On the plane to Buenos Aires I had no idea what was in store for me. A million emotions darted through me while I nervously sat on my 11-hour flight. I had never been south of Mexico ever in my life, let alone without my parents. Was I crazy for going to a country where I didn’t know a single soul? It was too late to turn back. I reclined my seat and closed my eyes. I woke up to a flight attendant telling me we were preparing for landing. I looked out the window and saw greenery, and thought to myself, “Hey, this really doesn’t look any different from home.” Man, was I wrong.

I instantly felt like an alien when I tried to catch a cab at the airport. My Spanish definitely was not as good as I thought. Argentinians have a distinct accent where they pronounce all words with a “Y” or a double “L” as a “J”. So words like “ella,” meaning “her,” would sound like “eja”. It tripped me up a lot. Eight years of Spanish only got me here? Sheesh.

I was scared and I was worried. I didn’t know if I could muster the courage to make mistakes and risk looking like an idiot while trying to speak a foreign language. I remembered a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that I had framed on my nightstand back home in Michigan. It said, “Believe in yourself. You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face … you must do that which you think you cannot do.”

I carried this quote in mind for the first few weeks of my five-month journey. It slowly became a part of my everyday actions and me. I tried things I normally wouldn’t try and I experimented with my limits. I was able to travel to Chile, Uruguay, Colombia, Bolivia and Peru during my stay. I never imagined I would be that fortunate to backpack with my friends like that. It changed my life and how I viewed the world around me. It made me feel free and powerful, like I had the world at my fingertips.

For my fellow Wolverines — or any college students for that matter — who are interested in studying abroad, I have a few words for you:

Take the path less traveled. Most people choose to go to Spain or Europe to study abroad. Try something different.

Studying abroad opens your eyes, and as cliché as it sounds, it truly does broaden your horizons. If you didn’t have the opportunity to grow up in an ethnic home it’s your chance to adopt a new culture. Live at a home-stay if you have the opportunity — you won’t regret it. I lived with a 70-year-old seamstress whom I grew to love like my own grandmother. I owe my Spanish proficiency to her — she didn’t know a lick of English. By studying abroad you can connect to the native people of the country you’re in and most importantly it helps teach you about yourself. It teaches you about your fears and how much you’re willing to push the limits of your life.

I was afraid I wouldn’t make friends. In retrospect, I was silly for thinking that. I made three extraordinary friends from all over the U.S. during my program, from Washington D.C., Texas and North Carolina — all of whom I have visited after my abroad experience. They became my family away from home. I will love and cherish them for the rest of my life. They’re the kind of friends I want at my wedding.

Truthfully, before Argentina, I felt lost. I had gone through some things leading up to my departure and I wasn’t the happiest me I could be. The beautiful city of Buenos Aires was the remedy I needed. I finally felt like me again. I fell in love with South America and it will always be a region of the world that I hold close to my heart. It helped me discover who I was and what I was capable of. My college experience never would have been the same if it weren’t for study abroad. It was the time of my life still to this day. I wish there was a way I could pay it back, because I am forever indebted to the happiness and fulfillment it gave me.

Regardless of where you choose to go, it’s a big world out there. Go explore it.

Sara Shouhayib can be reached at sarasho@umich.edu.

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