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December 5, 2016

Don’t cry for me, Argentina

Maybe it was when I was interacting with penguins south of the most southern city in the world, marveling at massive pieces of ice shattering off of one of the world’s biggest glaciers, or maybe when my brother and I were sharing drinks with a cop/pimp in a backwater city on the edge of the Patagonian wilderness, but a stunning realization struck me.

I had a little over one week left in Argentina.

I came to the University of Massachusetts two years ago with the goal of making up for any shortcomings or flaws in high school, both academically and socially, and I’d say that so far I’ve done pretty damn well.

Except this past spring, I started to lose the magic that I had found. Grades started slipping, laziness worked its way in, I made social choices I shouldn’t have and I didn’t make the ones that I should have. The passion and excitement that characterized my attitude when I first arrived in Amherst had disappeared and was replaced with merely going through the motions.

Enter Argentina.

A time for reflection and a challenge that would help me correct my direction. To conquer my 8-year-old albatross of the Spanish language. To begin fulfilling my life-long dream of seeing exotic and far corners of the Earth. To test myself and see if I could thrive on scratch.

I came to the country with the same combination of enthusiasm, shock and abandonment of concerns as when  I came to Amherst as a freshman. But, perhaps due to the shorter time table, the more challenging emotional situation, or simply the excitement of living in a foreign city, I found myself progressing to a level and sense of belonging beyond any that I had developed at UMass.

Over the past five months, I have lived and felt more pure events and emotions than at any other time in my life. With the ever-present threat of my return flight, I’ve lived with the lack of concern for consequences and refusal to hold back that seem befitting to anyone confronted with the fact that the world that they have come to know will be snatched away.

I have seen the pure majesty of nature in the greatest waterfalls in the world. I labored on a hike through an endless mountain desert at 10,000 feet. I suffered through 125 degree heat and winds fresh off of Antarctica.

I was threatened by knife wielding children only to volunteer with other children from identical circumstances and backgrounds the next day. I’ve enjoyed the equivalent of bottle service at a club for $25, and a five-star steak dinner for $20. But I’ve also walked home from these pleasures to see the poor finding refuge on stoops on my street.

I’ve worked with equally idealistic and wonderful people to bring a tiny sliver of hope to those who others have deemed as hopeless. I’ve learned to love a city despite uncountable cultural differences that could be confused for a bundle of serious neuroses. I’ve left one girl’s apartment in the rain at 5 a.m. on moral grounds, and had a heart-to-heart with another on a busy street corner at 6 a.m. in the previous day’s clothes because of an inability to find a way to make things work beyond my quickly approaching return.

With five days left, I know that I have time to end this trip on my own terms, to plan every moment so as to leave no regrets.

When I left UMass, I told myself that if I’m leaving such an incredible place and putting so much of my normal life on hold, I would have to make my experience in Buenos Aires worth the sacrifice. Now, I’m telling myself, if I’m leaving Buenos Aires, it has to be to return to an even better UMass experience than before.

Buenos Aires and Argentina as a whole has been a chaotic challenge that I have enjoyed thriving off of. I wish that I could stay, but it would only be running further away from a life that I left to learn how to fix and perfect. But I will carry these past five months, the events, emotions and people into the rest of my life to make sure that this experience wasn’t just a fleeting dream.

If you can’t find the opportunity to study abroad, promise me this. Search out your own escape from the ordinary and into excitement, even if it’s only for a moment. It can shape you forever.

Michael Fox is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at mgfox@student.umass.edu.

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