The unexpected challenges faced while studying abroad

Study abroad has challenged me in ways I would have never considered. Every day is a new challenge, with a new culture, society, government, climate, language, and way of life that is different from what I have ever known. I have had to step out of my comfort zone and really learn to become a brave, courageous, and resilient person. As much as I would like to tell you that the challenges subside the longer you are in your study abroad country, it just would not be the truth.  The challenges never really go away; they may get easier with time, but new challenges will arise, and luckily you will have become better at handling them.

There are frustrating moments such as when I am at a grocery store or in line at the migration offices and I have no idea what someone is saying to me and I cannot say what I want to say either because I am too nervous or do not know how to say what I want to. At times I have been looked at and treated as someone who is unintelligent because I don’t speak the way the locals speak, am at a loss for words, or do not understand something someone is asking me all because I am foreign. This feeling is not a good feeling, and I will never become accustomed to feeling this way. I try to take it with a grain of salt, because I know that for the most part the Argentines do not intentionally treat me in this way.

Learning in another language has been challenging in a way I hadn’t foreseen either. It is frustrating when I am taking an exam that has to be 10 pages written and I have so many ideas and knowledge stored in my brain from having a background at St. Kate’s in International relations (which consists of economics, history, and political science), but I cannot say what I want due to my lack of Spanish vocabulary. I do not want to use simple words to explain these complex topics and ideas, but I have no other choice but to do so. Slowly and reluctantly I am learning to accept that this is just part of being an exchange student in a country where English is not the primary language.

“It has been very difficult to fully understand what is going on in my classes and I feel like I have to work ten times harder in order to understand what is going on and how to do things. It feels like we have to jump through leaps and bounds to even find out what our readings are and how to get them. I’m also afraid to get called on in my class and judged by my fellow Argentine classmates once they hear my Spanish, but I am trying to overcome this fear so it does not completely impact my ability to contribute to class,” said Denisa Pandrea, a junior from Cleveland, Ohio who attends Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

Also I am learning to not be afraid to ask my professors any questions I may have, and based on my experience here, they are very willing to help. I have that fear of being portrayed as stupid when I need to ask my professors what exactly is going on in class, and what we should be reading. I would rather come off like the confused American student, than the American student who is too afraid to ask and then fail the class.

Academics are very different here in the way that grades are solely dependent on a midterm and a final, or sometimes just a final, so exam grades are very important. You cannot rely on participation points, little projects, graded homework assignments, or quizzes. Education at the college level is basically determined by the student; no one tells you to read or what you should read, but when the exams roll around you better have read all of the material. If you are studying abroad in another country where the primary language is not English, be prepared for your homework to take you more than twice as long, since reading and comprehending in another language is a very difficult task. Sometimes, it takes me one hour to read a couple of pages for my Argentine Foreign Policy course since some of the vocabulary is unfamiliar to me. It is very tempting to not think you have any homework since you are not required to read something for every class, but it is a terrible idea to wait until a week or two before your test to read all of the material that will be on the exam.

“Personally, study abroad has challenged me to rethink what I really want in my life and for my future. I thought that I wanted to live abroad when I was older and travel the world, but now I think I just want to live in the States. I realize that that not having a glamourous life of travel and living abroad is okay because it is not what I want,” said Pandrea.

This experience has no doubt been challenging, but it has also shown me how important it is to befriend the exchange students at your university. Being an exchange student outside of the U.S. has shown me how important it is to get to know the students at St. Kate’s who are not from the U.S. and do not speak English as their first language. I now know how it feels to feel alone and isolated in an unfamiliar place, far away from home. I really encourage anyone who is reading this article to befriend them and welcome them into our community at St. Kate’s because being away from everything you have ever known is such an incredibly huge challenge, especially when you don’t have the group of friends that you have back home to support you.

About Elizabeth Rodewald

Elizabeth is a senior International Relations and Spanish double major from Mendota Heights, MN. She recently returned home from a year-long study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After graduation she plans on either going to graduate school in Washington, DC to later pursue a career in counterterrorism or taking a year off to teach English in a foreign country. In her spare time she enjoys reading in cafes, going to the gym, speaking Spanish, discussing politics and spending time with her family and her Bichon Frise, Henry. Elizabeth can be reached at earodewald@stkate.edu.

One thought on “The unexpected challenges faced while studying abroad

  1. I just can say congrats for your words, specially for this :

    “This experience has no doubt been challenging, but it has also shown me how important it is to befriend the exchange students at your university. Being an exchange student outside of the U.S. has shown me how important it is to get to know the students at St. Kate’s who are not from the U.S. and do not speak English as their first language. I now know how it feels to feel alone and isolated in an unfamiliar place, far away from home. I really encourage anyone who is reading this article to befriend them and welcome them into our community at St. Kate’s because being away from everything you have ever known is such an incredibly huge challenge, especially when you don’t have the group of friends that you have back home to support you”

    A big hug from Bs. As. ! =)