It was the night before the trip that I finally realized the fact that I actually committed to traveling almost 5,000 miles away from home. Crazy right? My mom was wondering if I was all packed while I was wondering if I still wanted to go. Standing alone in the bathroom away from the apprehensive excitement of my family, I stared at the terrified figure that stared back at me. Nothing can ever prepare you for your first trip abroad and perhaps that is what made me feel so afraid. The next morning I woke up refreshed and ready for the journey along with my dragon Stanley Miguel, a named inspired by one of my mom’s favorite songs. In my carry- on bag I had all of the items my family gave me to feel comforted in my new home with the exception of one. After arriving at the airport, running to the “check-in” kiosk and taking out all of the things that made my bags too heavy- it was time to say goodbye, at least for now. Next to me my mother instantly started crying, which of course made me cry as well and finally I was given the final item to add to my carry-on. Before walking through security my mom told me the most important words of advice I could use during my time away, “Never allow anyone to change who you are.” Although I didn’t want to turn away, I started walking towards my terminal and little did I know how much my sentiments would change in my semester-long journey abroad.
|Stanley and I standing in front of a wall sculpture in Colonia, Uruguay|
I decided that every day for me would be an adventure and ever since my plane broke through the clouds exposing one of the most beautiful views of Montevideo, Uruguay, I have been having one of the best times of my life. One of the greatest things about studying abroad is that there is always something new to explore and just in case you were wondering, almost everything is worth exploring because there is a good chance you’ll never see it again- or even better, it may become your new favorite place. Because I have, as we all do, only a limited amount time to explore this new country, I have learned to slow down and enjoy my surroundings while also being challenged to soar to new heights. Perhaps my greatest memory is when I felt myself saying no to climbing a mountain during a school trip, and deciding to grab hold of the hand that was reaching out for me to say yes. There has been no better feeling than how I felt when I made it to the top. It has been times such as this and the time spent in my day-to-day life that have shaped my own personal experience abroad.
The very first lesson learned when traveling abroad is simple: no matter how much you think you are prepared to experience a culture based on the movies you’ve watched or the things you’ve searched, none of these things will match the experience you are meant to have. What the movies and search engines don’t show, are the people you meet and the decisions you make along the way. I have made friends from many parts of the world and we all bond through not only living in a new place but being immersed into another language. Together we have made trips, tried new restaurants, attended events and so much more- all of which are special parts of my personal journey abroad. As the days go by I’ve realized that every day is not going to be a good day and that every aspect of Uruguay will not be something that I enjoy; however, by mixing the negative with the positive my trip is still amazing overall.
|My international program and I standing on top of a mountain in Piriápolis, Uruguay|
Although I am enjoying my time here there are, of course, a few things I could do without. Overall the air quality here is not great. With tons of buses and cars to go around and all of the people smoking cigarettes in your path, it can be difficult to find fresh air in the most populated city in Uruguay. Being a student of color has also brought its challenges, as there are not many people of African descent in Uruguay, only eight percent. People often look at me as if I do not belong and that is difficult to overcome when I have no one to experience this with. I also find it interesting that everything in the city, for the most part, closes on Saturdays at 1 pm- which in my opinion is the day in which they would receive the most business. However, with all of the things I could do without, I find ways in which I can overcome them. With every part of life that knocks you down, there is always a lesson waiting to pick you back up again. Being abroad allows you to really step back an analyze who you are and who you would like to be from now on, being away from home and all of the stresses of your everyday life is a vital part to personal growth.
|3 of my American friends and I before the Uruguay VS. Peru Soccer Game|
Being away from the foundation in which you’ve grown allows you to solidify your personal values because when you are abroad your choice is the only voice in situations that question who you are the most. While being abroad has been a time for me to step out of my comfort zone (because that was basically left at home) it has also been a time in which I have become more comfortable and proud of who I am. I have been able to experience things here, such as discrimination, that have allowed me to value everything in my life so much more and value is not something I could have learned easily without being removed from my normal surroundings. With one more month to go, I am sure to collect more memories to hold with me for a lifetime.
|A picture of me in the Japanese Gardens in Buenos, Aires, Argentina|
I have been in Uruguay for three months and I am happy to say that I am not the same terrified person I was before I left. When I think back on all of the memories I have had thus far, good or bad, I can only smile at their outcome. Not only has my Spanish improved immensely but I’ve had the chance to experience so many new cultures and walks of life and as a college student those are some of the best things I could hope to learn. To those who are traveling abroad with me now, I hope your experiences around the world are matching mine, and for those of you who are eager to go sometime in the near future, the advice I can give is this: If you are willing to bring an open mind to the country of your choice, it will reward you with tons of smiles, lots of laughter, and memories to remember for a lifetime.
|Stanley and I in the National Park of Uruguay|
Hasta Luego mis amigos,
Universidad Catolica del Uruguay