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Get packing for class abroad

BUENOS AIRES--Well, I finally made it down here. Long flights, like the one from Miami to Buenos Aires, always allow time for some personal reflection, particularly if you are traveling by yourself.

So, I thought, "Why am I spending an entire semester thousands of miles away from my home, my school and my family and friends?" That's a good question. The answer is simple: because I can. College, at least as we know it in the United States, is really the freest any of us will ever be in our lives. Certainly, there are academic pressures, and worries about finding a job or getting into graduate school. But think about it: if, five years from now, I told my boss I wanted to take five months off to go study in another country, he'd think I was joking. That is why you have to take advantage of these opportunities to study abroad.

And that brings us to the next question: Why Buenos Aires? That's in Argentina, and it's a Third World country, right? Stop, please. If I have one goal here in writing these columns, it's to dispel the very popular myth among Americans that Latin America is simply a gigantic Mexican Diaspora, where everyone looks and acts like they are shooting one of those Sally Struthers commercials. While it may be the capital of an "underdeveloped" nation (depending on how you define underdeveloped), the city itself is on par with any of its American counterparts in terms of health care, public transportation, safe drinking water, etc.

I chose Buenos Aires for a variety of reasons. The region represented a bit of unknown territory for me, seeing as I'd never been to South America before. And with a population of 11 million people, there's always something to do. When you combine all of those elements (Spanish-speaking, South America and high standard of living), you come up with Buenos Aires. It's as simple as that.

I am studying here as part of American University's "World Capitals Program." It is very similar to any other study abroad program, with the exception that it includes an internship in the host city. That last aspect was enough to make up my mind. It is one thing to live and go to classes in a foreign city, but if you have the chance to actually work there, you have to take it. I'll be working at the Consejo Argentino para las Relaciones Internacionales (Argentine Council for International Relations), which will, no doubt, provide ideas for plenty of stories.

One of the most important facets of any study abroad experience is the home stay. If you only live in student housing, you really miss out on a chance to interact daily with a new culture. My host mother is a bit more acquainted with the United States because her only daughter married the first exchange student she hosted back in 1992. The couple now lives in Milwaukee.

At the beginning of any foreign study program, most universities will bombard you with material about how hard it is to make the adjustment to a new country--or "culture shock," as they call it. The truth is, there are few countries that American students would want to go where they could experience legitimate culture shock. Perhaps if I went to a country outside of the Western world, then I might experience some severe adjustment trauma. But there's little "shock" involved in learning small cultural differences such as greeting style or meal times.

And that's what this whole experience is about in the first place--putting things in perspective, and stretching your boundaries. Above all else, a semester abroad should be fun. Come on, what else am I here for?


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