Is it just me or did every person that encouraged you to study abroad also say that it would be a “life-changing experience?” While I’m sure that I’m not the only one to have heard this promising phrase, I am also pretty sure that like me, you probably didn’t receive a clear guideline as to how you could begin to make your experience abroad a life-changing one. Unfortunately, I can’t be the one to provide you with this guideline, but I can tell you what has worked for me.
Coming into this semester, I expected all of my defining experiences to come from cross-cultural interactions with Porteños (the locals of Buenos Aires). Halfway through my semester abroad, I can honestly say that my time in Buenos Aires has made an indelible impact on my life, but a lot of it has not come from my cross-cultural interactions. This semester has given me the space and time I needed to focus on my personal and academic goals, but this growth journey didn’t just magically happen when I touched down in a foreign country as the “life-changing experience” promise had me believe. Instead, I have had to be very intentional in the pursuit of creating change in my life, and I have employed the three steps below to achieve this.
Consistently Check-in with Myself
During my time in Buenos Aires, I’ve encountered several moments of discomfort. However, I have also learned a great deal about myself from these moments because I make sure to spend time thinking about what exactly caused me to feel that way. Some of the causes of my discomfort have surprised me. For example, I found myself loing the few occasions that I was able to have dinner alone in my homestay, when initially I thought that eating alone might be a little sad. Sometimes it is easy to think we know ourselves - exactly what makes us happy and what doesn’t - but studying abroad can lay bare all that we really have yet to learn.
Crucial to learning more about myself, has been doing daily self check-ins about what made me feel good, what didn’t, and asking why I felt that way. From this consistent practice, I have learned how to be honest with myself and take better care of myself both physically and mentally.
I am a big fan of routines, but sometimes a routine that begins as a source of comfort in a new space can become a rut. Routines help maintain consistent progression towards goals while ruts block this progression. Challenging myself to stay out of ruts has been as simple as walking home one day instead of taking my trusty collectivo (public transportation bus). My challenges have been as drastic as moving to a higher level Spanish class in the middle of the semester. Not exclusively associated with being abroad, I have also challenged myself to commit to the maintenance of my physical health. For me, this looks like eating foods that make me feel lighter and paying attention to my body’s warning signs when I might be getting sick. These are things I always wanted to do, but moving forward was impossible without forcing myself to act differently than I had in the past. Being abroad has provided the perfect opportunity to force me to incorporate some challenges into my routine.
In my previous blog, I stressed the importance of finding time to rest. While I still stand by this, I’d like to add that in order for my rest to help me, it has to be productive. When I say productive rest I’m not talking about writing an essay with some candles and spa music playing in the background. Instead, I mean that when I sleep, I make sure that I am creating a space to get quality sleep. When I have free time, I try not to blow all of it stressing about not being present on my school’s campus this semester. I am still trying to find the best methods for creating productive rest for myself, but when I get it right, I feel like a whole new person.
Finally, to answer the question that this title presented. Yes, studying abroad really can change your life, however, the challenge lies in being intentional about finding out what will make that happen for you. The promise of a “life-changing experience” can be overwhelming, but hopefully, my practices might inspire you to come up with your own plan for making good on that promise and the most of your time abroad.
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<p>I am a third year student at Spelman College double majoring in International Studies and Spanish. I claim Boerne, Texas (right outside of San Antonio) as my home, but I have lived in over 10 places both in the U.S. and abroad as I am an Army Brat. This however, is my first time going abroad without friends or family, so join me on my journey of learning how to tango, bonding with my cohort, and learning to love Buenos Aires!</p>