Wheeling, West Virginia is known for producing a number of famous products and individuals, but it isn’t exactly renowned for churning out global citizens who trot around the world. When I started telling friends and teachers that I was going to be studying in Argentina for a semester, this became quite obvious.
“I bet ISIS is down there,” a former teacher told me.
“You know, that’s where all the Nazis went after World War II,” an older relative said.
“Argentina?” a friend asked, wrinkling her nose in disgust. “Why would you want to go to a Third World country anyway?”
To some degree, I anticipated this. I was met with a similar chorus of disbelief when I announced three years prior that I would be leaving West Virginia to attend a small liberal arts school in the middle of Ohio, Kenyon College. Nobody could fathom why I was leaving the perfect Mountain State to experience something else.
I study anthropology at Kenyon, so I would like to think I was able to rationalize these critiques with a level head, but in reality, I know that’s not true. The more people questioned me, the angrier I became. Why didn’t people trust me?
The more I asked myself this question, the more I began to lose faith in myself, too.
At school, I had study abroad advisors and professors urging to make this crucial next step in my education, especially because, by this point, I had added a Spanish major to my academic transcript.
“You love to travel, and you love languages,” my mentor stated. “So what’s holding you back?”
I was embarrassed to say the real reason out loud, that everyone from my life back home wanted to keep me here in the States. By wanting to leave, I felt as if I were betraying my roots, my home. As a first-generation college student, study abroad was something I had never fathomed was even possible, and I think a part of me was afraid to leave the country for a semester because these types of opportunities were not meant for students like me.
That all changed when I finally talked to my dad about it.
My dad is one of the most amazing, inspirational people I have ever met in my life, and he spent a substantial part of his twenties traveling around and experiencing whatever parts of life that interested him. We had an open, honest dialogue about study abroad from the moment I applied during my sophomore year to the time I stepped foot back in the States after five months south of the equator. This is something I would encourage all students participating in an off-campus study program to maintain, because nothing makes a parent more anxious, I’m sure, than having no idea what their son or daughter is doing.
My dad had normal parent fears—ones that, looking back, make perfect sense. He was worried about me being five thousand miles away when I was in a country he knew nothing about. But, most importantly, he was worried that if I needed anything, he wouldn’t be able to help me.
“So do you not want me to go?” I asked, probably for the fiftieth time in the fall semester before my junior year.
He paused for a moment, and I was sure he was going to say yes. “If you’re going to regret not going,” he told me, “go.”
And so, I went.
Studying abroad transformed me as a person, as well as a student, and I can’t even fathom a scenario in the future when I would regret this indescribable experience. I am truly fortunate to have had the courage to do what I knew was best for me all along, but I am equally blessed to have had a family that knew what was best for me, too.
I would love to report that, after traveling to South America (and coming home unscathed!) I managed to change my friends’ and family members’ perceptions about Latin America. Unfortunately, though, the stereotypes about this beautiful part of the world have roots that are so deeply anchored in my hometown’s ideology that my successful trip to Argentina was not enough proof to change their opinions about Latin America. And, you know what? That’s okay.
By serving as an IFSA-Butler Global Ambassador, I can continue to work at chipping away at the blemished, incorrect reputation that shrouds Argentina and its neighboring countries.
By engaging in meaningful dialogue with my peers and my extended family members, I hope to steadily improve this perception about Latin America, one conversation at a time.
India Amos is an anthropology and Spanish double major at Kenyon College and studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina with the IFSA-Butler Argentine Universities Program in Spring 2016. She is an IFSA-Butler Global Ambassador.