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Dear First-Generation College Student, You’re Gonna Be Okay

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Studying Abroad as a First Generation College Student

Being a first generation college student, studying abroad seemed out of reach at first and a bit terrifying. My decision to study abroad in Buenos Aires is one that I am deeply happy with and wouldn’t change it for anything. One of the hardest decisions before studying abroad was actually making the decision to follow through and telling my mom I would be leaving. I come from a single parent household and have an amazing relationship with my mother. It was difficult enough for her to have me studying far from home, but telling her that I would move to the other half of the world for two months was insane for her to process. At first, she was supportive and let me know that I had to do what I thought was best for my future. As the day to leave got closer, she began to get nervous and constantly asked if I was sure I wanted to study abroad so far away. I too became nervous, but knew it was necessary and a part of growing up.

Being 5,000 miles away

Arriving in Buenos Aires was overwhelming at first, not knowing anyone, save the familiar faces I’d seen at my school orientation. The people in the program, however, were extremely easy to talk to and it became easier for me to make friends and adjust. It took two to three days for me to find a group I really connected with. There were students from all over the U.S. and it was great to know how we all decided on going to Buenos Aires. After living there for a couple of weeks, it wasn’t hard to understand why we all decided to study abroad.

Mi Buenos Aires Querido

The city is astounding upon arrival. From the beautiful architecture, to the mass of people walking up and down the streets, Buenos Aires is captivating. Because of the size of the city, it was hard to get into the fast-paced environment. People walk fast and talk fast to get to their destination. However, once it’s time for some grub, time has never felt so slow.

Culture Shock

The culture in Buenos Aires has a lot of European influence and you can see that right away in restaurants and their menus. There is a pizzeria or coffee shop in almost every street in the city. When you go to a restaurant to eat, be prepared to stay for a while. You will find yourself spending an average of two hours at the majority of restaurants and cafés in Argentina. Unlike most college students’ typical “Starbucks run,” it is considered rude to rush things when going for a cup of coffee or snack. As a first generation college student, it was interesting to see these cultural differences.

Being Latina myself, I was shocked when I realized how completely different my Mexican culture was from the Argentinian culture. One of the biggest shocks for me was learning that they don’t eat spicy food in Argentina! Being a girl who loves her spicy Mexican dishes, it was almost heart-breaking when I discovered that Argentinians don’t do spicy. I had this mentality of thinking all Latin American countries were similar, especially in the food they eat, but I was so wrong! So a bit of advice for all you spicy food lovers: pack a bottle of hot sauce with you if you can’t go a day without it.  Studying abroad has opened my eyes to the extent of the diversity within different countries. Even though they are all Latin American countries, each one is filled with their distinct culture, customs, and traditions.

It was nice being able to learn something new. I am proud that I stepped out of my comfort zone and studied abroad. This experience has truly made me think about many things from culture differences and similarities, to the different societies within a country and all the complexities that come with it. I hope to visit again soon!

Stephanie Castellanos is an international relations and global studies major at The University of Texas at Austin. She studied abroad on the IFSA Summer in Buenos Aires program in 2017. She is an IFSA First-Generation Scholar through the First-Generation Scholarship program.