Everyone always told me I’d be a different person after returning from 5 months of studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I believed them, but I had no idea just how much. Buenos Aires made me throw all my expectations out the window, and my experience was beyond my imagination. I learned an incredible amount about myself and my own independence.
Here are five main takeaways from studying abroad that I’ll remember next the time I travel:
1. As long as you’ve got your passport and credit card, you’ll find a way.
My grandfather told me this before the first time ever I traveled internationally. I didn’t understand how true it was until the worst happened — my phone was stolen with only two weeks left in my program. I let myself be upset and cry for one day, but then I picked myself up and focused on being productive. I managed to navigate Buenos Aires without a map, to make it to my finals without an alarm, and coordinate my flight home without an online ticket — all in a non-English speaking country! If something like this happens, you. will. be. okay! As long as you’ve got your passport and credit card, you’ll figure it out.
2. Language barriers are difficult, but doable.
I spoke almost no Spanish when I went to Buenos Aires, and it was a challenge for sure. I struggled the most to communicate with my host mom and with people in restaurants. But when I look at where my Spanish abilities were at the beginning and compare them to where they are now, I laugh. Immersion is the only real way to learn a language, and people want to help you! No matter what country you’re in, most people will work with you to try and puzzle out what you’re saying — or trying to say. That’s the best way to learn!
3. Pictures don’t mean anything unless there are people in them.
This one of my takeaways from studying abroad is a little less substantial, but important nonetheless. When I look back on my millions of photos from my semester abroad, I find that do not care as much about the photos of landscape and mountains. A couple are nice, but the photos that really matter to me are the ones of my friends and I! Those are the pictures I’ll treasure forever, because they capture a memory and not a place. Try to keep your face out of your phone when you’re traveling.
4. Push yourself and take risks!
I was an English major who went to Argentina, for Pete’s sake. They say college is the best time to travel, so this is your prime opportunity to study in a country that you’d never considered traveling to — like somewhere completely out of your comfort zone! And when you’re there, push yourself to take risks! I’m terrified of heights, but going zip-lining in the Andes Mountains was one of my favorite things I did the entire semester.
5. These friendships are for a lifetime.
Through your time abroad, you are going to meet people from all over the place that are going to share this incredible experience with you! I am so thankful for the people who I grew so close to during my semester, from Chicago to France. And let’s not forget my local friends! I also am still close with my roommate and host mom. In fact, one of my friends just did a program in the same city that her dad studied in when he was in college and they reunited with his old host family for dinner! The bonds that you make abroad are real and special, and they last a long, long time.