It felt like my world had already ended the day before, when my flights got canceled on the day I was supposed to fly with the rest of the kids in the program. Cue the frantic rescheduling and fear of missing out. But anyway. Deep breaths. Today, I’m literally at the end of the world.
Ushuaia is the southernmost city on the planet, located in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina (there’s technically a town a bit further south, but hey not officially a city). Population surprisingly about 81,000 with similar-to-Boston weather. The views are like nothing you’ve ever seen – the town is long and skinny, squished between the northern edge of the bright blue Beagle Canal and the towering snow-capped Andes. I think this place might be the most well-kept secret in the world.
I don’t know what I was expecting when I finally reached my destination. Maybe a little crooked sign that says, “Here standeth thee, at the precipice of the civilized world”. Or a modest fishing town with cute boats and no internet. The very last thing I expected to see as the airplane descended out of a heavy winter cloud cover was a bustling city filled with the loveliest people you will ever meet.
Welcome to Ushuaia, indeed.
The program that I’m lucky enough to be participating in perfectly combines everything I’m interested in studying. It’s an external program through the School for International Training called “People, Environment, and Climate Change in Patagonia and Antarctica” (spoiler alert: I will be in Antarctica for 10 days in November, so stay tuned for that!). The way that the program is structured, we’ll spend a month doing an internship or research project in November/December, but for now we have seminars several times a week that are held at the city’s research institution; Spanish classes that are held at the local language school; and a course on research methods held at the program headquarters (essentially a house converted into a classroom and communal space). All of these are 100% in Spanish. We also do some overnight field study expeditions outside the city. The whole academic part has been great so far. Sometimes I feel a bit out of depth because the seminars are more science-y than what I’m used to, but everyone has been super positive and responsive to my questions.
However, there was one part of the study abroad experience which made me nervous: the homestay. I hate intruding on other people’s lives and being a burden, so this experience is a big step out of my comfort zone. I will admit that the first weekend here, I had a bit of a mini meltdown. I didn’t have a lot of time to process what was happening because we just jumped right into things with the program, so when it slowed down for the first time it was really overwhelming. Not necessarily emotionally, but just being tired and stressed in a new place is what did me in. That being said, I’ve been here for about three weeks now, and it’s great. I’ve found that as long as you communicate and try to adapt to their patterns of life without sacrificing your own comfort or sense of security – communication about expectations goes both ways! – you’re all set.
With the admin stuff out of the way, I shall now rant about the best part about this whole experience: the things that I’ve gotten to do. I’m traveling on my own money, so when I tell you the budget is tight, I mean tight. But Ushuaia is probably the absolute best place to be with a small budget. To begin with, the money here is worth comparatively less than the US dollar, so the trade in value is great for me (pro tip: if you can, bring crisp $50 and $100 bills because the exchange rate for those is higher than for smaller bills). Beyond that, all the food and activities are inexpensive, which is great (there is absolutely nothing better than a cheap empanada). Even skiing and dogsledding are affordable. And the hiking. Oh my goodness, the hiking. It is amazing. I walk a half-marathon about once a week and can walk five miles a day to and from class if I want – it’s the best way to get to know the city. I literally cannot wait for the trail ice to melt so that we can go further into the mountains.
Alrighty. I think that’s it for now. Can I just take a second to geek out and ahhhhh this is amazing. I am so happy. These past few weeks have already been completely life-changing. There is nothing more in life that I want than adventure and I really think this might be the ultimate one.