A Year in Argentina: Katie Stephens' Off-Campus Experience
By Katie Stephens, '12
When it came to the study abroad application process, I thought that dealing with the program bureaucracy would be the worst part; wrong! I was extremely stressed during the few precious days I had at home in Michigan this past summer (I spent some time in Suriname with an Albion Honors class, then traveled in the U.S). I had a lot to get in order while making time to see family and friends in between plane rides. The time passed quickly and it was the day for saying good-bye. I was very apprehensive about this change of scenery, and to be blunt, I was not excited to leave.
After crying many tears in the Detroit airport, I felt immediate relief in the Chilean airport, meeting students going with me to the Center for Cross-Cultural Studies (CC-CS) in Córdoba, Argentina, and realizing that I was not the only completely overwhelmed student.
The change from living in a city of less than 80,000 to one that hosts millions was a lot to handle for me at first. I had to rely on the public bus system, navigate a campus that has about 110,000 students and, most of all, utilize another language.
Before coming to Argentina I was very confident with my Spanish and thought that I would have more difficulties with the culture shock than the language barrier. But I was not informed that "Spanish" is not spoken here—the locals speak “Cordobés"! This is a running joke in my program; we all have dealt with the same issues of understanding the dialect, which is distinct to Argentines outside of the province. For example, when I was traveling in Patagonia, I actually had a hostel owner ask me where I learned Spanish because she “could swear that I was born in Córdoba." So now I can proudly say I am Cordobesa!
I have adapted to the distinct use of Spanish here and am working on the cultural nuances of Argentina. The first thing people tend to ask me is “What do you like the most about Argentina?” Well, the culture here encourages people to have close relationships and be open to one another. Literally after four days of being in Córdoba, I was already getting invited to friends-of-friends’ houses for dinner, going to the park to drink maté (a cultural experience in itself) and being helped by people on the streets before getting lost. I now find myself greeting everyone with a kiss on the cheek and quickly giving up my seat on the bus … things that seemed so foreign to me when I first arrived.
During my few short months here in Argentina. I have become much more independent, while still creating some of the closest bonds that I would have never expected. I thought before, “Okay, I have traveled a lot; studying abroad should not be that big of a challenge," but this was the first time I got on a plane completely alone or managed my grocery money; something an “independent” college student does not have to do when on board on campus.
I have met so many great people along the way. One of the coolest things about studying abroad is having a fixed group of people who have the same interests as you: traveling, languages and adventure. The Argentine students are always excited to learn about us and ready to invite us out on the weekends. My parents tend to find themselves asking if I actually study here because I am constantly talking about new people that I have met and plans that I have with them for the following day.
Being in Argentina has liberated me from trying to fit my life into a perfect little box like I always did before. All of my mentors regretted not studying for the academic year, and I went with my gut instinct and took the dive in for another semester to better my Spanish and also work with an English teacher to help with her classes. I couldn't be more excited about what adventures are to come.
Love from Argentina,
Katie C. Stephens