Buenos Aires, Argentina
I want a pony. Not for my birthday, to deliver my mail.
Since moving to Argentina, I have developed a love-hate relationship with technology. Sure, email is great, enabling you to cross a hemisphere faster than a speeding bullet. But I long for the days of the pony express.
While my friend was living in Kenya, she and I became more than friends. We became pen pals, keeping in touch the old fashioned way with pen, paper, and stamps. Once, I made the mistake of giving her a hard time for not writing me sooner. In her defense, she argued, “If you ask me, 3-5 months is a perfect amount of time to pass between people on DIFFERENT CONTINENTS.”
She was right, of course. If I am living in Argentina and my friend is living in Kenya, it is only natural to expect that a birthday package mailed in June should arrive in September, with half the contents missing. Not only is it natural, it’s part of the fun. But technology has no respect for nature.
Technology is deceptive, luring you into a false sense of proximity. Features like Facebook, Skype, and Gchat trick you into thinking that everyone is more accessible than they really are. And make you believe that a 10-hour plane ride, a three-hour time difference, and a foreign language will have no effect on your personal life.
All choices have consequences and one of the consequences of moving, whether to a new city, state, or country, is that you leave behind many of the people, places, and things that you know and love. But when I moved, I secretly hoped that my life would remain frozen in place and time, patiently awaiting my return. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time online, relying heavily on my friends and family back home for support and companionship and trying to stay connected to my old life.
But each time I looked at a friend’s photo album online, I was forced to see with my own eyes that life had gone on without me. And I realized that no amount of emails, chats, and wall posts could compensate for the fact that my friends and family are no longer part of my daily life. At some point, I decided to look for opportunities to make my own memories.
Rather than surf the web, I began to volunteer and teach English, and eventually I found a full-time job. Rather than send a mass email after traveling, I began to invite friends over to look at photos, listen to my stories, and plan trips together. And rather than chat online, I began to have conversations, mostly in Spanish, over dinner and drinks. As the months went by, Argentina became not just my place of residence but my home.
Time spent in cyber space is time spent in limbo, suspended between here and there. You have limited mental, physical, and emotional resources. If you want to give yourself a chance at building a new life abroad, you have to be willing to take time and energy away from where you came and redirect it to where you are and where you want to go.
Recently, I received an email from one of my best friends from high school, who I had long since taken for lost. She explained, “I swear I’m not as much of a jerk as I must look like. This email went straight to my junk mail folder – I didn’t even see it until I was cleaning out my computer this week in prep for my move (departments not cities) and found it! I was starting to wonder if you had completely disappeared…”
Relieved, I understood that while I was busy building a life in Buenos Aires my friend was doing the same in Columbus, Ohio. Moving abroad may magnify the challenge of growing up but all of us mature and move on. Some of my old friendships have been lost entirely and no number of new friends, regardless of how wonderful, will ever replace them. But fortunately, many of my previous relationships remain intact, albeit modified, and continue to grow across distance and time.
Choosing your own unique path in life is not without sacrifice. But lamenting your loss and trying to hold on to the past only prevents you from being present in the present and limits your options for the future. The best you can do is concentrate on the here and now, and hope that your path runs parallel to that of your loved ones so that when they do cross again, whether virtually or in person, it feels like nothing has changed.