Today, I left a whirlwind visit with some of my closest college friends and as I was waving goodbye, it suddenly hit me that in 10 days I will be waving goodbye to the U.S. and hello to Argentina. Wow. I had a similar feeling 10 days ago after saying goodbye to a high school friend. At that time, it was only 20 days before my grand departure, which in my procrastinating vision seemed like an eternity. At the 20-day point, I had just bought my plane tickets and I didn’t even know who my host family was. I knew my departure was coming, but it felt like I had more than enough time to accomplish my “pre-Buenos Aires” to do list. Most importantly, I had more than enough time to truly process my feelings about my impending four-month long separation from my beloved Spelman College campus. 20 days away from departing, I was indifferent — as if studying abroad was going to be as seamless as going back to Spelman for a semester. 10 days away from departing, however, I am numb with fear of the unknown.
Studying abroad has been a goal of mine since middle school. I knew that I would spend a semester of my college career in South America before I had an inkling of which college I wanted to attend. Departing for Buenos Aires in 10 days will be a fulfillment of a childhood dream, but it feels both incredibly important and incredibly mundane. I recognize that I will be away from my friends and the supportive culture of my HBCU campus, but I am also guarding the overwhelming feelings that come with that recognition by telling myself that things in Buenos Aires won’t be that different, and that I will still be the same Pheonix when I return. In reality, those self-reassuring mantras are neither helpful, nor true.
During my remaining 10 days, in addition to the daunting task of packing, I am going to focus on deconstructing those previously reassuring thoughts so that I can feel all of my anxieties about studying abroad in their entirety and learn to deal with them. This starts with preparing for everything that will be different about Buenos Aires. Outside of the obvious language barrier, I will be getting used to living with a host family, learning how to navigate foreign public transportation, and overcoming all of the other obstacles that come with a typical study abroad experience. But what is perhaps most different from the challenges of my program peers, is that I will be in classrooms filled with very few students that look like me, in a city with very few people that look like me. Though this was the story of my life before college, being at Spelman for two years has made me accustomed to not having to think about how my race and gender will be accepted in my day to day academic and social spaces. I thought about how my locs might be perceived by the locals or how my blackness could be a barrier to some spaces when I chose to study in Buenos Aires, but now I am forced to think about the practical strategies I may need to employ to thrive in my new environment. Before today, my strategy was to push my worries aside as a way to prevent myself from being overwhelmed, but moving forward I will need to be intentional in thinking about how to overcome all of my apprehensions.
I believe that taking the time to think through these social differences and the other obstacles I may face, will actually make my quickly approaching departure date less overwhelming. This by no means is the last time that I will have to muster the courage to face my fears of the unknown during my study abroad journey, or even the last time that I will have to do so in my life. Hopefully, this courageous attitude initiated 10 days away from my departure to Argentina will continue until I have to face leaving the challenging experience that I am sure will change my life forever.