July 4, 2017
“Cuando salís de un lugar hermoso, lo llevás con vos allá donde vayas.”
“When you leave a beautiful place, you carry it with you wherever you go.”-Alexandra Stoddard
Although I am not physically present with my family and friends, enjoying the festivities that come with celebrating US Independence, I am still content; contemplating on the fact that this study abroad experience has changed me in such a positive way. Soon after I posted my recent blog, I noticed that one of my Spanish professors here wrote me a personal message in response to our weekly writing assignments that we had to complete for the course. A small portion of it said, “throughout these months, you have demonstrated changes not only in the language but also in your personal growth. Every internationalization experience transforms us, and in your case, you have been able to get around difficulties and take each moment as something positive. During this time, you have put distinct strategies into play that have allowed you to get involved and adapt. I hope that this internationalization experience has been useful to you.” When I read those brief words of encouragement, I couldn’t help but to smile and realized that she confirmed what I had wrote about in my last blog. Without a doubt, I know that I have grown as an individual and have a different perspective on the world that surrounds me. The progress that I see in myself makes me even more so bask in wonder at the fact that in less than two days, I will carry everything that I have learned, everything that I have attained back to the United States.
Last Thursday, PECLA (Programa de Español y Cultura Latinoamericana), the program that encourages linguistic and cultural immersion for international students, hosted a farewell luncheon for all of us. The directors and some of the professors were there and they gave us the opportunity to write on a special wall, any attribute, physical or non-physical, that we plan on taking back with us to America. My word is right under the huge red print! The one principal feature that I know I will take back with me to the states is patience. Paciencia, my speaking partner said, is something that she is yet still learning to acquire in this developing country. From small inconveniences such as having the power go out at the wrong time for no given reason, to even larger nuisances such as having the bus system not functioning, I’ve definitely had my way of learning how to be more patient.
Throughout these couple of months, the lessons that I have learned have taught me so much about to how to adjust and live in a new environment. I hope that the tips and lessons that I share below will help anyone who is reading adapt to their new surroundings, no matter which part of the globe they decide to study or move to for a specific period of time.
1. Appreciate the small things- During the first couple of weeks of my stay here, the saying, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” proved to be true in everyday situations that I faced. I realized that I took for granted many of the everyday necessities that I utilized back in the United States. For instance, it really bothered me when I realized that I had to actually PAY for toilet paper in the bus terminals and that at times, even in public restrooms in the University, toilet paper and sometimes even soap were nowhere to be found. Of course, when I return to the US, I’m going to be so relieved at the fact that I won’t have to pay for toilet paper in the airports or terminals. However, now having these necessities at hand sometimes, really made me grateful and consider how fortunate I am to be from a place where people don’t have to obtain their income from asking people to pay for toilet tissue in public restrooms.
2. Ask questions- When traveling to a foreign place for the first time, I cannot stress enough how imperative it is to ask questions if you have a doubt about ANYTHING, even if it’s just to ask for directions. This one piece of advice that I received myself before departing for Argentina has helped me immensely. I used to be an extremely shy individual, but this experience has really opened my eyes to the significance of asking people questions if I have doubts or concerns. For example, when I traveled to my service learning location for the first time at the private English school, once the bus dropped me off, I was lost and had a difficult time locating the street that the institute was on. There was no way that I was going to continue wandering different roads with no success. So, instead of panicking, I walked in a local shop to ask where the school was located, and thanks to the directions that the person gave me, I eventually found the school. However, asking questions is not only limited to simply enquiring for directions. If you’re living in a place where the language is different from your own and you notice that your professor or the host family that you are living with articulates a word or phrase that you don’t know, ask them what the meaning is! Asking these types of questions is the only way that you can learn new things, which is the main reason why you are studying abroad.
3. Use the local language as often as possible- As I have mentioned before, I came to Argentina with the principal intention of achieving fluency in the Spanish language. But, this goal could not be accomplished without utilizing it as much as I possibly could. During my stay here, I tried very hard to only speak English when talking with my parents and friends through FaceTime or when I needed to clarify an unknown word or phrase. In the beginning, especially for the first couple of weeks or so, it can be difficult to all of a sudden switch your brain to think in a language different from your own. In fact, I know it’s going to be an experience in itself when I return to the US and nearly everyone is speaking English. But, when you overcome the difficulties and challenges that comes with speaking another language 99% of the time upon arrival to a foreign country, and try as much as possible to fully immerse yourself in it (through listening to local radio stations, communicating with your host family, meeting and talking with new friends from the area), you’ll start to become more proficient in the language day by day.
4. Things will not always go your way/ expect the unexpected- I truly wish that I received this piece of advice before I left the United States. When I first arrived in Argentina, I was too excited to even think about the possibility that, metaphorically, there would be bumps in the road ahead of me. I was not expecting to end up in the hospital, TWICE, and having to change host families within the first month or so of arrival. Neither was I aware that my service learning location would change. However, through it all, I realized that despite these major alterations, it all worked out for the better. I moved to a new host family that has more experience in accommodating those with gluten and lactose intolerance, and as a result, feel healthier. The change in my service location, where I was delighted to work as an English assistant at a private institute, has made me consider even more the possibility of utilizing my language skills in the education field sometime in the near future. Of course, in the moment where I was confronted with these unexpected difficulties and changes, I felt like I was in a dark tunnel and couldn’t see how anything good would come out of it. (especially when I ended up in the hospital) But, sooner or later, I came to the realization that everything worked out for my own good, and for this reason, I feel even more confident and stronger than ever before.
5. Cry and share your frustrations with those close to you- You will experience homesickness, there’s no avoiding it. In fact, shedding many tears is all a part of the process in adapting to a foreign culture. (Mom and Dad, thank you for listening and putting up with me during the times in the semester when I was an emotional wreck.) When I was told that I would cry while studying abroad, I remembered that piece of advice. But due to my zeal of being in a Spanish-speaking country, I kind of tucked it in the back of mind. In fact, about four weeks or so into the semester, many of the other students who are in the same program as I am had shared that they had already had their teary moments. At the time, I was perplexed because I hadn’t even shed a tear at the time. I guess I was still in that, honeymoon phase of culture shock, where I felt like everything was a bed of roses, and I was infatuated with my new surroundings. But, everyone experiences things differently and I eventually had my moments of unhappiness and frustration. Certainly, holding in these different emotions won’t do you any good. In fact, it may make you feel even worse. There’s nothing wrong with crying by yourself or spilling out your emotions with those who you are close to. Doing so will help you even more so to adjust and accept your new surroundings, which that in itself, will take time.
6. Embrace the experience- Having the opportunity to study abroad in a foreign country is most certainly a once in a lifetime experience; a wild adventure that not everyone is able to go on. For this very reason, making the most of every moment in this journey is crucial to basking in the beauty of studying abroad. Whether you decide to go abroad for a whole semester, or for only two weeks, recording your experiences in a personal diary or a blog is an excellent way to reflect and meditate on everything that you have seen and felt.
Without a doubt, the places and the people that I have met will always have a special place in my heart. I came to Argentina in February with so many emotions; afraid of the unknown and at the same time, had so much excitement at the notion of being in a Spanish-speaking country. Although I had my good and bad experiences here, in the midst of it all, a stronger and braver me has emerged. I am so grateful and have absolutely no regrets about studying abroad here in this diverse country. This experience has radically changed me and I will never ever be the same.