Sally Rountree is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2017, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A Sociology major and Public Health minor at Simmons College, she is studying abroad in Buenos Aires on a custom program this semester.
In this week's post, Sally tells us the 10 things she thinks are most important to have a successful study abroad experience.
Studying abroad is extremely exciting, wherever you decide to go. Everything is new and interesting. I chose my study abroad location based on the programs available, so I did not know much about Buenos Aires before I decided to come here. No matter how much research was done before coming here, it was still a surprise. Taking a class while I was here instead of just visiting the city has also expanded my perceptions of Buenos Aires. It’s been a great experience so far and taking a class while I am here has been really helpful in understanding the culture. I strongly recommend anyone who gets the chance to study abroad, sign up!
While you are studying abroad, there are some things you should make sure to do!
1. Learn the Language
If you aren’t already fluent in the language of the country you are visiting, then try to learn it! Most of the time, locals will be happy that you are at least trying to learn their language. It is also respectful to try to learn the language of the country you are traveling in. When I came to Argentina, I spoke absolutely no Spanish. In high school I took French, so I figured that would help me to understand Spanish since they are both romance languages. It is a lot harder to understand people here than I thought it would be, partly because the Spanish here has an Italian twist. It is different from Spanish in Spain and Spanish in Mexico. Even people who are fluent think it sounds weird here. Although I started off having no idea what anyone is saying, I have been trying to learn enough to get by. The top tip for learning a language when you go to a new country is to start off ordering your own food. If you can do that, then you’re doing good.
2. Connect to people in your program
Your study abroad program is going to have other people in it. They are going to be there the whole time you are, and that could be a while depending o your program. It is good to get to know these people. It’s always good to have a friend in a foreign country, and people in your program are easy to get to know. There are a total of seventeen students in my program in Buenos Aires, and we have become a tight knit group. Even though this is just the beginning of my third week here, I feel like I know all of these people so well. We’ve created a support group that is really important when you are in a new country.
3. Connect to locals
While it is important to get to know the people in your program, it is also important to get to know the locals. You went to a different country for a reason, so get to know the people there! You can learn a lot about their culture from actually talking to them. Even if you don’t speak the language, there will usually be someone who speaks English (or whatever your language is). Asking a local questions and telling them about where you are from can spark up a conversation that is interesting for both parties. Locals may even tell you about the best restaurants, bakeries, or local attractions. It’s a lot better than listening to a travel blog that was written by someone who visited for a couple days. Talking to a local may also help you realize what influences them, and how people are different or the same. Definitely try to talk to someone who is from the country you are visiting.
4. Explore without using travel blogs
Talking to locals can be a great way to figure out the best places to go. Travel blogs can be great and are still a good way to learn about fun attractions. Use them sometimes, but don’t solely rely on them. You can also go out without having an end destination. Walk around and look into stores, try random restaurants, or stumble upon little flea markets. It can be great to just stumble upon a fun little attraction that comes as a total surprise. Talking to locals is also a good way to get around without using the internet. I didn’t have anything particular to do one day, so I went around and looked for churches within walking distance. They weren’t anything that had been suggested to me, but I knew they were going to be beautiful either way. I went around and found two churches on my own, and they were both gorgeous! The longer you are there, the more comfortable you will become with the area and exploring it.
5. Connect your class to the things you see in your daily life
I’ve learned a lot of things from my public health class that I can relate to the things I see throughout the day. For instance, when I first came to Buenos Aires I noticed a lack of diversity. In class, we learned about the history of Argentina that helped me understand the lack of diversity and how history has impacted culture. It’s easy to see going around the city how much history has impacted every facet of culture, fashion, language, and religion. Taking a class while you are in a different culture can help you understand the people around you in ways you otherwise wouldn’t. Try to connect classroom lessons to what you see outside of the classroom.
6. Try to visit places that are related to your program/area of study
If you can, try to visit areas of your host country that are related to your major. I am studying public health in Buenos Aires, and I am fortunate enough to be a part of a program that takes me to various hospitals, medical centers, and health services. Being able to see these places in person puts a new spin on what I am learning in class. It is really helpful and provides huge insight to my education. If you can, try to visit places even if your program does not take you there. This might be too difficult, but can be done at least on small levels. It is especially good if you can volunteer or intern.
7. Stay Safe
This is so important! You are in a foreign country and you don’t know the area the same way you would at home. Even if you have been there for a while, you won’t know everything. Make sure to practice safety according to the environment you are in. This could mean different things in different places. In Buenos Aires, safety means going out in groups, especially if it is night, and keeping your belongings in a safe place. There are pickpockets here, with 5,000 phones stolen per day. Be careful wherever you are and make sure to look up information on the safety of an area before you get there.
8. Cook some of your own meals
You’re going to be here for a while. Cooking some of your own meals is going to seriously help out your wallet. It also allows you to see how the locals live, because you will have to go to the grocery store and see what types of food they most commonly cook with.
9. Try local foods
You are in a new place! Try their food, no matter how different it sounds. It could be really great! Even if it’s not, you’ll have a good story to tell. In Argentina, meat is the country’s most popular food. I’ve heard locals say that you can’t be a vegetarian in Argentina, but I’m a vegetarian in Argentina. To be honest it hasn’t been that hard, but it is unfortunate to miss out on Argentina’s finest cuisine. So… I decided to try some meat. Even though I don’t usually eat meat, I think it is important to try Argentina’s specialty food while I’m here. The first week I was here I tried a very small piece of steak and after that I tried a couple small pieces of sausage. It's a good way to get a taste of the culture.
10. Visit tourist attractions
You are in a new country! Explore! Being in a new place is fascinating and there are so many sites to see, things to do, and people to see. There are so many different things to do in Buenos Aires, and I’ve been trying to do the most I can while I am here. Just a few of the things I have done include visiting Recoletta cemetery, The Museum of Art, the Rose gardens, the Polo stadium, La Bocca, Uruguay, and more! There is a lot to do, and I strongly encourage soaking up as much of it as possible while you are studying abroad.
Sally's journey continues every Friday so stay tuned.