June 25, 2017
“La vida comienza al final de su elemento.”
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”- Neale Donald Walsch
As I refilled my Argentine bus card for the very last time this past Wednesday, reality all of a sudden hit me like a ton of bricks and a wave of emotions began to come over me. With only a week and a half remaining until I leave the country, the semester is quickly winding down and the amount of essays, projects and presentations that I must complete have been piling up fast. Amid trying to meet these deadlines, I’m trying to organize my thoughts, ponder on my experiences as an independent young lady in a foreign land and maximize my time. Although I can read and reread my journal entries that I began writing in the very beginning of this adventure, I find that I’m continuously asking myself, “What just happened?” In the blink of an eye, five and a half months have passed and yet, so much has taken place that has shaped my character and has allowed me to grow as an individual.
In the midst of all of the traveling, pleasure and excitement that comes with studying abroad, it’s imperative for one to set realistic goals in order to track their progress during this life-changing exploit. I strongly believe that a transformative experience such as this is not complete until these goals are achieved and progression is recognized. In my particular case, my primary objective was to improve in my Spanish speaking skills. Although I have been studying the language for approximately seven years, there was (and still is) room for improvement. Along with that, my hope was to also come out of my bubble, while still adhering to my morals, values and beliefs, and embrace as many opportunities as possible. For anyone who is considering or already planning on studying abroad, I highly recommend reading The View from the Veranda: Understanding Today’s Colonial Student by Anthony Ogden.The article elaborates on the importance of truly seeking out cultural immersion instead of remaining in ones comfort zone, or on the veranda. The person who remains on the veranda wants to simply observe and keep themselves distant from their host community while only interacting with the people as needed. The negative consequence is that they will leave the host country with the same basic level of understanding of the country and it’s culture that they had when they first arrived.
Certainly, the very decision to travel alone for the first time to Argentina, and leave everything and everyone that I know behind in the United States, was a tremendous step out of my comfort zone. Even more so, new knowledge that I have obtained about the Spanish language and culture is a result of “stepping off of the veranda”, overcoming certain fears in an unknown environment, getting involved in cultural activities, and, as a result of all of this, establishing lifelong friendships. For example, after arriving from Luján, Buenos Aires last month, I considered that a huge accomplishment. I have always felt more comfortable traveling with at least one other person but knowing that I am now able to travel within a foreign land and maneuver my way around without anyone always by my side or holding me by the hand is progress. In fact, it manifests more of my independent character.
Although the program that I was a part of this semester involved students who were mostly from the United States, in whom I have established good bonds with, I strived to establish friendships with local Argentinians in order to reach my objective in understanding more of the Spanish language and culture. Last weekend, for example, was the perfect opportunity for me to do so. My Spanish-speaking partner held a birthday party with a small group of friends and I just couldn’t turn down the invitation. Sitting, chatting and laughing with all of them made me realize even more that this is what the study abroad experience is all about. It’s not about remaining stagnant in ones familiar ways (on the veranda) 24/7 because doing that will not get a person anywhere. Instead of being a couch potato and watching Netflix all day in English for the majority of the time in a foreign land , it’s imperative to make the most of every opportunity and immerse oneself in the culture, whether it’s going to a museum and having a city tour in the target language, attending a local event/gathering or becoming a volunteer at a community organization. One should be willing to put themselves out there in order to get the most of this once in a life-time experience. I for one can admit that my time here in Argentina has enabled me to come out of my shell and become more open to people that I know. These previous tips are just a sneak peak of next week’s blog entry topic, which will be extra special, and feature the lessons that I have learned during this rollercoaster ride of an adventure. So, stay tuned!