Studying Abroad: It’s Not Always Rainbows And Butterflies

We’ve all seen the cliché study abroad blogs every college student feels obligated to post, detailing their study abroad experience. They blog about their travels, about opening a new page in their lives. They say that you’ve never really experienced life until you’ve traveled, and explain how a trip abroad will change your life forever. Before my own study abroad experience, I envisioned a fantasy world where I could finally write one of those horribly cliché blogs about my new chapter in life. However, my initial experience of starting anew in this country is a little different than my fellow bloggers.

I arrived in Cali, Colombia three weeks ago. Three weeks, and I can tell you, the “new page” in my book has been exhausting. You, my family, and my friends, might be confused as to why I didn’t choose Europe like so many other college students. Frankly, it’s because I didn’t want to be like every other college student. Latin America is very under-appreciatedthe culture, the people and the landscape. Everything about Latin America I love. Due to this previous infatuation, I envisioned my transition to Colombia to be flawless.

That’s not quite how it worked out. I arrived to the Cali airport, approached the immigration officer and immediately began speaking in English. The officer responded with a glare. Shit, you don’t speak English, I thought, while frantically attempting to piece together a coherent sentence in Spanish. It was my first experience with language barriers and I hadn’t even left the airport. Language barriers are really difficult, to say the least. Not to mention they make you feel like an idiot. By the end of the day I was exhausted from attempting to communicate in, what I can barely consider, my second language.

Until my arrival in Colombia, I never realized how much we take security for granted in the United States. I walk around New Orleans aimlessly, texting, calling, asking strangers for directions. I have few fears. In Cali, I am constantly alert. During my entire walk to the bus station or store, I am thinking about keeping my purse close to my side, and how to appear less like a lost American. The luxury of walking calmly across streets does not exist here and whipping your phone out for directions is a guaranteed way to get robbed.

Three weeks ago, I envisioned myself comfortably conversing in a new language, fitting in perfectly with my new classes and exploring the beautiful sights that Cali has to offer. However, I am eternally grateful that isn’t all I have experienced these past two weeks. The difficult adjustment to a new life in a new country is the most rewarding gift life has given me. I’ve learned to embrace the language barriers and have tried my hardest to overcome them. Every time I don’t get lost on public transportation, I feel proud. Slowly discovering all parts of my new city is more exciting than I can possibly explain.

When you read study abroad blogs, appreciate all the fun the students are having but also remember to acknowledge the struggles they’re going through every day. They’re all part of the amazing package. I love Colombia; I love the people, the culture and the overly packed public transportation. There isn’t one thing I would change about this beautiful country. Happy travels, everyone.

Featured image from Luke Milliron

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