This summer, I spent a month studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I do not regret it. This is going to sound disgustingly cheesy, but words cannot describe how much I’ve learned these past four weeks…not just in terms of Spanish, but also in terms of life lessons and my own personal growth.
What surprises me is that there aren’t more people doing it. Before I signed up for this program, I asked a few friends if they’d like to sign up, too, and the range of excuses I heard was admirable. While I was on the program, some friends expressed fascination or envy or “I wish I was there!”…which made me wonder, “Then why didn’t you sign up?” It’s easy to convince yourself that studying abroad isn’t worth it
There are tons of reasons why taking a summer to study abroad is an excellent idea for all high-schoolers…and plenty of reasons why any excuses you might be thinking of right now…are absolutely void!
Being alone in a different country forces you to be a lot more independent. You learn tons of life skills, and you learn a lot about living on your own in general. It’s great practice before you leave for college. Before I arrived in Buenos Aires, I’d never really been away from my parents for more than a few days. I arrived in Argentina, and I didn’t even know how to use the keys to my door! It was a little embarrassing at first, but over time, I ended up learning a ton. I learned how to do my own laundry, how to walk around the city by myself, how to use the subway system, etc. I’ve definitely gathered a lot of skills I’ll need to use for the rest of my life.
2. Language skills
You’ll be surprised how much harder it is to converse with someone in a different language…even if you’ve studied it for five years. Studying a language and actually using a language are two very different things, and living in a foreign country really forces you to know how to converse. Being fully immersed in a foreign language can work wonders for reducing your accent, improving vocab, and generally increasing fluency. I’ve studied Spanish since I was eleven or twelve, and I still had a hard time keeping up with the Spanish spoken in Buenos Aires for the first few days. It’s totally different than filling out exercises in a workbook! It’s definitely a worthwhile experience. If you’re thinking of using a foreign language for work, becoming more fluent in conversation is a necessity.
3. Meet new friends!
This was definitely one of the most rewarding aspects of my stay in Argentina. Many programs group you with other kids who are also studying abroad. In my program, Sol Abroad, my group and I went on cultural expeditions and took classes at the same school. Friendships abroad seem to solidify even quicker than friendships back home. Thrown together in an unfamiliar environment, you’re kind of forced to turn to each other for companionship. It’s really neat meeting different kids from different parts of the world. If you’re staying with a host family, you’re also bound to befriend them, too. Having friends from different cultural backgrounds is a mutually rewarding experience, and one you’ll be hard put to find just anywhere.
4. Cultural Awareness
This one is huge. In the United States, you can easily get away with being culturally ignorant. In other countries…not so much! Being familiar with foreign cultures is so important– not only for future reference, but also just to know in general. Studying abroad is a really neat experience because you can immerse yourself in a completely different culture. It’s fascinating to learn the customs of another people and taste their food and watch how they interact with others. In Argentina, for example, people typically kiss each other once on the right cheek when they’re greeting you and saying goodbye! I loved this custom, and I had so much fun learning more about the little nuances and intricacies and richness of the culture there. Becoming culturally sensitive and more culturally aware will help you build up a more worldly mentality.
Ah, college. So we meet yet again. Honestly, this should not be anywhere near your top reasons for studying abroad somewhere. Studying abroad in a different country does look good on a college application, though, because it shows colleges that you have initiative and drive and independence. But this should not be the sole reason that you go! The boost to your college application is certainly a plus, but please don’t let this govern your trip. If this is your top priority, you’ll only hinder yourself. You won’t learn as much and you won’t tap the full potential of your opportunity abroad. Go because you want to learn. Go because it’s a fun, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Destroying those excuses
Even after seeing all these reasons, it’s still easy to come up with excuses not to go. If you don’t want to go, then by all means, don’t! But don’t deny yourself this opportunity just because of an easily solvable problem.
1. “It’s too expensive.”
I actually fundraised in order to be able to study abroad this summer…and you can, too! Get a job. Save up. Create a list of goals, and follow through with them. Try holding fundraisers, or do what I did and host a walk-a-thon to raise money. If you’re really serious about going, then you can make it happen. There are tons of websites which give out tips for fundraising like 100 Fundraising Ideas and Go Overseas.
2. “It’s too dangerous.”
This ties in heavily with #3. A lot of people think it’ll be dangerous living in a foreign country for a month…And yes, this can be true! If you aren’t careful, anywhere can be dangerous. When you’re studying abroad, you’ll have to be wary of pickpockets and thieves, and you’ll always have to keep a careful eye out. Don’t choose a study abroad location which is experiencing instability…But in general, danger can definitely be avoided if you’re cautious. Plus, this is a great way to prepare for your future! When you’re in college, things could get just as dangerous. Studying abroad can help prepare you.
3. “My parents won’t let me.”
My parents refused the first time I asked. Then I asked again. And again. Most parents won’t want you to go because of the previous two reasons. Ignorance is a major component of fear…so inform them! Tell them about all the benefits of studying abroad and all the reasons why “it’s too expensive” and “it’s too dangerous” shouldn’t stop you from going. Convince them that you’re responsible enough to handle this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
4. “I don’t have time.”
This one is perfectly understandable. Summers are busy! A lot of people use their summers to study for the SAT or go to camps or vacation. Ask yourself this question: is there really no room for this? If you really want to study abroad, there are definitely ways to make room for other activities. The most important component of this is planning. Plan your study abroad trip for a summer where you’re less busy. If you plan on studying for the SAT before junior year, plan your trip before senior year. Also, try double-tasking! Just because you’re in a different country, doesn’t mean you can’t do any work. For example, I wrote many of my blog posts in Buenos Aires! If you really have too many commitments to study abroad without exploding from stress, then you probably shouldn’t sign up for a program. Otherwise, think your way around it! Calendars are flexible.
And that’s it! Studying abroad was one of the best decisions I’ve made in the past few years. I’m boarding my plane back to California tomorrow with much more cultural awareness, independence, and improved Spanish skills to boot.
Before you plan your next summer, consider spending a month or so studying in a different country. This is one decision you won’t regret.
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