I left the country for the first time this past May, right after I finished my second semester of college. I was gone for a month, in Córdoba, Argentina taking a Latin American Culture Through Film class for my school’s mini-semester- called Spring Term. I had always planned on studying abroad during college, but I always expected that the opportunity would come during my junior year, after I really had the chance to establish myself and become comfortable at my school. I also just assumed that that was the first chance I would have. I didn’t even know that there were programs where first-year students could study abroad. I’ve also always craved adventure.
During high school, I dreamed of traveling the world during and after my college years. So when I discovered that I could start my travels before I was even a sophomore, I jumped at the opportunity. I thought it would just be a giant, fun adventure. I knew that it would be a super cool and new experience, but I had no idea the rollercoaster of emotions and experiences that I would encounter.
FOMO is a thing
I dealt with this gross monster before I even left. After I had been accepted and committed to the program, I had a major freakout. I thought I was going to miss so, so much by not being on campus during Spring Term. I’d be missing the final four weeks of being on the same hall as some of my closest friends. I wouldn’t get to take one of the other really cool classes offered on campus during the spring. I was terrified of all the things I’d be missing out on, but I really couldn’t pinpoint many once in a lifetime things that I would actually be missing out on. Spring term happens every year- it wasn’t like I was never going to have the opportunity to be on campus for it. But the freaked out freshman I had become could not wrap her head around any of this. I called my mom crying because I didn’t want to go. I emailed the head of study abroad to see if I could get out of it without incurring the entire program cost. I consider myself to be a fairly independent person and had never truly encountered the fear of missing out before. I finally understood why some people are so afraid to step out of their comfort zones, especially when that comfort zone removes them from their peers.
But also, FOMO is kind of irrelevant
Whenever you decide to forgo one thing in favor of another, you are still doing something. You aren’t losing out on one experience, you are gaining a different one. As second semester dragged on, I started to get really sick of the mundane routines of campus life. The terror of leaving my safety blanket turned into excitement at the prospect of something new. I was still nervous about missing out, but as soon as I got to Argentina, I knew I had made the right choice. The pictures I saw of my friends at parties and other events looked fun, but they were nothing in comparison to the photo of the beautiful Argentinian waterfall I got to visit, or the (many) pictures I snapped of the ridiculously friendly street dogs. I realized that by choosing to be brave, I chose to embrace adventure. It’s painfully cheesy, but it’s true that you only regret the things you are too afraid to do. You don’t regret adventure.
A new country doesn’t fix everything
I was hoping that my international class would give me a break from the typical culture of my school. I was wrong. While I grew very close with nearly everyone on the trip, it was eerily similar to being on campus, just in a different language. Things don’t change just because your environment does. Problems are not magically solved, and the same things annoyed me. People always say that you can’t hide from your issues, and I found that to be extremely true. Argentina was not the cultural break I had hoped for. The language barrier coupled with the huge amounts of work we had made it hard to break out of the patterns that had been established stateside- meaning I didn’t get the large dose of off the beaten track forms of culture that I had hoped for.
Study abroad is awesome
Now that I’ve gotten the bad surprises out of the way, let’s move on to all the good things. Argentina is incredible. You can’t really get to know a place until you’ve lived there, and while a month isn’t a super long amount of time, it did give me a pretty solid taste of Argentinian life, at least in the Córdoba province. I got to witness and experience so much beautiful culture. My Spanish has gotten ridiculously better. I had the coolest host mom of all time. Being super far out of my comfort zone allowed me to learn about myself in ways I never knew possible. When talking to Argentinians about the USA, I was forced to analyze American culture and values and how those tied into my own. Having the chance to do that while being removed from the country gave me new eyes, both in regards to how I view myself, and how I view my country.
So what did I really learn from studying abroad as a freshman? A different country is infinitely more fulfilling than any frat party. I learned to trust myself, and to trust adventure.