September 28, 2023

GUEST ROOM | A Journey of Reconnection

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As you stroll down Thames St. toward the bus stop, your fingers instinctively reach for your trusty twenty-five-cent lighter to ignite your cigarette. The day’s toil has drawn to a close, and the sun has gracefully descended behind the familiar concrete jungle that is Buenos Aires. A gentle breeze playfully teases the smoke, nudging it back toward your face as you exhale, a subtle reminder of your journey to the bus stop.

Patience is your closest companion as you await the fifty-five, a bus whose punctuality is as unpredictable as the weather. Sometimes it arrives early, at other times fashionably late and, on rare occasions, it might not appear at all. In due time, you retrieve your Sube card, ready to hop aboard, standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers, just like sardines in a can. Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” serenades your senses through noise-canceling AirPods, its lyrics cocooning your thoughts as you gaze aimlessly out of the window. 

Three blocks from María Cámpos, your hand finds the button to signal the bus driver to pull over. An eager anticipation fills you as you inhale the fresh air on your stroll to your second cousin, Mercedes’s, home. The last time you saw her, you were a timid six-year-old, grappling with a fear of the Spanish language, her brother and the world at large. Now, you stand on the cusp of concluding your eight-week odyssey through South America all on your own.

At the corner of her street, a vibrant flower shop catches your eye, offering an array of blooms that surpass even those in your host Madre’s neighborhood. Purple was Mercedes’s favorite color, or at least it was fourteen years ago. The violet-tinged snapdragons beckon, and you exchange dos mil cincuenta pesos with the fair-skinned shopkeeper. A compliment about your smile and almond-shaped eyes feels familiar now, after weeks of navigating life in this foreign city.

With a sense of calm and devoid of expectations, you ring Mercedes’s doorbell. A high-pitched bark fills the air, refusing to be silenced. Ziola, the family dog, greets you with timid enthusiasm, her front paws gently tapping your shins as the door swings open. Mercedes herself emerges, enfolding you in an embrace like no other. The look of astonishment on her face is palpable, as she struggles to grasp how much time has passed since she last laid eyes on you. You can’t help but feel like a true adult, reminiscent of how you once perceived her when she visited you in the States, bringing flowers to her house for a home-cooked meal and cherished family time.

Enter Ale, an unfamiliar figure who introduces himself as Mercedes’s partner and the father of Tony, the blue-eyed, bleach-blond six-year-old who timidly hides behind Ale. You’re normally adept at meeting new people and cracking jokes, but this feels different. You find yourself speaking in simple sentences, attempting to ease the fear in Tony’s eyes as he retreats like a frightened puppy. Your gaze shifts to the dinner table, where Mercedes’s brother, Luciano, pulls out a chair for you.

You have vague recollections of Luciano as the distant “uncle,” struggling with substance abuse and keeping to himself. Yet, now he is the one who makes you feel the most cherished in their home. It’s the simple, heartfelt gestures that touch you — he prepares your tea, holds your hand and listens with his eyes. His approval draws Tony closer to you. Your experience tutoring kids at Ithaca Middle School proves invaluable, a gentle reminder of the role Cornell played in bringing you here.

Only when you bid farewell to the bustling streets of Buenos Aires and find yourself walking the uneven, partially paved roads of Ithaca does the stark contrast between life abroad and at Cornell become painfully apparent. Dryden seems a world apart from Thames St. and the TCAT buses are no match for the unpredictability of the fifty-five. Yet, it’s in these moments of displacement and reflection that you come to truly appreciate Cornell’s profound impact on your journey.

Gone are the chances of stumbling upon an Arquilevich in upstate New York, and your title as a Harlem Globetrotter feels stifled in the quiet corners of Tompkins County. Struggling to shed the persona you once adopted while abroad, you push yourself to be the most unapologetic version of yourself. Here, you must actively strive for the freedom and opportunities that had fallen into your lap overseas. You become not just a traveler, but an inhabitant of Ithaca, a dedicated student at Cornell University, embracing this unique chapter of your twenties that you will soon share with a new set of people. Time may slip through your fingers amidst the organized chaos of your honors thesis, family vacations and research seminars, but it does so in a less frantic, more manageable manner.

In retrospect, your time in Argentina wasn’t just a solitary adventure; it was a pivotal chapter in your ongoing relationship with college — a bond that shapes your perspective and enriches your life. Being abroad didn’t merely move you; it deepened your connection with Cornell, serving as a reminder of its role as a steadfast companion in your relentless pursuit of knowledge and growth.

Amber Arquilevich is a third year student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically throughout the semester. 

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