By Bria Foster
As a junior modern foreign language major studying Spanish and Arabic, traveling abroad for my education seemed like an intuitive choice. However, studying abroad can be an enriching experience for anyone.
Recently, I traded the beautiful scenery of NDMU’s campus for a different view. During the past three weeks, I have been living in Lima, Peru, attending another women’s Catholic university called Universidad Femenina del Sagrado Corazón, or UNIFÉ.
I chose to study at UNIFÉ because I became acquainted with the campus and a few of the students through an exchange project with seven other NDMU students and two professors last summer.
That was my first time abroad, so when the time came to decide where to study abroad alone, UNIFÉ was my first choice. Even though traveling alone for the first time and experiencing life in a different language can be jarring, it can also lead to invigorating experiences.
Because the focus of my excursion was to improve my grasp of the Spanish language, simple daily occurrences have yielded several teachable moments both linguistically and culturally.
I found a humorous instance of this cultural diversity in the basic task of gathering the ingredients to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from a local store, which led to the following exchange in Spanish: “Hello, Ma’am. I am looking for, um, do you have, uh, butter, but not butter? I know butter is ‘mantequilla,’ but I don’t know how to say [peanut butter].”
After watching her visibly strained effort to understand what my broken Spanish was trying to convey, I took pity on us both and used a translator to find the word for peanut butter – mantequilla de maní. Sorrowfully, and to no avail since, I soon found out that peanut butter is not as common outside of the United States.
Although that experience was just a lighthearted, yet disappointing, interaction, I later realized that it stood as a small example of missing things and people that one is accustomed to, which is the main sorrow of studying abroad: homesickness.
After that and other similar occurrences throughout my first week abroad, I found I was becoming more of a recluse. I fell into a pattern of simply journeying the five minute walk from my dorm to the university, taking extensive notes in my History, Communication, Grammar, and Quechua classes to understand as much as I could, and only occasionally engaging in conversation with some new friends.
Ultimately, I was not taking advantage of the amazing opportunity of living in another country or taking part in another culture. Thankfully, one of the students that I kept in contact with from the project during the previous year invited me out to explore some of the captivating districts of Lima. Catching a fresh view of the adventures that studying abroad makes possible, helped me get through my initial week of homesickness so I could continue exploring the brand-new world in front of me.
Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience. Despite any ups and downs, studying abroad will enable you to study the subject of your choice in a completely different environment, make connections with people you may have never met, and immerse yourself in a different culture.
If you have the chance to take advantage of such a unique opportunity, do not pass it up.
Photo Courtesy Bria Foster