Personally Speaking/Global, and All in the Family

It is an amazing feeling to cross an item off your bucket list. This past summer my husband Andrew and I were able to scratch out a line that had been on our list since before our daughters were born. It was our dream to live abroad as a family; not as tourists, but to actually live like locals for more than just the span of a normal vacation.

By way of the new Global Seminars program, my colleague Luis Navarro-Ayala and I were able to take a group of eight enthusiastic SNC students to live and study for five weeks in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Along, too, came the rest of the Collins family.

Our home for the five weeks was a small, two-bedroom apartment on the 10th floor of a high-rise apartment building in Palermo – close to the students, who were living with Argentine families while completing either one or two courses in the Core Curriculum: Spanish 102 with Luis or, in my case, Humanities 2893 Buenos Aires on My Mind: Exploring the City Through the Arts. While I was busy teaching my classes and taking students around Buenos Aires, the day-to-day experience for my husband and daughters consisted mostly of short outings, and grocery shopping at local markets and supermarkets. Then, while Andrew worked on construction projects with missionary friends at their facility, Elena, 11, and Sofia, 9, spent time with young Argentine friends – dressing up in costumes, playing and helping. Sometimes they would meet me after class and enjoy lunch in one of Buenos Aires’ many cafés, or explore new parts of the city.

I appreciated the way the entire group of students embraced our kids and were pleased when they could join in on excursions. On one occasion, two of the students offered to come over and hang out with our daughters so my husband and I could have a date night. Then, the weekend of the Argentine Bicentennial celebrations, Luis and some of our students came over for pizza and games before we all headed out to enjoy the festivities.

The global experience extended when our dear friend and former student Viktoriya Zotova ’13 spent four days with us in our little apartment. (Viktoriya is a native of Bulgaria.) During her stay, my family, Luis and our students took an all-city bus tour. We were determined to go, rain or shine, little knowing that the bus had no roof. It was a cold winter day to start with, but, half-way through, it started to rain. We bought hats, scarves and gloves near the Boca Juniors’ soccer stadium and then ate lunch while enjoying a live tango performance in a quaint, little café. We returned to our apartment freezing and soaked, but it was a day we will never forget.

One of the most memorable moments for me personally, and I believe for several of our students, was witnessing the peaceful protest of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Since the outbreak of Argentina’s Dirty War in 1982, the mothers and grandmothers of the May Plaza have been protesting human-rights violations and demanding justice for their disappeared loved ones. Some, now in their late 80s, have been publicly protesting for three-and-a-half decades. Some of our students, truly moved by the dedication of these women, were able to talk with them.

Our five weeks in Buenos Aires brought a few challenges, too. My family is not accustomed to big-city life. My husband and kids had to navigate the city (14 million people) with very little Spanish, and we were always surrounded by noise and people. Our girls – like many of our students – learned that, in other places of the world, personal space is a luxury not a norm. They came face to face with social issues like homelessness in ways they had not experienced before. In essence, they had to grapple with being part of a minority for the first time in their lives. Yet these inevitable challenges were among the very reasons we made this trip as a family. No matter how many times one travels abroad, there is a period of adjustment. Our hope for our daughters and for ourselves is that we will remember to always demonstrate empathy and compassion for others. For these reasons, living abroad as a family is once again on our bucket list. If we desire our children to think globally, we have to continually show them how to live globally.

March 17, 2017