So, like I said, study abroad is a risk. You’re not entitled to have an awesome time just because you worked 70-hour weeks over the summer so you could afford to get there. Other students who have done the exact same program as me have absolutely loved it, and I know that my general dislike was more to do with me than with the program. Despite the fact that I spent most of my time wishing I were home, I’m still incredibly glad I chose to participate and am genuinely grateful for the opportunity.
Something can be good for you, but not good. I knew this was true about things like broccoli and calculus, but I never thought it would be true of study abroad. These past four months were hard, annoying and frustrating, but they were also a time of serious personal growth and self-discovery. The self-entitled part of me wishes things would have gone very differently, but I don’t know if I would have taken away as much if they had. My faith grew leaps and bounds, and I know that all of my struggles and frustrations had a purpose, whatever that may be. I have a newfound appreciation for the comforts I took for granted at home. My Spanish improved by a significant margin. All of these were the positive side effects to homesickness and living thousands of miles outside my comfort zone, but I also learned a lot from the more positive escapades in my time in South America.
Barriers to travel are different than I thought. Going into this experience, I hardly knew anything about South America, and I certainly didn’t know many people who had been here before. Most international American travelers plan luxurious trips to the Caribbean, or otherwise have visited token tourist destinations in Europe. A few people I know have done missions work in developing countries and a handful of others have gone on organized student trips to Australia. That’s about it. I didn’t realize it, but I thought that the only way to experience other parts of the world (Asia, Africa, rural South America) was to pay someone to guide you around. They also seemed unreachable because American culture told me they were dangerous and because I don’t know the native language.
The people I met while traveling around Argentina completely shattered this ignorant philosophy engrained in my mind. In Bariloche, I met a British girl as tall as me who spent two months traveling around Southeast Asia by herself and was now doing the same in South America. I met two different British girls who took jobs in Chile without knowing a word of Spanish. One of them is planning on moving to Iran by herself next year. I shared a dorm with an Australian who flew to Panama fourteen months ago and has slowly been volunteering her way down the continent, again completely by herself. Countless travelers buy one-way tickets to South America, with a very loose plan of where they want to go and what they want to see, and completely make things up as they go along. They travel until their money runs out or until they have to go to their brother’s wedding or until they start a job up in January. I come from a family where most details of our trips are premeditated out months before we embark, and this method of spontaneity fascinated me.
That being said, there are definitely still barriers to travel. All of these people had two very important things in common that allowed them to pack up and leave: money and time. No employer would let someone take a six-month vacation to frolic around South America, so many of these travelers took a risk and quit their jobs. They also saved up, sacrificing countless comforts in their homelands so they could afford to go scuba diving on the Galapagos Islands and attend World Cup games in Brazil and go paragliding in Argentina’s lake district.
That’s about it, though. Sure, the chances that you’ll get mugged are high in some areas, but the same could be said for Los Angles, Chicago, New York City, etc. Everyone told me to be safe while in Argentina, but I’ve learned that it’s more important to be smart. A little research and a heightened sense of awareness while in public can keep you out of crime’s way.
Also, every hostel I stayed in had an English-speaking worker. As English’s ubiquity grows, excuses to not travel to countries with other native languages diminish.