• Wed, Mar 23 2011

Chasing Thirty: Spend A Month In A Foreign Country

Andrea Dunlop is on a quest to check off a bucket list of adventures in her 29th year.

#1. Spend a month in a foreign country

You know what was awesome about college? Lots of things. Having a meal plan. My ‘responsibilities’ being classes and tennis team. My ‘job’ covering the men’s soccer team for the school paper (I was dedicated, I won a journalism award). But of all of the cool things about college that don’t quite exist in the real world, nothing beats study abroad. You get to live in a foreign country and have all the arrangements made for you, getting a visa is easy and if you’re lucky you’re still on the mom-and-dad payroll at that point.

Recently, I found an old email chain from my early days in New York. In it a high school friend and I were talking about moving to Italy. I don’t even remember this; I must have had a bad week and read Eat, Pray, Love, or something. But it reminded me how many times I’ve toyed with the idea of living abroad again in the years since I left college. I’ve dreamily googled ‘teach English abroad’ on at least a dozen occasions, but I could never really commit to the idea. As anyone whose done it will tell you, living abroad as an adult is approximately 100 times more complicated than ding so as a student.

Nonetheless, the idea came back around when I decided after leaving New York and returning to Seattle that I didn’t want to go to grad school after all. But then I got a fun freelance gig and that boyfriend and started settling into life in Seattle and dropped it once again. Even when the boyfriend and the gig were both no more, I still couldn’t quite wrap my head around moving again and the idea of looking for work in a foreign country didn’t appeal.

I’ve done plenty of traveling, but more often than not when I visit a foreign place I love, it leaves me with an unmistakable longing for more. It makes me miss being a student in France. An extended stay in a country, where you learn the language and make friends with people and actually learn something about the place you’re in, is an experience in a whole different league from a vacation. It’s like the difference between a long-term relationship and a one-night stand; both can be great but if you’re wanting the former, the latter just won’t do.

I had about a month between the holidays and the beginning of my next freelance job, a bit of money saved, and a bunch of airline miles. A month could do the trick, I decided; so where to go?

I chose Buenos Aires because I fell in love with it during a very brief four-day fling with the city several years ago: tango, good food, beautiful architecure, ridiculously attractive people, who wouldn’t want more? I went with some friends from New York and we had Thanksgiving dinner with an ex-pat named Jim on his beautiful terrace in 80 degree weather. He told me I should come back some time and learn the tango and I guess the idea stuck. I got back in touch with Jim before leaving and he set me up with an apartment he owns in the posh neighborhood of Palermo SoHo.

Getting down to Buenos Aires was a nightmare. First I got stuck in a snowstorm in Atlanta (Atlanta for chrissake, HOT-lanta!) and then got rerouted through Brazil. Of course they lost my luggage. And of course I had next to nothing in my carry-on.

So, the very first thing I did after meeting up with Jim to get into my new digs was go to the mall to buy enough clothes to get me through the next couple of days. At one point I found myself dazedly wandering around a lingerie shop unable to find a single bra in my size. Finally, I asked the shop girl and she told me they only carried B cups; I lacked the Spanish skills to ask why but this shop seemed to exist in that moment for the sole purpose of confounding me. At last I made it home with a couple of frankly regrettable purchases and some empanadas from the shop across the road.

After I finally showered and climbed into bed, I felt exhausted but happy. I was remembering how much I loved being abroad, the distinct pleasure of it, how the smallest things like figuring out how to work my foreign cell phone or actually ordering the empanadas I meant to order gave me a tiny thrill of victory. And really, what were the chances I was not about to have the time of my life?

 You can read more about Andrea’s adventures at her personal blog, thirty-things.

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  • Danielle

    Bravo on spending condensed time in another country. I’d love to hear more about the time you spent there.

    • andrea dunlop

      Thanks! Much more to come…

  • Hannah Beth

    You know, this actually helped me decide to work out my study abroad plan for Paris next year. Thanks.