I said my goodbyes without much drama. I packed my things without thinking about my departure. I even went through the airport security as if it was something I did every day. It was not until I was in line to board my plane that I was hit with the realization that my time in Argentina was over. Everything that had defined my time there came rushing at me and by reflecting on the work I had done, the friends I made, and the lessons I learned I began to see the change I had undergone within myself.
Firstly, this experience has showed me I can learn how to navigate new situations. Whether this be learning a new city on my own or figuring out an ambiguous job description, I can now say I have the self-discipline and past knowledge to draw on to face something new with a stronger footing than before. Before this, new situations were sometimes a scare and I would avoid them if possible, but now I do not feel as if I need to completely avoid these situations.
Secondly, I see that I am now more curious about the underlings of a culture than before. I used to be content with the surface level of tourism – the historical tours, landmarks with picture taking opportunities, and never stepping out of the bubble of my nice hotel room. That used to satisfy me, but now I cannot imagine how this method of tourism truly allows one to be exposed to the culture.
In large tourism industries, much of the culture is filtered out so tourists only hear about the “interesting” parts of their life. In other words, tourists only hear about the pre-approved culture. There will never be a mention of the public’s opinion of their government, or how social class divisions affect the population, or even the day to day activities the people do to have fun after a hard day at work. Only by living like them can you learn these things, and I wonder now if I can ever experience traditional tourism in the same way again.
Finally, I now recognize I have the urge to do it all over again. I thought one cultural experience would be enough – have some fun in college, get it out of my system, and just spend my time in the United States as I had been doing before. But now I know that one time in one culture is not enough when there are so many other places to see and experience. Yes, there were parts that can only be labeled as horrible: the homesickness, loneliness, frustration at stalled improvement, the bittersweet goodbyes. But I realize that I would go through all of that again just to experience the wonderful parts.
This trip has showed me that there is no completely good experience. There will always be bad sections, and it is up to the individual persevere through those to gain all the good that is to come from it. My experience has taught me you cannot let the horrible parts prevent you from going at all because the truly wonderful parts are invaluable in comparison. The true happiness comes when you realize you have made a life in this new place; it comes when you begin trying to forget the few amount of days you have left, when you try to deny the goodbyes you must say, and when you take the final pictures with the people you are going to leave behind.
Intercultural experiences are life changing. They are by no means always good, but even in the bad they are amazing. I am grateful for every moment of loneliness, every mistake, every scare, because with each one comes another moment of friendship and happiness. I believe everyone should go on at least one intercultural experience outside of their home country because there is no possibility of replication within one’s home borders. The world is out there waiting to be experienced.