, with all its 3-minute excitements and 24-hr depressions, its interesting classes and astounding lack of effort, its mind-blows and heartbreaks, its sickness and health, its long-distance boyfriends and short-stature girl friends, its new homes and old homesickness, its amazing steals and total rip-offs, its beds and bugs, its laugh attacks and panic attacks, its good connections and dropped calls, its hangouts and ‘hang-in-there’s, with all its love and lack thereof.

 

**Scholarship essay version:

I faced my most difficult experience studying abroad in Argentina. Though I felt ready to move out of my American comfort zone, I was underprepared for the misunderstandings that arose from cultural and linguistic differences initially. The disparity in our backgrounds spurred conflict between my host mother and I. My ability to express myself and mostly follow a Spanish conversation actually worked against me at some points. My mom asked me, “How did you not understand what I said? You speak Spanish!” I’d gotten the main idea, but misunderstood the details. She didn’t think so. “I don’t leave space for misunderstandings. I always make myself clear.”

Our different styles of communication impeded comprehension. The USA has a low-context culture so many messages are conveyed directly, in plain speech, from one person to another. By contrast, Argentina is high-context, relying more heavily on nonverbal cues than the words themselves. I had to focus on body language and subtle vocal inflections to notice when something I’d said or done bothered a family member. Then, I’d ask what was wrong. I formed a habit of thinking through the possible outcomes of each situation. How might my mother interpret these words? If I do this, will my family think that? How can I meet my needs without stepping on anyone’s toes? This family tended to bottle up their discontent and unleash it all at once instead of telling me what I should do differently.

Furthermore, I was accustomed to a more democratic style of parenting, in which even I, the daughter, got to weigh in with my point of view, while Mom and Dad still had the final say. Yet in this household, Mom “has the say” from the beginning. This American girl was accustomed to compromise and collaborative problem solving, but her Argentine Mom was used to determining what everyone should do without their input. No matter how I saw a situation or what potential solutions I proposed, Mom knew best and her word was my command. That’s not to say I didn’t stand up for myself—I have too strong of a will to be silent. Regardless, I learned to keep my mouth closed for the small things.

Yet all these struggles, as well as adapting to Argentine school, gender roles, and pace of life, were necessary for me to understand Latin American culture. I’m growing as a person in this foreign situation while I dealwith the challenges of language immersion and developed lifelong friendships. Plus, I thoroughly enjoy it! I’m gotten to know a beautiful city, a beautiful language, and people more beautiful still. I know in a few months I’ll walk away with newfound confidence, a broader perspective, and a second family. It’s true that one’s most difficult experience can also be the best….

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