This past summer, I interned with a retail insights company located on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. For those who don’t know, the “Magnificent Mile” is one of nation’s premier streets for shopping, and also a top destination for the city’s tourists. One afternoon, I found myself headed to lunch with my boss on a gorgeous day in August. I asked her if she could identify the difference between a tourist and a true Chicagoan. She responded that tourists always walk incredibly slow and look up at the buildings. But as she spoke those very words, I fell behind to admire the historical architecture scattered across the skyline. I was a tourist in my own city. We laughed, continued toward the restaurant and passed many real tourists along the way.
But I held onto that moment. What does it mean to be a tourist, particularly in one’s own city? More importantly, what does it mean to slow down enough to look around and appreciate where one is in that very moment? To exist in a place where one can just be and absorb rather than merely function and dream? It is all too easy to get caught up in one’s self and routine. This seems especially true in the United States, particularly in big cities. I love Chicago and will likely spend the remainder of my adult life there, but sometimes a change is needed.
So I find myself here, on a plane at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, moments away from a flight that will take me to Argentina. Somehow, I managed to get everything I needed for a four-month adventure in a two backpacks and a guitar case.
A main focus of the Casa program is simplicity, so my goal was to bring as little as possible. (I have to give a big shout out and much love to my parents for sponsoring my trip, as I truly could not have done any of this without them.) Yes, the guitar was an extra item, but since I’m in the running for the world’s worst dancer I thought I could pick up some Argentine rhythm in a different way (but I’ll still try to dance).
I will spend a few days in Buenos Aires, the nation’s capital and biggest city, but the program is in Córdoba, Argentina’s second largest city. I am quite happy with the program’s choice to be in Córdoba over BA based on a piece of advice I got from my grandfather, the late Melvin Letchinger. He said the big cities of the world are worth seeing, but are not nearly as charming, captivating, or warm as the “second tier” cities like Córdoba. Mel passed away last winter (in the northern hemisphere), and in his honor, I dedicate this blog to him. He was a world traveler, true mensch, and the patriarch of our entire family. His spirit lives on in all of us, but he is deeply missed by many.
I can think of few people who wholeheartedly lived life to its fullest potential in the way that Mel did. It is he who comes to mind when I consider someone who honestly knew how to “slow down and look up.” For me, to slow down and look up means more than to step outside of a routine and explore the world. It means to slow my thoughts. It means to look up from what is directly in front of me. It means to exist in the here and now, look past myself, and offer whatever faces me unconditional love, no matter how it uncomfortable it may be. Mel knew how to do this. And maybe after some time away from the norm, the predictable, and life at home and at school, I can get a little closer to this goal.
In some sense, it’s a huge expectation to think that a program abroad will teach me how to be present. At the same time, there’s so much about traveling that forces one outside of their mind, particularly if it’s to a place that speaks a different language. (I was just informed that Argentine Spanish is regularly considered the hardest Spanish to understand. Thanks, Tim.) The language coupled with the nature of the program will inevitably support my goal to slow down and look up, but it’s on me to follow through. After five months of waiting for this moment, I can only imagine what’s ahead of me. I suppose the first step towards my objective is to simply enjoy the view of the last American tarmac I’ll see for some time.
There are a million quotes about the necessity to live in the moment, but I thought I’d go with a lifelong hero of mine to send me off. Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”