62 more days left in Berlin and it isn’t anywhere near enough. As I sit here desperately trying to cling to the grains of time that are passing me by, I can’t help but feel a deep sadness for what is to come. After 7 months of living in Berlin, I’ve succeeded in accomplishing my goal—to create my own little life for myself.
Unfortunately, I’ve been so successful at creating my own little life in Berlin that it’s now not so little, and it breaks my heart a bit as I realize that it is quickly coming to an end. The result of my efforts in Berlin has crafted treasured friendships, a beautiful relationship, and fluency at C1 level German. Gone are the days where I feel lost in this city, both literally but also in a more figurative sense. At first, I would lose myself just as quickly in a conversation in German as I would when riding the Bahn without my phone for navigation. Now, I can effortlessly navigate the Bahn systems and almost any interaction in German. But more importantly, I have a sense of home in the community I’ve built.
My speculation is that it is often this lack of community that results in students feeling homesick. I can confidently say that I felt homesick after 6 weeks in Berlin, but fast forward to the present and now I feel a different type of homesickness. I feel homesick for the present. I have this pit in my stomach and this stone weighing on my heart because I know that this beautiful, little life that I have created in Berlin will end. I have utterly fallen in love with this city.
Yet, this experience, while simultaneously beautiful and painful, is one that less than 2% of college students will have the opportunity to seek for themselves. According to NAFSA, only 1.6% of all college students in the U.S. studied abroad for the 2016-17 academic year (I don’t have data for how many students study abroad for a full academic year but I’m sure it’s even less). Of the 1.6% of students who do study abroad, only 10.2% are Hispanic/Latino American which makes my experience abroad particularly rare.
If you can take anything away from this blog, I hope it’s a sense of curiosity. Dare to dream what a semester or two of your college-experience would look like abroad. What kind of little life can you craft for yourself? Will you be heartbroken to leave, or eagerly awaiting the flight back home? You can’t know until you go find out for yourself.
My second day in Mendoza, I took three different buses before I was finally on the right one home. Even before arriving in Argentina, I had (and still have) a notoriously bad sense of direction. I’m used to not worrying about my data usage and pulling out my phone to look up directions. However, on just my second day, the phone I brought to use as my Argentinian phone broke, I didn’t have an international plan for my US phone, which was with me, so I relied on frequent stops at coffee shops with free WiFi and a physical map. Google maps told me to take the T12 home; I waited for 30 minutes, but the T12 never came. I gave up and got on a random bus, hoping for the best. It was going in the opposite direction. I got off and asked some locals which bus to take. They showed me, but it was the wrong one as well. Thankfully, the bus driver knew which bus I needed to take, so after close to an hour and a half of wandering around Mendoza close to nightfall, I was finally on my way home. Two weeks later, I find out the T12 is actually the G12.
In my first few weeks abroad, I thought my biggest issue would be the language barrier since Argentina is a Spanish-speaking country. It didn’t even occur to me that navigation would trump that in the beginning. I am now five weeks into my program; it took me four weeks to figure out exactly which buses take me home, which take me to class, and which take me downtown. I carried my map for the first three weeks, feeling like the ultimate tourist when that was what I was trying not to be. Walking helped. I was able to see and explore the city, orienting myself so I knew where I was in relation to other locations. Mendoza is a grid and I can now proudly say that I know approximately a 25-block radius.
A highlight came when a woman asked me for directions. I had no idea where she was going, but I must have looked comfortable enough for her to assume that I did. Learning a new city is challenging and uncomfortable, but the first time you are able to travel without getting lost is one of the most rewarding feelings.
ARGENTINA – IFSA: MENDOZA UNIVERSITIES PROGRAM, 2018 FALL
Zoe Kaldor is an International Studies and Strategic Communication double major. She is studying abroad with IFSA-Butler in Mendoza, Argentina. Originally from New York, DU’s study abroad program was one of the reasons Zoe chose to attend DU. She specifically chose to study abroad in Argentina because she wants to improve her Spanish skills and experience a new culture, for she believes it is so important in an increasingly global society to be able to communicate in languages besides English as well as experience different ways of life. Zoe is an avid traveler and loves to explore new places; she is excited she gets to do both.