Before I begin with the post, I want to let you know that this post is a little dated. It was written over my break when I was back in the U.S. Like I said earlier in “Long Time, No Post,” I had my reasons for not posting it sooner:
Studying abroad has not been easy. I apologize if that’s the impression that I’ve been giving you. Yes there are the obvious perks: of traveling, of learning a new language, of experiencing a new culture, and, as many people remind me, of being able “to put that on a résumé”. But, at least for me, there is a lot more to it than that. While others look at studying abroad as “such a great opportunity” (which it is, I wholeheartedly agree), they are quick to look over the hardships when I tell them about homesickness, cultural and language barriers and the often-unbearable loneliness.
So the truth of the matter is, when I came home from Buenos Aires, I felt like I underwent a process of healing. And the more time I spent with family and friends and compared it with Buenos Aires, the more I began to dread going back.
The day that got me was when my roommate Alicia and I went to watch the Rose Bowl at a UW Alumni Event in downtown Minneapolis. As I was surrounded by a sea of red, talking with my roommate about the semester and bouncing to “Jump Around” after the 3rd quarter I felt the nostalgia begin creeping in. And I began pondering the unthinkable question: Did I really want to go back to Buenos Aires?
For almost a month, I struggled with the answer. On the one hand, both my best friend and my best friend in college will graduating in the spring and then moving to opposite sides of the country. By staying, I would get one more chance to spend a semester with them and prevent the ache of missing them and knowing I had been absent for their graduations. I would also have the chance to catch up with my roommates and my sailing team. Most of all, I wouldn’t be faced with the loneliness and pain of being alone in Buenos Aires.
On the other hand, by going back to Argentina I would get another shot, another chance to make friends and would have the ability to practice Spanish again. I would also have the peace of knowing I hadn’t left any unanswered questions or cut myself short of an opportunity. Yet I’d have to make the sacrifice of missing my friends and family from home again.
I grappled with the decision for weeks. I lost sleep, was unfocused and kept back my self-imposed deadlines to decide in order to buy more time. I talked to my best friend, my mom, my study abroad friends, my best friend in college: basically anyone who would listen. And after each discussion I’d make a new decision. I’d come home one day and announce, “Okay, I’ve decided to stay in Madison.” Yet the next day, I’d change sides and decide to go back to Buenos Aires.
Each option was so real to me that I had a plan for both: I made a class schedule, found an apartment and looked for jobs if I stayed in Madison, while I contacted advisors and planned new ways to get involved if I returned to Buenos Aires.
I drove myself so crazy with my indecision that I finally considered just flipping a coin.
Yet through weeks of indecision, I came to some very important conclusions. First, I had to let go of what other people would think regarding the decision I was about to make. I realized that ultimately, I would be the one living out my choice. People could look at my decision from afar and give their opinions, but I was the only one that had fully experienced my last semester in Buenos Aires and was the only one who could fully understand how I was feeling.
I also never felt so lucky to have a strong support system. Between my friends, my family, even my study abroad advisor, people took the time to sit down and listen to how I was feeling. And the way that my family and closest friends acted was surprisingly helpful too: they just listened. Instead of giving their opinions or trying to advise me, they simply would listen to my reasoning and express their support. Never have I heard, “Jess, I support whichever decision you make. I just want you to do what makes you happy,” from so many people.
After it all, I decided to go back to Argentina. Even though I was nervous and afraid of being alone again, I knew that I would regret it if I didn’t go. I didn’t want to become a person who said, “I’ll do that someday,” and never make it actually happen. Learning Spanish, travelling, and having the opportunity to be living in another culture were just too invaluable to me that I couldn’t give them up lightly. More than anything, I knew that after graduating college, I could promise myself to go abroad, but with loan payments, a job (hopefully) and other responsibilities, it could become more complicated to leave the country.
Now, in retrospect, I’m so thankful for the decision I made. But more so, I’m thankful for the personal growth and perspective that having to decide has given me.
From your reaffirmed traveler,