The Return

By: Caroline Rubach

I am seated in 27D. After living in Buenos Aires, Argentina for the past eight months with seventy of my friends - now turned family - I am at quite a loss for words. I am sleep-deprived from the four cumulative hours of sleep I’ve managed within the past forty-eight hours and from too many exhausting goodbyes. As I reflect on the life that has unfolded here in these past eight months, I simply feel humbled disbelief. I look from 28C to 25A to 25C to 26D to 27H and I can confidently say that each one of us is returning a different person than the one we came as.

We all began this adventure together at the Los Angeles airport last September, seventy sophomore college kids - some known, some unknown, all yet to be truly known - shuffling through the airport with fears, hopes, dreams, and expectant hearts. And now we leave this place together as a family, deeply known and accepting of what we found, with fears, hopes, dreams, and expectant hearts anew. But things are different. 

We look a whole lot different than we did as we came - not only in the lack of haircuts for the boys, but in the way we hold ourselves. And we feel a lot different too. Because our realities have been expanded from what we previously knew and understood to be “the world” and our place in it. 

We have explored the world: some traveling to its very ends in Ushuaia, others coming to know the driest deserts of the world in Chile and Bolivia, others trekking to the dazzling sight of Machu Picchu, others traveling to the coastal-mountain city of Rio de Janeiero, and all exploring and coming to know Patagonia in all of its rugged glory over and over again. What wonders we have seen. 

But as my friend Sarah Gow shared, “while we have seen these magnificent wonders of the world, we still come back talking about the people.” Because from the incredible wonders like the jagged Torres of Southern Patagonia to the infinite horizon-line of blue and gold terrain characteristic of Santa Cruz to the brilliant blue waters found in little pockets of Brazilian rain forest to the mesmerizing falls of Iguazu to the stark white salt flats of the Atacama that stretch for miles and so much more, the people we shared these moments with was what gave it all meaning. 

And as our senses were driven wild at the sights we saw before us and that indescribable sense of adventure coursed through our veins shouting, “you are alive!”, we looked around us to the people we’ve watched life unfold with and were amazed at the simple yet complex gift of being alive. 

To travel the world is something I recommend you do if and ever you have the chance - I am sure you have been told this before. But know that when you experience the blustering, awesome winds of Patagonia, or the unique, charming character of a city like Buenos Aires, or the small, enchanting mountain towns of Switzerland, or the romantic, golden countryside of Tuscany, or wherever else your path may meander to, it will be the people that you share those life moments with that will make it all truly matter.

And now we leave this place we so quickly came to call home. I feel different. Although I recognize this change by looking at the bookends of beginning and end, it is the stories that unfolded in between those bookends that incited that growth and transformation, and it is the people with whom I’ve spent these amazing, (at times) depressing, (at others) entirely enchanting eight months who have caused this character shift in me, and I in them.

I encourage you to cherish those around you and be intentional in coming to know them deeply. Invest in relationships and spread deep roots there. Be vulnerable and allow vulnerability because this is the seed in us that will grow us. And although a chapter may be closing, do not forget and remember those in the story with which you lived, whether still with you or with you no longer. 

Come to know the world and those around you. In doing so, you will find yourself.


This post is dedicated to Cam Johnson. Cam, I am so grateful for the life that unfolded with you in it.