Studying Abroad: is the True Learning Experience Inside or Outside the Classroom?

Hi, everyone!

This week before the last was absolutely amazing. We visited a museum in on of my classes on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday, had a huge asado (or barbeque) in our Food and Wine teacher’s apartment. It was so hands on, fun, and delicious. I woke up feeling full and remained that way into the late afternoon, which is indeed saying a lot.

Then, Thursday came. Thursday as in the day we were going on our group weekend trip to Iguazu Falls. As of recently, they were declared one of the wonders of the natural world, and a wonder they were.

Well, our ride to a farm in Misiones (the same province that the waterfalls are in) was 13 hours, during which, of course, I was unable to fall asleep throughout the night–as per usual. Upon arriving at the farm, we were given a thorough tour of all the different steps in the “yerba mate” making process–the incredibly popular tea-like drink that Argentines are obssessed with–and then, we feasted.

I had the best empanadas I’ve ever tasted in my life, along with a huge, diverse meal filled with unlimited meats, squash, salad, yuca, and more. Afterward, we had free time in the hammocks, pool, and huge grass fields where various sports could be played.

Finally, we continued on for three hours till our hotel that was in very close proximity to the falls. Enjoyed our time together during the night, and then headed out to see the falls.

Even in the midst of all the rain and grey clouds, Iguazu was absolutely spectacular. It is incredible how nature never ceases to please us and capture our aesthetic likings. Again, despite the rain, we also managed to spot a few native animals, as well. At the end of the day, we returned to our hotel entirely soaked in water and happiness.

Disclaimer: during my study abroad experience, there have only been a few moments in which I have really felt like I was in South America. The bus ride to and from the falls was one of those times. The Spanish music on the radio, the open windows on the bus, the red earth that filled the landscape, and the togetherness of all the students singing and talking was what did it for me. Although I can’t say for sure, perhaps the reason for that is because that’s the preconception I had as to what my study or living abroad experience in Latin America would be like.

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The following day, I saw something I valued maybe even more than Iguazu Falls itself.

We took a trip to go see a villiage of one of the Guarani tribes that lived in the area. I cannot begin to explain to you how much those people captured my heart, what I was feeling during that visit, or the reasons I was feeling what I felt.

Nevertheless, my job here is to do my best to do that for you, so here I go.

You always learn about how the indigenous people were looked down on, exploited, robbed, marginalized, and stepped on, but to actually see it is a whole other dimension. To hear about how they try to take every effort not to draw blood or make an animal suffer in hunting, that everyday they give thanks to the Sun and the Rain, and that they are all willingly named by their Shauman according to their contributing role in society brought out how immesensly peaceful, grateful, and human they were. How much more conscious and worthy of their possessions they were than myself.

Our visit was a peculiar situation, because we knew that the tourism industry wasn’t exactly something they were fond of, but they did it as a form of survival, and yet there we were, playing along with our cameras and they with their traditional clothes and songs. At the same time, I feel like we wanted to like each other and to even be close, but I felt as though everyone had it in their perspective that we were Westerners–who were the embodiment or descendants of the people responsible for them losing their land, their forests being depleated of animals for them to hunt, various elements of their culture being replaced, and the introduction of several foreign diseases–and that we would not be able to surmount those differences. Even if they wanted to give us the benefit of the doubt and to trust us, our mere but obvious better-off disposition created an unspoken air of shame on my part, and, as I can only imagine, one of longing and discontentment on their part.

As much dignity as they may have felt that they were losing by having to open their homes to us for our spectatorship and amusement, I could not have seen more dignity in any given people, ever.

The way they did what they needed to do for the good of their village and carried themselves still with grace and meekness was awe-inspiring.

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Needless to say, this visit truly changed something inside of me, and I will probably always carry a piece of it around.

How amazing it is that you get to travel and to encounter such things! That these experiences are your own, and can very much influence the person you become. Nobody else around you will be getting such unique experiences, and you wouldn’t be either if you hadn’t decided to embark on this trip. You could very well stay within the contours of your own life, your own city, your own world, and never pay attention to or come to interact with the whole other one that exists just beyond some land borders.

I truly am happy and excited for you. The big life or self lessons you learn during your abroad experience sneak up on you. Because of how much you anticipate them, you don’t even notice when they subtly come along, but believe me, you’ll be glad when they do. Those are really what enrich your trip.

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