Study Abroad: The Ride of Your Life
By Sam Cepican, SSU student
When asking an individual to recall their experiences studying abroad, the one word that seems to echo the loudest is “change.” Not change in the sense that you’ve lost touch with who you were before, but rather all that you were has been enhanced with new experiences and cultural knowledge. You feel privileged, and almost as though you’ve been invited to a secret society; connecting instantly with the other people within it, whether strangers or friends. You find yourself starting every sentence with an anecdote “When I was in….” Sometimes you think to stop yourself at the risk of coming off sounding arrogant, yet can’t because the ride was too exciting to contain your emotion. That’s what study abroad is: a crazy roller coaster. You look at it from the line, seeing all the twists, turns, and dips; you wonder if the process and the waiting is worth the brief period of fun. It is. “When I was in…” Buenos Aires, Argentina, the experience only lasted six months, but it is something I will carry with me forever.
Prior to studying abroad, I had the opportunity to travel as a performer with the Disney on Ice production of High School Musical: The Ice Tour. While my experiences in other cultures were fun and enlightening, I was never able to fully submerge myself or to feel off balance because of cultural differences. Spending only one or two weeks in each country, you often play the part of tourist despite your efforts to break out of that mold. Upon returning to Salem State University to finish my degree in Public Relations, I saw study abroad as a chance to fulfill all I had missed in traveling while growing as a person and a professional.
My choice of country was not haphazard and something at which my mom still rolls her eyes. My boyfriend of two years, Martin, is someone who just happens to be from the small city of Carapachay located outside of the Capital Federal, Buenos Aires.
Regardless of his nationality, I feel that learning another language, Spanish in particular, has greatly increased my value as a communications major. Aside from the term “bilingual” shooting a resume to the top of a stack, what better way to communicate, than to open myself to a giant demographic market in the United States?
When I arrived in Buenos Aires in January, I knew my skills in Spanish were severely lacking. This meant that I could say many things I should never say in public as well as some basic phrases. Luckily, I was living in a household where not everyone spoke my language. Martin’s sisters spoke English well, his father spoke Spanglish well, and his mom had about the same level as I did with my Spanish (minus the profanity). The lack of lingual accommodation immediately put my brain into survival mode; latching on to every word I heard.
By the end of each day I felt exhausted, but accomplished; whether it was because I remembered how to say my bus fare to the driver or because I was slowly learning how to navigate and thrive in a culture so different than my own. This sense of pride for the smallest achievements combined with responsibility and self-sufficiency to not only boost my confidence, but also gave me great perspective whenever I faced challenges at home. All I have to do is remember the time I got lost because the D-line subway was undergoing repairs or when I gave a 10-minute presentation in Spanish without notes. All of these things seemed miniscule at the time. However, in retrospect, I see how they contributed to the person I am today.
A great advantage to studying abroad is it doesn’t feel like the standard definition of studying. Each day presents itself as a new adventure, and that excitement propels you to a level of understanding both internally and of your individual universe. Some days you excel, other days you drown amidst the lack of normalcy. Either way you walk away changed for the better. You learn new things about yourself, about a culture you may have stereotyped previously and about new friends that shared the experience with you.
The best part: no two people’s time abroad is ever the same. So pack your bags and hang on tight for the ride of your life.