Leaving Home – A First Time Traveler goes to High School in Argentina

Leaving Home – A First Time Traveler goes to High School in Argentina

Greenheart Travel knows the power of travel. That is why we’re committed to helping people who haven’t had the chance to immerse in a new culture, travel, or live abroad. Every year, Greenheart Travel offers First Time Traveler scholarships to help new travelers get out and meet others around the world.  Recently Max won a First Time Traveler scholarship to attend Greenheart Travel’s High School Abroad in Argentina.  Here is a little bit about his first independent travel experience!

Leaving Home – by Max K.

“Do you like it here in Argentina? Do you miss home?” These are the two questions I get asked daily as a foreign exchange student. My answers are always the same: yes and yes. In reality, the way I feel about spending my senior year of high school in Córdoba, Argentina is much more complex than a one-word response.

I’ll take a few steps back- my name is Max. I’m from a small town in Wisconsin and I chose to move abroad last spring after receiving the First Time Traveler Scholarship from Greenheart Travel. Before coming here, I had no clue what to expect. I was too caught up in applying for my visa, tying up loose ends, and writing packing lists to stop and think about the gravity of my situation; I would be leaving everything and everyone I knew behind. Before the unimaginable, it has become the reality I’ve come to know well.

Recently while hanging out with a friend from the next town over, he told me that he might be moving to another province. He seemed to be infatuated with the idea of living somewhere where nobody knew who he was – the ability to “reinvent” himself and do his own thing alone. I realized I had felt similarly before coming here. So, I told him exactly what I wish I had known before I decided to come here: Making a big move is hard. It’s much more complex than just skipping town and creating a new image for yourself. You will miss your family, your friends, the places you always visited, and the streets you walked more than you could ever imagine. When I came here, the culture shock (the scary word that Greenheart loves to use) of not recognizing anyone or anything knocked me off my feet.

I was faced with numerous preconceived notions about myself as an American. My lack of proficiency in Spanish was sometimes equated to blatant stupidity. Rather than “reinventing” who I am, I found myself fighting to rebuild the personality and confidence in who I was as a person that I had spent my whole life in the U.S. forging.

As I began to make friends here, I started to find myself again. I took the initiative to get to know the streets and places in my town. I participated in things that I would never have participated in when I lived in the U.S. I found myself going to the gym with another exchange student, going to soccer games with my host brothers, and spending the weekends at bailes or boliches with groups of friends. By putting forth the effort to make friends and try new things, I was able to regain some of that sense of self I had lost. I firmly believe that this is the most crucial step to having a successful exchange experience.

Now that I’m about three months into my time here, I certainly still miss home. But now rather than feeling lost, it’s as if I’ve made a second home here. Those same things that I missed from home, I’ve started to make connections with here.

Here are a few tips for dealing with leaving home as a foreign exchange student:

  • Limit contact with home at first.
    • It sometimes felt hard to call home during my first month or so here. I found myself feeling agitated afterward and missing my family and friends even more than I had beforehand. Something that helped me was limiting the frequency with which I called my family at the start of my program. It allowed me to become fully adjusted to my new living situation. Now, I can call home more easily and with more frequency.
  • Walk!
    • One of the best ways to get to know your new town is to start walking; At the beginning of my program, I felt a lack of independence because I didn’t know how to get places without being driven by a host parent. One day I decided to walk home after hanging out with friends – from that point onward I started walking everywhere. Now not only do I have a strong sense of direction in my new town, but I can come and go from my host family’s house with more independence.
  • Try new things, take risks, and take care of yourself while doing so.
    • During your time as a foreign exchange student, you will have lots of new opportunities and meet lots of new people. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve done so many things I never would have even imagined doing in the U.S. I try to accept every invitation that comes my way- whether it be a rap battle in Rio Ceballos or a four-hour-long hike in Las Altas Cumbres. Taking risks and taking the initiative to make plans is an essential part of making valuable friendships during your time abroad. However, it’s important to keep in mind that not everyone has the best intentions, and your actions do carry consequences… even in another country. Take risks and enjoy yourself, but do so without endangering yourself or others.
  • Embrace the chill days.
    • I’ve spent a lot of time talking about all of the opportunities you’ll have during your program, and while that may be true, downtime and chill days are inevitable (and great!). It’s normal to feel antsy when you have nothing to do, especially with the constant reminders of how limited your time is in your destination country. Days where I have nothing to do have become some of my favorites. They allow me to catch up on school work, go for a walk by myself, or just sit and watch a movie. It’s important to realize that although studying abroad may be an adventure, it still has its ups and its downs.

I still have quite a bit of time left on my program. Although I miss home, I know that it’ll still be there waiting for me when my time is up in Córdoba. I am excited to see where life takes me during the time I have left here, and even more excited to share those experiences with all the new people I’ve met during my time here.

Thank you Max for sharing your experience, insights, and advice!  

For more information about Greenheart Travel’s First Time Traveler Scholarship, click here.


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