After living in Mexico and studying-abroad for the past four months, I am preparing to return home tomorrow. Reviewing in my mind everything that I have seen, learned, touched, been inspired by, discussed, and thought about here in Mexico, I came to thinking: “Why do we put ourselves through this experience of “studying abroad?””
Many of the final projects our classmates worked on dealt with this theme and sought to promote CGE’s study abroad programs, referencing their pedagogy of experiential learning and opportunities to acquire cultural competence. In order to formulate a response to the question of why we choose to study abroad, most people will say something along the lines of “Guys, listen, you have to study abroad, it’s amazing. You learn so much about other cultures. You integrate solid academic work with real-life experiences. You learn to broaden your perspective on the cultural history and current social and political struggles in the region through group travel experiences.” (http://www.augsburg.edu/global/spa/mexsem.html )
This is all absolutely true and I have experienced this alternative learning environment and grown from it significantly. However, it is impossible for me to deny the fact that studying abroad has truly been an intense rollercoaster of emotions:
Step 1: After finally feeling comfortable navigating classes and social lives at college, we packed up our suitcases, filled with what we thought we might need for the next four months, left everyone we knew and loved, and came to Mexico, alone, on a program with complete strangers.
Step 2: Then, we moved in with 20 other random college students from all over the country into one house, sharing rooms with 3-4 other people. We took classes, ate meals, and developed our social lives with these 20 people.
Step 3: We figured out how to “immerse ourselves” in this new culture by getting involved with various organizations, social groups, or routines outside of the program, while at the same time dealing with a desire to share our experiences with those who we left at home.
Throughout these four months, I have been coping with the best ways to accomplish step 3. Immersing myself in the culture here has meant establishing relationships with various people with whom I’ve met. It has meant sharing my interests, passions, goals, and opinions with new people in order to gain their trust. It has meant going far out of my comfort zone and making an effort to listen to new people and get to know them because upon arrival, we started with 0.00 social connections and had to build our own networks to fulfill ourselves.
As I pack up my bags to head home, I now have to face the ramifications of “immersing myself” in the culture, “being present” in my reality, and sharing myself with others. My last task is to say goodbye to those relationships in which I invested emotions and energy-- with people inside of the program and even more significantly, outside the program and around Mexico.
Upon saying goodbye to a co-worker from the human rights commission I worked for here, he said, “You know, we might never see each other again.” And right away, I said, “Oh don’t say that! That’s so sad and dramatic.” But he replied, “But it’s reality. And it can be a beautiful thing to have known someone, and be realistic about the fact that you may never see each other again, but that you are leaving knowing you have shared with one another.” He also shared with me the importance of saying everything you want to say to someone. It was an eye-opening conversation because it made me realize the fact that these last 2 days will be the last time I see many of these people with whom I have shared myself here. More importantly, however, it brought to my attention the importance of expressing to others whom I may never see again, how they have impacted me during this time and why I appreciate their fleeting friendship.
It would be easy to leave and not let myself reach into that emotional place inside myself where I now have pieces of each of the people I’ve met-- I wouldn’t worry about saying a formal goodbye. However, this emotional rollercoaster of being abroad has forced me to confront these emotions; I feel strongly about making sure when I say goodbye to each person I’ve shared with here, that I do so by taking into consideration my experiences with that person and really convey to them that what we’ve shared will be a part of me after I leave.
Many of the relationships I have built here are only momentary in the grand scheme of things. But the feelings I have developed for these people will continue to stay with me in whatever forms, even if we never speak again. Certainly I will remember our classes here and the beautiful city and the good food, but the memories and emotions fostered within relationships here are what I will carry with me to inform my daily life at home: I think this is why we have put ourselves into this experience in Mexico—it makes the whole rollercoaster of emotions worth it.