After 26 ½ hours of traveling, 3 different flights, and a lot of time staring at my luggage (or my life for the past four months…), I finally landed in Minnesota bright and early Sunday morning.
It’s such a bittersweet feeling being home. A relief in many ways, yet also hard to believe I said goodbye to so many wonderful places, experiences and most importantly people I met in Argentina. While many things seem to be just as I left them four months ago here at home, there are many things I can already tell I see in a different light or just from a slightly different perspective. There are also many things I never realized how much they meant to me before I spent four months abroad (It still seems weird to think that I actually lived in a different country for four months, even in retrospect!!!!)
So herein lies, MY BIGGEST TAKE-AWAYS AND LESSONS FROM ABROAD.
- People are more similar than we realize. This was a comfort for me while I was there. I remember looking at my host family and friends there thinking that they reminded me so much of people I knew from home. It makes the world seem so much smaller and friendlier when you see that most people are just trying to live as best as they can, happily, and with people they want to be surrounded by.
- Doing “it all” is never possible. There will always be something that you can’t squeeze in and can’t see, especially when it comes to studying abroad. Although I crossed a ton of things off my bucket list, it seemed to only get longer the more time I spent there while I learned of other things. While I can definitely say I had several thoughts of me wishing to do things I knew were out of my reach (whether due to time, money, or some other circumstance) I finally hit a point where I realized it’s a waste of my time to focus on what I might be missing when right there in front of me is my worrying taking me away from the experiences I am fortunate enough to have. With that being said, it’s also okay to do nothing sometimes. We live in a world that expects us to constantly be “on the go” and have been almost trained to feel guilty when we spend our time doing nothing. (I know I am guilty of this…) But yet, I don’t understand why. There is nothing as powerful and mentally healing as just taking a break.
- Patience is Virtue. I have heard this a million times and I always thought I had patience. That was until I spent the past few months waiting for everything in Argentina (literally…. lines and waiting everywhere!!!) I can surely say before I didn’t know the definition of patience. To be quite honest, waiting is not that bad. Waiting an extra 10 minutes in line at the grocery store won’t kill us. Having to wait for the bus that seems to never come won’t cause the end of the world. While it may not always be convenient, becoming upset and impatient gets us nowhere but unhappy and irritated. Yet, it still won’t make it go any faster. This is one skill I really hope I can continue to keep strong as I am back and may be one of the biggest changes in my day-to-day life. Studying abroad and Argentina taught me that everything might not always go as planned and that’s okay. Somehow, it will still have a way of working out how it should in the end. This I was shown time and time again.
- City Life is Way Different than Rural Minnesota. While this may seem like a no-brainer, there were some things that I anticipated yet were more drastic than I ever imagined. It’s a change getting used to having to depend on buses for transportation instead of having the luxury and ability to drive whenever and wherever. I had to learn to be cautious when I walked alone, something I admit I took for granted before. While I have not been completely oblivious before of my safety and have spent much time in larger cities, I have spent almost next to no time alone in large cities without the comfort of driving to my exact location. It’s unfortunate that in our world we have to be so careful about our own safety but the hard truth is unfortunately we do and we can only hope and pray that we can continue to each stay safe as well as our loved ones. Argentina has a very strong machismo culture and catcalling on the street is very, very common. This I will not miss one bit!! It’s not a flattering compliment like these men see it as, but to me and many other women I have talked to it’s threatening. While most were not too bad and fortunately were never more than a few looks and words, it still is frustrating to be objectified in such a way. Okay… I am realizing how negative this “takeaway” is getting and there definitely are not all negatives to living in a city!!! I also realized how much I love the convenience factor of living in a bigger city. Being close to so many parks, activities, and restaurant options had some great perks!
- Asking for help is OK. I like to think I can do everything by myself and have to admit I never liked to ask for help because I didn’t want to be seen as a burden. Being placed in several situations where asking for help was my only option (many more times than usual) I began to realize that people who you want in your life will want to help you. If they don’t, they aren’t worth having around.
- I’m more capable than I sometimes give myself credit for. It’s definitely easy to sell yourself short, think something is beyond reach, or assume you aren’t good enough. In reality, it’s such a waste of our time! We spend so much of our time preparing for failure when we should be prepping for achieving what we want to achieve. If you would have told me two years ago, that I would have been doing some of the things I did in Argentina (and some of them even by myself) there is a very likely chance I would have doubted you. Yet, I am happy to say not only did I survive by living essentially on my own in a foreign country for four months, I thrived and had some of the best and most liberating experiences of my life.
- Having a way to process and flush out your thoughts is a lifesaver. Nothing tests your limits and mental/emotional capabilities more than leaving for a country for four months where they speak a different language, have a completely different way of living, and without knowing anyone you will be spending the next few months with. There were plenty of challenges, difficulties, and moments where I felt a little overwhelmed to say the least. I knew I needed to find a way to keep myself sane. The first night (I think it may have been even before I left during my pre-trip jitters) I started to write. For the past semester, I wrote down feelings, funny memories, normal daily moments, and everything in between. It helped immensely. On the days I felt overwhelmed and even the days I was brimming with happiness from head to toe journaling became my outlet and eventually my routine (as I wrote almost every single day I was there.) I am also glad I will have something to look back on when I need a memory-trigger and am nostalgic for “that one time I spent a semester in Argentina”.
- I am so fortunate. Not only am I lucky to have been able to spend four months living in a different country, but also just fortunate for everything I have in my life. While Argentina is still not a third world country (I would say second world personally, but some may argue it could be considered differently) I was exposed to more lower-class living conditions than I have ever seen living in the United States. Yet these people still seem relatively happy. It makes me think twice about being a bit disappointed when I can’t have those new clothes or brand new phone…. It’s so easy to take for granted living in a home with enough food to eat. While to us it seems so basic, so many people in the world would do anything to have what we consider to be almost a guarantee. Also, of course I am fortunate and extremely lucky to have a family who has supported me financially and emotionally (without them this would have been impossible in so many ways). I am also lucky to have been blessed with a fabulous host family and friends I met in Argentina to pass the time with. So many people throughout this experience and beyond have been a blessing in my life and I truly don’t know what I would do without them.
- And most importantly, MEMORIES and PEOPLE are PRICELESS. The more time I spent there, the more I truly realized how important people are and the memories you share and create. When you don’t have the option to drive an hour to see a family member or friend when you are missing them, it puts into perspective how much they truly mean to you. One thing I loved about Argentina was their collective culture. Family and friends meant everything! Their lives revolved around each other. In my host family’s house, I don’t think there was a span of more than two days that went by without a friend or extended family member stopping by our house for an overnight visit or a meal. Many Argentines would share any amount of food, item, advice or their time with you if you were ever in need. Something I don’t think is as common to see here, as so many people seem to be caught up in their own lives and interests to worry about others. Before I spend too much time rambling on, I guess what my main takeaway is that it is so pointless to focus on the materialistic things in life when great company is never too hard to find especially when you take the time and effort to be genuinely interested in others who are right there with you.
I can assuredly say, my time in Argentina will be cherished forever. The memories, laughs, struggles, and experiences all left me with things I don’t know I could have gotten anywhere else. While it feels great to be home, I will always have a piece of my heart in Argentina.