Hello Longhorns! My name is Joelean Hall and I’m a senior majoring in International Relations and Global Studies. I have studied abroad now for 2 consecutive semesters, one in Chile and one in Argentina. As my last blog post I wanted to reflect back on the things I’ve learned, give some advice and share a bit of my time in Brazil since my semester ended in Argentina.
First, being away from home for 10 months is much harder than I thought it would be. I missed birthdays, graduations, Thanksgiving, and will be missing Christmas and New Years at home. When I made my decisions for both my semesters abroad, I did not consider that missing these events would affect me as profoundly as they did. Considering the changes my life was going through day to day, I would lose track of the events going on back home. This disconnect I experienced, made me question my decisions of being away for so long. Would I be losing people and relationships for missing these events? Could I make up for lost time? The anxiety of these questions plagued me since day 1 and over time I have been able to answer those questions which I’ll share for anyone having the same concerns.
The life you leave behind continues. The space you think you might be putting on hold for yourself may not look the same or feel the same. This is so unsettling especially if you took an enormous amount of time and effort to build yourself up in the UT community, among your friends, and even at home. The comfort I have found is that in the same way I built myself up in Austin is the same way I was able to do it in Santiago and Buenos Aires. Each routine, cycle, and experience I created for myself in all these three cities was essentially wiped out as soon as I left. But starting from scratch each time has helped me understand so much about myself from my skills to my preferences to my goals. It is asking yourself each time: What do I want from this experience? What can I learn from the places and people around me? What can I provide and teach to the people that meet me? Laying a plan like this out sets a clearer direction in the middle of a busy, school-life in a foreign country and when you get back home.
Second, the quality and diversity of the connections you develop are worth more than you know. Most of the reasons I hear for people studying abroad are for the connections you can make. This is a great goal but it is essential to know how to do that. It is one thing to make friends within the daily life you circulate in but branching out — to other universities, communities, and social circles — will bring back more on the investment of the time and effort you put into those relationships. A few reasons for that: you could be a valuable and essential outsider, sharing knowledge only you know. If you know how to portray yourself well in that, it will make you unforgettable. Another reason is that you can learn so much from people who made decisions that are completely different from yours. Albeit everyone has their own reasons for going abroad, people do it in a million different ways for a million different reasons. It’s not only a great conversation point but an opportunity for you to learn more ways to live and get around the world (if this is your goal!). Finally, taking social risks is the whole point of leaving what you already know. Aside from going out and meeting people in bars and clubs, getting to know people from all over the neighborhood, city, country not only builds your understanding for a place but allows you to leave behind whatever social construct or routine you were following at home.
And third, become a different person. I found that this happened naturally for many people over the few months into the semester but I met just as many who fought themselves to stay the same way. I know I should be careful not to blanket over this kind of advice onto everyone else but I won’t and I’ll repeat it again, allow yourself to become a different person. The person I was in Austin, Texas, is not the same person in Santiago, Chile, that is also not the same person in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I continuously modified myself not only to fit in, but to stand out, to be mature, to have fun, to do what I wanted and put up with what I didn’t want to do. I find this all takes flexibility, awareness, and an incredible amount of self-reflection which for me evolved from happening every month to every week to every day. Pushing the boundaries of yourself is geographically what you’re already doing but emotionally and mentally, the effort goes beyond just buying a plane ticket.
Finally, I went to Brazil!!! This has been a goal of mine since arriving in South America but with outrageous ticket prices and no Portuguese language skill, I waited until the time was right. Being in Argentina, it was easier said than done to get to Brazil in a cheap but safe way. I found flying to Iguazú, crossing the border and then taking an overnight bus to Curitiba, was the best way to go. From there, my boyfriend and I traveled together to Ilha de Santa Catarina or Florianópolis, a green, mountainous, jungle island with the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. We hiked, ate an enormous amount pratos executivos (essentially a full plate of farofa, black beans, rice, meat, french fries, and a salad), and swam with jellyfish, turtles, and all kinds of fish. After Floripa, we headed back to Curitiba to catch a flight out to Rio de Janeiro. Rio was as magical and beautiful as any picture I’ve seen. Not knowing where the favelas were located, we stayed in Copacabana, right underneath the Cantagalo–Pavão–Pavãozinho favela. The street we were on was basically at the start of the hike up to the barrio but it was enough to get a glimpse of the culture and life as well as the daily tension between police and those living in the community. As someone traveling with a partner, I felt secure enough to take certain risks but to any solo travelers, I would recommend staying in Ipanema, close to the beach and away from the hills. After some time in Rio, I took a bus out to Cabo Frio where I spent my last few in Brazil dabbling in some surfing and getting along at a slower pace.
As I write this, I am back in Santiago to meet my dad for some hiking in northern Patagonia for a few weeks. I’ll then head to Colombia to meet up with my sister until finally heading back home in January. There is so much to see, learn, and experience and I’m looking forward to this next month in South America. To end my last post I want to thank the International Office for giving me the opportunity to write about my experiences and share them with the UT community. I hope those that kept up with my posts learned a few things and all are welcome to reach out to me if you have any questions about studying abroad in Chile or Argentina or just want to chat.
Thanks and hook ’em!
This post was contributed by Joelean Hall, a 2018 Global Ambassador.
Don’t get left behind. Read more about Joelean’s experience in Buenos Aires>>