GW Expat: No studying in study abroad

It’s interesting that ‘study abroad’ includes the word ‘study.’ Since I’ve come to Buenos Aires, Argentina, studying has been the last thing on my mind. In fact, I purposely chose an easy schedule to ensure that studying would be on the back burner during my time here. And yet, never have I gained so much knowledge in a short amount of time than in these past two months in Argentina. To me, the structure of study abroad resembles something from a diet pill infomercial: party all you want (legally) and still learn a lot, without ever setting foot in a library!

The language is one of the clearest examples of this. Spanish is widely taught in the American education system, but rarely spoken by non-natives outside the classroom. I’ve been taking Spanish since the eighth grade, have Spanish-speaking relatives and absolutely love the language, but still rarely spoke beyond the confines of my Spanish class. Not until I had to eat breakfast and dinner with a family that doesn’t speak English did I really learn to speak Spanish. Not until I had to convince the bouncer of a club to let my girlfriends and I in the door for free did I have to force the foreign words through my lips. Not until I was hiking on a glacier at the base of the Andes Mountains did I finally use the phrase, “Hay peligro de aludes?” (Is there a danger of avalanches?)

Although Spanish has completely captivated me, I have yet to experience the cliché epiphany of study abroad in which I stand on top of the highest point in Argentina looking into the vast sunset and all of a sudden realize the world is much bigger than my little campus back home. This always seemed a little ridiculous to me. Of course the world is bigger than GW. However, there is something refreshing about traveling to a place that is completely detached from life in the states. GW can be quite insular at times. Living in Argentina has taught me that in the grand scheme of things it won’t matter if I got screwed over in a group project or barely passed my econ class.

More than anything, studying abroad has taught me about myself. When I ate Argentinean barbecue for the first time, called a parilla, I discovered that I prefer the juicy underbelly or flank steak from a cow over the coiled intestines that don’t hide their origin in taste or appearance. Also, I learned there is something utterly cathartic about taking a half hour every morning to drink coffee and nothing else. Coffee-to-go isn’t popular in Argentina. I don’t read the news, don’t go over homework and don’t watch TV; I just sit and drink. As a multi-tasking journalism student prone to high stress levels, this Argentinean ritual has completely altered the pace of my days and will definitely return to the States with me.

It is these small incidents that have made the greatest impact on my study abroad experience. And again, none of them involve studying. Thus is the beauty of study abroad. Immerse yourself in another culture, drink (legally) all you want and come away with a heightened knowledge of yourself and the world.

The adventure continues.

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