Knowing that I’d be able to live and study in a foreign country for the same price as a semester in Eagle Rock was one of the deciding factors in my college decision.
Program: IES Buenos Aires - Advanced Spanish Immersion
As a kid, I always wanted to see the world. I would watch movies and read books about other countries, spending more time fantasizing about life in these exotic locations than actually paying attention to what I was watching or reading. Unfortunately, growing up my family didn’t have the resources to travel internationally; one of the main reasons I chose Oxy was for its nationally recognized study abroad program. I depend on financial aid to attend Oxy, and knowing that I’d be able to live and study in a foreign country for the same price as a semester in Eagle Rock was one of the deciding factors in my college decision.
I’ve wanted to be an immigration lawyer since the eighth grade, which was around the same time I started formally learning Spanish. I’d picked up words and phrases from my Spanish speaking friends (growing up in a very Latino area of California), but knew I wanted to be fluent someday. In the spring of 2023, I took a class called Latin American Political Economy with Professor Mariano Bertucci. Before this class, I had my heart set on Granada, Spain; getting to learn Spanish while surfing every day, eating tapas and drinking sangria in a historic and beautiful part of the world sounded like a dream come true.
Professor Bertucci talked me into signing up for a program in his home country of Argentina, instead. His reasoning was two-fold: that Argentina would help us understand what we learned in class on a deeper level, and that Argentina (with a culture, history, and people much more different from our culture than those of Western Europe) would push us out of our comfort zone, helping us grow as people. It didn’t hurt that Buenos Aires, the capital, sounded amazing; old European architecture, world-class food and wine, a rich and unique culture, and incredible nightlife. I was sold.
To be completely honest, what I learned in the classroom paled in comparison to what I learned outside of it. I don’t want to be the stereotypical “study abroad changed my life” guy, but it did. I credit that to doing my best to step out of the bubble that study abroad provided me; you can only grow so much when your study abroad experience is hanging out with Americans in a different location. To that end, here’s how my time in Buenos Aires changed my life.
First of all, my Spanish got ridiculously good. I went from stumbling over my words while ordering empanadas to having thirty-minute discussions about Argentine politics with everyone from my professors to taxi drivers. I can speak Spanish fluently now, which I credit to being forced to speak Spanish basically all the time. I had friends from my study abroad program, but the majority of my friends were Argentines, Peruvians or Venezuelans that I met at the local university, in boliches (clubs) or in restaurants. Almost nobody in Buenos Aires speaks fluent English, so in order to communicate, make friends, and immerse myself, I had to speak Spanish.
I took Spanish classes, which helped me improve; however, I learned much more talking to some guy on the colectivo (bus) than I did reviewing the past perfect subjunctive. I joined an Argentine men's league basketball team, which also improved my Spanish an insane amount and helped me make friends I’m still in touch with. Some of my best friends were two Peruvian guys I met at the university (Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina, or “la UCA”), who felt just as much like tourists as I did in Buenos Aires, despite speaking Spanish as a first language. Learning Spanish is great for my career, but I’m most grateful for all of the amazing people I met: people I would never have met if I didn’t speak the language.
I could talk about what else I learned in Buenos Aires for hours, but I’ll end with this: if you’re thinking of studying abroad, go somewhere you’ve never heard of. Go somewhere far away, go somewhere with a unique culture, go somewhere where you’ll be one of the only tourists. Immerse yourself in the culture, make friends, connect with your professors, take public transit to random neighborhoods, date around, watch the news. You’ll be surprised at how much your perspective on your life, and the lives of others, changes. Argentina is an incredibly complicated yet wonderful country; both the positives and negatives of life there taught me something about my own life. I’ve become a more confident, more resourceful, stronger, and more understanding person as a result of my time in Argentina; I gained more from the experience than I’d thought I possibly could. What you get out of your study abroad experience, ultimately, is up to you—so don’t stay in your comfort zone, get out there and live.
Top image by David Berkowitz, from Flickr