Thinking back to my few months in Argentina, the reflection that floats above all others is how the idea of an uncertain future affects people day-to-day. Inflation has surged annually in the country since the start of the twenty-first century, resulting in a major devaluation of the national currency. For reference, the Argentine peso introduced in 1992 was worth $1 U.S. dollar, and as of 2022, $1 USD is worth approximately 300 Argentine pesos on the unofficial market. Though inflation was obvious in numerous ways throughout the semester, it would be too easy for me to write it off as a part of Argentina’s economy that won’t affect me when I return home. Though I understood how challenging it makes staying afloat and how discouraging and dangerous it is that people’s purchasing power diminishes constantly, it wasn’t until a conversation I had with my professor about her children that I was able to make the connection between economic crises and the country’s culture and attitude.
My professor was discussing differences she noticed between students visiting from the United States and her students in Buenos Aires when she mentioned how it often struck her how North American students spoke about their plans for the future. She said the students she met always had exact plans for what they would do after school, where they would live, where they would settle down, and seemingly everything in between. To her, it was shocking how young students aged 18 to 20 planned for their futures with such absolute certainty that they would be able to see their plans through. Even if those dreams would not always go according to plan, students exuded confidence that they would have the chance to accomplish their goals. This contrasts greatly with how many Argentine students discuss their futures, according to my professor. In Argentina, the future has always seemed uncertain, and students my age have grown accustomed to this. When I asked about the economic crisis while abroad, the typical response I received was “Which one?” How can adolescents be expected to plan for the future or have concrete goals for their careers and lives when the country’s economic and political situation can change at any given moment?
This isn’t to say that young people do not have goals or dreams for their futures in Argentina. Many university students I met were full of hope that they channeled into activism and action, and they spoke freely of their dreams for themselves and their country. Nonetheless, however, thousands of young Argentines emigrate every month, many of whom are descendants of Italian or Spanish immigrants who have maintained European citizenship. Like their parents and grandparents, they are moving across the Atlantic in search of better opportunities and stability. Reports estimate that about half of Argentines expect a family member or friend to leave Argentina shortly, according to MercoPress. There is a sense of hopelessness felt among young people looking to the future that surpasses anything I’ve felt in the United States.
This conversation pushed me to think about the concepts of time, planning, and rushing throughout my semester in Buenos Aires. Many times I felt confused by the lack of hurry in certain social situations; everything always seemed to be en un rato (“in a while”), an indefinite amount of time that everyone in Argentina seems to understand. The ideal weekend afternoon was spent sitting in a park or around the table, having a round of mate (a type of herbal tea) while chatting or enjoying each other’s company in silence. At Georgetown, I was used to knowing exactly what I was doing at any given moment and accustomed to comparing packed Google calendar schedules with classmates and friends. Looking back at these habits, this attitude began to feel almost silly to me. Here I was, constantly focused on the next thing instead of the current moment, when millions of people feel they can’t take the next moment for granted.
Now looking forward to my return to the United States and Georgetown’s campus, I think that this will be the biggest change in my perspective following my semester abroad. Though I struggled a bit with my restlessness and the need to know what I was doing next while in Buenos Aires, learning to sit still and enjoy the moment was an invaluable lesson. Amidst larger lessons and insight gained into economic, political, and developmental processes that I am still untangling and processing, this is the most tangible way my thinking has changed. Focusing on enjoying each moment and the time spent with loved ones instead of living in the future is an undeniably important lesson that I will not leave in Buenos Aires.
Courtney Mawet (MSB/SFS’24) is an undergraduate student in the Dikran Izmirlian B.S. in Business and Global Affairs program at Georgetown University. Both Belgian and Texan, she grew up attending an international school in Dallas. Her areas of interest include comparative development, global business, and social mobility. In addition, she loves to travel, read, and bake. During fall 2022, she is studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina through a program focused on transnational processes and development in the Southern Cone.