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On Birthdays (and Other Special Days) Abroad

August 4, 2010

I must admit that I was a little nervous about spending my 22nd Birthday in Buenos Aires. Although I’ve been traveling most of my life and spend 8 months out of the year at a school far away from home, my summer Birthday has ensured that I have nearly always spent it with my family. Because Birthdays are a big deal to us, we can always count on having an extra special day planned (along the lines of breakfast in bed, surprise parties, etc.), so as silly as it may seem to some of you, the thought of spending August 2nd far away from my mom and siblings had me gearing up for homesickness, sad movies and lots of chocolate…

Well, it is now August 3rd and I am happy to report that none of my dire predictions came to pass. Alright, I might have still been a little homesick, but all in all, it was a great Birthday. Since it fell on a Monday, I decided to start celebrating Friday with massages ($20 an hour here!) and pedicures, shopping, and a night out with some friends. Then, because I have been missing spicy food, I ate Peruvian for lunch on Saturday and Mexican for dinner (yummy!), and Sunday was spent relaxing at home with my host family.

Make a Wish!

My actual Birthday started out like any other day, with a few hours at my internship followed by classes . . . almost. I probably shouldn’t be admitting to this but I might have played hooky yesterday and gone out to lunch with my friend instead of going to school. But in my defense they don’t take attendance here for the first two weeks and I rarely skip any classes. Plus, it was my Birthday! 😉

I headed home after “class” and took a cab with my host mom to the local law school, where my host sisters’ cousin was getting her final grade, which would mean that she has officially graduated. There I got to observe a tradition like nothing I’ve ever seen before. When you graduate from University in Argentina, it is tradition to accompany the person receiving their final grade. So it was that a huge group of family and friends gathered in the hall of the Buenos Aires school of law to wait as Magdalena received her final grade.

Celebrating Magdalena's graduation Argentine-style

Upon returning to the hallway, she was met with shrieks of congratulations and quickly ushered outside, where all of her loved ones proceeded to pour ketchup and juice, smash eggs and smear flour and yerba mate all over her for a good 20 minutes. Basically anything edible seemed to be fair game. It was incredibly entertaining/fascinating to watch, but I also found myself thanking God that we don’t have the same tradition in the US! Still, it was really fun to observe another important Argentine tradition. After all, that’s what studying abroad is all about!

Birthday celebration with my host family

Later that evening, everyone came together again at my host mom’s sister’s (my host aunt?) house for a joint graduation/Birthday party for me and a freshly-showered Magdalena. There were sanwichitos and empanadas, wine and champagne and last but not least, Birthday cake! I was regaled at least 6 times with the “Happy Birthday” song in Spanish (apparently it’s normal to sing it several times here instead of just the one that I am used to) and given a beautiful scarf and earrings by my host family (in my favorite colors!) as a Birthday gift. It was so thoughtful and fun that I hardly had the time to miss home. And to top the day all off, I returned to our apartment late to Skype with my sister and sleepily welcome another year.

One big happy family - me, my host family and my cake

The moral of this story is: if you are nervous about spending any special day (whether it be your Birthday, an anniversary, Thanksgiving, or anything else) away from your family while you are studying abroad, don’t worry! Between video chatting with your loved ones on Skype, buying yourself lots of presents, and spending time with new friends and loved ones, you can still have a happy, memorable day.

Here’s to three more amazing months in Buenos Aires to ring in another year!

Content and Contemplative,

Present-Buying Tips for Parents, Relatives and Friends

So your daughter/son/best friend/sister/brother is studying abroad on their special day, and you don’t know what to get them (or how to get it to them)? Look no further! Here are a few tips for buying gifts for your loved one while they are abroad:

  • Deposit money directly into their bank account, or send it through PayPal. I know this isn’t the most creative gift ever, but chances are your loved one abroad is running low on funds and will really appreciate you being unoriginal just this once. Your dollar will go a lot further in many countries as well so you can ask your loved one to treat him/herself to a gift and rest assured they are getting something they really want for a great price!
  • Send them a care package from a local company. Trying to ship a package yourself can be expensive, slow and unreliable (in other words, it might not get there). But we all love to get a care package with some of our favorite foods from home from time to time. To remedy this, there are now companies who specialize in care packages for study abroad students. In Buenos Aires we have SendLoveBA, which was started by an American living in Buenos Aires because she missed her favorite treats from home. Thanks to her, your loved one can enjoy “Cakes, brownies, muffins and cupcakes baked to order with the best ingredients and lots of love; bagels boiled and baked and seasoned to perfection; cookies that taste just like grandma used to make,”and much more! Click here to learn more and send some love!
  • Celebrate Their Half-Birthday, or set another date for when your loved one returns for you to have a nice dinner, throw them a party and give them their Birthday gifts.
  • Send eCards, sing to them on Skype and plaster their FaceBook wall with well-wishes. This may seem silly to you but it can mean a lot when you are far away from home!
  • Remember that love knows no distance, and you will have dozens more Birthdays (or other special days) to spend together when your loved one returns.

All the best to you and your loved ones on your special days!


One Comment leave one →
  1. August 9, 2010 10:01 pm

    Hi Makena!

    Estas son las mañanitas…

    Just kidding, I won’t sing you another birthday song. [; However, this looks great! When I studied abroad in Mexico we had similar birthday celebrations with host families and Mexican friends we had made. You are right, it’s a bit nerve wracking to be away from home on your birthday, but you also can’t beat spending a birthday abroad (Latin America! [: ) with all the local traditions, amazing host family hospitality, etc. Glad it was a memorable one for you and thanks for sharing with all of us!

    Kim Karalekas

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