Abroad, twice over



Column by Liz McKellar. E-mail [email protected].

I am lucky enough to say I have studied abroad not just once during my college career, but twice.

I spent spring semester of my sophomore year in Pune, India, about two hours away from Mumbai.

Because I needed to complete my foreign language requirement, I spent an intensive month this past summer in Costa Rica learning Spanish.

Both of these experiences were very different but at the same time very similar. I gained life-long friends. In fact, I will attend the wedding of my roommate from Costa Rica this winter.

India is a place I always wanted to visit. I had an intense passion to wear a Sari every day, and in the U.S., I knew this dream was not going to be a reality. It was more of a personal trip, rather than an education-centered one. I left to discover myself, and in the process, I ended up leaving half my heart in Pune.

Consequentially, I am always yearning to either be home in California or home under the warm Indian sky.

Costa Rica, on the other hand, was more educationally driven. I left with the intent of learning Spanish and conquering my fear of the language (since I am unable to roll my tongue), and I was convinced I was unable to learn. Thankfully, I was proven wrong, and I have gained an appreciation for the language I never thought was possible.

Now, as well as yearning for the Indian sky, I yearn to hear Spanish and be able to join in a conversation.

Through my study abroad experience, I have found how rare it is for Americans to travel abroad. Just meeting American students can break some of the simple stereotypes that people from other countries have about us.

In Costa Rica, my friend and I went to a pizza place in Manual Antonio. While we tried to converse with the waiter in Spanish, he replied in English and corrected us if we said anything incorrectly. The real problem arose when a large man came in and yelled for someone to come over to wait on him. I noticed his Texas accent, and 12 other loud, brass Americans proceeded to tear the restaurant apart with their loud laughter, demands and most embarrassingly, their loud statement to their waiter that they had “found someone who speaks American English.”

After this remark, the table erupted in laughter, and the head of the group jokingly smacked the guy on the back.

As we left the restaurant, we apologized to the waiter and thanked him for his services. He told us in a whisper that he hated when Americans came in, but it was a nice change to see that all Americans didn’t act like in the manner we had just witnessed.

I smiled but didn’t know exactly how to feel. I was glad I showed him that not all Americans were like the family we left behind in the restaurant but saddened that this was the kind of image he expected from Americans.

This is why I put so much value in studying abroad. It not only changed me on a deeper level and the way I view the world — but I know in turn, I have touched and changed other peoples’ views of America.