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From November until March I worked remotely and traveled in South America. Working remotely and exploring the world is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I first learned the term “location independent” as a college sophomore. But until this trip, I’d never done it. So with no lead time, in early November I booked a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires.
Just one problem: I didn’t speak Spanish. I took Spanish in high school, but I couldn’t remember anything useful. And I’m not sure I could apply it in conversation even if I could remember it.
Onboard the redeye flight from Miami to Buenos Aires, my lack of Spanish was immediately clear. I sat next to an Argentine man who turned to me and started speaking. Even though he spoke simply, I could not understand him. It had already been an eighteen hour day, and my best intentions failed within ten seconds. Flush with embarrassment, I admitted defeat: “no hablo español.”
Fast-forward six weeks to arrive at one of the proudest moments of the trip: I sitting in a dark little cerveceria named Konna in Bariloche, in Northern Patagonia, drinking beer surrounded by native Spanish speakers. And having real conversations in Spanish. Conversations that went beyond what foods I had eaten, what I thought of the town, and where I was traveling from and to. A real conversation amongst friends in a bar, for 2 hours.
This was what I’d been working my ass off for. The crowning point of the night when one of the women at the table, my lovely Spanish teacher Mariela, said that my progress amazed her. After a comment about my love of mate, steak, and naps, she declared that I was Argentino Argentino. I beamed like a kid with his first trophy.
I wasn’t fluent and my Spanish wasn’t perfect, but that wasn’t the point: I was having a blast, actually speaking real Spanish with real Spanish speakers in a real conversation. That is the point: the cultural experience and growth.
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