GW Expat: Arriving like a virgin


When I got off the plane there was no one to greet me. I wasn’t expecting anyone. It was just like I had planned in fact. It’s not everyday that I picked up my life and moved across the globe to an unknown land. If anything it was kind of the point. So I was alone in Buenos Aires’ Ezieza International Airport, and yet I kept glancing around the terminal, half-expecting one of my parents or a friend to appear from behind a stranger playing an odd game of peek-a-boo. Then we would have our airport scene.

I discovered airport scenes when I began dating a guy who was back home in California while I was going to GW. It wasn’t merely for public displays of affection; they were greetings for a new time, a new stage in my life that somehow seemed more magnified because of the five-hour plane ride. Since then, a bevy of friends, family and other boyfriends have had to endure my egocentric parade, sometimes humoring me with flowers, other times just grunting as they hauled my oversized suitcase off the conveyer belt.

I loved the idea of an airport scene: a poster that said my name, two people simultaneously running in slow motion through the terminal towards each other, the grand gesture of a swooning kiss (obviously the swooning was highly contingent on who was picking me up). We all want that scene in “Love Actually” (however unrealistic) where the people we love are waiting for us with open arms and earnest grins as we arrive home.

But this time I messed up. I had landed in an airport where no one was waiting, no one was expecting me. While I was arriving home, it was a foreign home, one that I had yet to break in. There was no possibility for an airport scene unless the man sweating profusely behind the customs counter decided to get overly friendly while he eyed my passport. My chutzpah was wearing thin.

The closest I had come to this situation was my flight from California to Washington for Thanksgiving break freshmen year. My parents had dutifully escorted me to GW twice before, first for CI and then for freshmen move-in week, but for the first time, I was arriving to an airport full of fellow travelers, empty of anyone mildly obligated to make an airport scene. As my years at college progressed, I became accustomed to my solitary trip from Dulles to Foggy Bottom. But somehow the lack of a welcome wagon in Buenos Aires seemed more substantial, as if it had some profound meaning.

As I waited for the luggage to make its rounds along the coil shaped conveyer belt, I started sizing up the competition, looking for solitary travelers such as myself. Were there any more seemingly overwhelmed gringos fresh off the plane such as myself? It looked like I had the market cornered with my yoga pants and sweatshirt. I did spot a group of German tourists squawking noisily in a mixture of Spanish and what I can only assume was German (Spangerm?) but they seemed to be more concerned with their guidebooks than trying to pass as Argentines.

When given too much time to wait I think and when given too much time to think I panic. Call it Woody Allen syndrome but I suddenly became fixated on my non-existent airport scene. Was this a preview of the rest of my time in Argentina? Here I had gone and moved to a country that I knew virtually nothing about and where no one knew me. Should I have taken the job at The Washington Post that had me sorting mail and waiting for the company provided pager to go off, alerting me that some reporter needed their mail sorted ASAP?

Just when I was ready for a brown paper bag or to break out my freshly studied Argentine curse words (where the hell was my luggage after 20 minutes?), I got a sign. I’m not an incredibly religious or observant person, but I do believe that sometimes the universe puts out signs for us as reassurance or guidance or frankly just to be humorous. But this sign assured me that I was in the right place at the right time.

I made it through the wilderness/Somehow I made it through/Didn’t know how lost I was/Until I found you/I was beat incomplete/I’d been had, I was sad and blue/But you made me feel/Yeah, you made me feel/Shiny and new/Like a virgin

Proud to be an American and relieved that I had selected a country which played Madonna over the airport loud speakers at 7:30 a.m., I spotted my bright green suitcase wobbling on the conveyer belt and set it down in my new homeland.

-Beth Monkarsh, a 2006 alumna, majored in journalism and Spanish Language and Literature while at GW. She currently lives in Buenos Aires, but will be moving to Central America in December.

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