March 6, 2017

Leaving home, building home

Cecilia Malnis, Friends of Fulbright 2017

Featured Image

 “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
– Muriel Rukeyser

“Scientists say that human beings are made of atoms, but a little bird told me that we are also made of stories.”
– Eduardo Galeano

When I first arrived at Mount Holyoke College in January 2017 — and even before that — I knew that my time here would be about making stories, and about remaking myself through these stories. Gladly, I cannot say this didn’t happen. Because it most certainly did.

My story requires some background details. I was one of 11 Argentine undergraduate students on a summer study-abroad program organized by the Fulbright Commission, the Argentine Ministry of Education and the United States Embassy in Buenos Aires. Mount Holyoke was one of six educational institutions across the U.S. to host groups of selected Argentine students, known as Friends of Fulbright. The program, which promotes language, cultural, intellectual and social exchange, began in 2016 and was coordinated by Mount Holyoke Professional and Graduate Education (PaGE).

My two main goals as a visiting scholar were to learn new academic perspectives and to meet new people. Happily, I cannot say that these didn’t happen.

I was expecting to study new concepts, read new books and get acquainted with the ideas of new authors. All of which I did, but not exactly in the way I was expecting to.

Cecilia Malnis with friends by Lower Lake

Most of my learning at Mount Holyoke took place outside of the classroom. I learned from the dynamics of relationships between people on campus, from the life experiences of students, from the help my classmates gave me during lessons, from their way of seeing the world, from their expressions, from their eyes, from their ways of living and from their smiles.

When language could have been a barrier to communication, I embraced gestures. When idiosyncrasy could have been a barrier to bonding, I embraced tolerance. When the idea of my returning to Argentina so imminently could have been a valid reason to restrain ourselves and remain cold, we embraced each other.

Before coming to Mount Holyoke, I had this idea that I should steer clear of physical demonstrations of affection because, I believed, Americans are not as demonstrative as Argentinians. To be honest, I was hugged more times in those seven weeks than was necessary to keep my heart warm.  

During my time on campus, I lived in Creighton Hall. For me, Mount Holyoke is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I particularly liked the path that goes along Upper Lake. I found myself there walking alone when I needed space to think; I found myself there walking with a friend when we needed a beautiful place for the context of our talks; I found myself there laughing with friends when no talking or explanation was needed.

I also liked the view from the first floor of Safford Hall. First, because from there I could see Skinner Green (not always green but always beautiful). And because being there meant that I was with some dear friends who lived there, and with other dear friends who, like me, did not. We were all welcomed. Dear friends, dear memories.

Cecilia Malnis and friends on a snowy day

It is amazing how it can take just a few seconds to realize that some friendships will last forever. One snow war: a lifetime of memories. One good conversation: an endless list of new ideas. One shared laugh: an entire night of cheeks warmly hurting in the best way.

As I returned to Argentina to complete my degree in social communication at the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, I brought with me much more than I had expected. I carried with me joyful expectation — of the potential, of the unexpected — behind every act, every encounter, every word.

Traveling is about leaving home and building home. Traveling is about saying goodbye but also welcoming new people into your life. Traveling is about thinking with your eyes, eating through your lungs, walking with your mind and talking with your heart. Traveling is about giving yourself up without reservations and receiving with open arms those who want to be a part of your journey.

I just have to say thank you. Thank you to this amazing community of minds and voices for confirming that indeed we are not made of atoms or molecules, but of stories: my stories, your stories, our stories. It has been my privilege to be a part of the global Mount Holyoke story.

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Note: The graphic at top is by Nico Ilustraciones.

Cecilia Malnis of Mendoza, Argentina, studies social communication at the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo. She works as a researcher at her university’s gender department. Malnis aspires to a globe-trotting future as a professor, researcher and/or fiction writer.
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