Just about everyone I know who has studied abroad feels that the experience changed them in one way or another. They returned to the United States a little bit different than they were when they left. I am no exception to this trend. In fact, I’m a prime example. My semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina transformed me in countless ways. I came home as a more confident, independent, and empathetic individual. While these aren’t necessarily changes you can see, that undermines neither their reality nor their importance.

In order to get the most out of your time abroad, it’s necessary to put yourself out there—to take risks, to make yourself vulnerable, to take a different approach to living.

However, I changed in at least one way that was blatantly obvious… From lime green, to highlighter yellow, to dark blue, to violet, to all but gone completely, my hair underwent some serious modifications!

Going Green on a Whim

On July 27, 2015, I had been in Buenos Aires for exactly one week. Even after living in the city for just a short period of time, I already felt this intense sense of liberation. I self-identify as somewhat “alternative” in terms of United States culture. Let’s just say the mainstream and I have never really gotten along.
Before studying abroad, I had never found myself in an environment where fierce individuality and personal style were celebrated as much as they are in Buenos Aires. After only one week there, I knew How My Hair Set Me Freethat it was the perfect opportunity for me to do something drastic to my appearance, especially since I would be entering my final semester of college and beginning my job search as soon as I got home. One’s personal appearance is expected to reflect a certain level of professionalism when interviewing for jobs, but my appearance didn’t necessarily have to meet that expectation while I was abroad.
On a whim, I decided to dye my hair lime green. Not just a streak, or even a good-sized chunk—the WHOLE head. It was extreme, to say the least. After the dye had been applied, I allowed my hair stylist to snap a few selfies with me, and then I stepped out of the salon and into a world where my hair was the brightest thing in sight. I have never been stared at so much in my life. I would be lying if I said I didn’t question my decision once or twice right after I made it. But, before too long, I realized that dyeing my hair was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Colorful Hair = Colorful Person

Dyeing my hair had two major benefits: it never failed to serve as a conversation starter, and it also made me incredibly memorable. I didn’t know a single person when I arrived in Buenos Aires. I was How My Hair Set Me Freethe only person from my home university, Miami University of Ohio, who was studying in Buenos Aires that semester. Needless to say, I was looking to form friendships. My vibrant hair color gave off the impression that I, too, was a “colorful” individual, and this inspired all kinds of people to initiate conversation with me: little old ladies at the bus stop, servers at restaurants, my new classmates, etc. Sometimes it wasn’t even a full-fledged conversation. A passerby on the street might point at me and say, “Muy bien.” People seemed to respect my willingness to take such a bold risk, and in turn, my risk paid off.
After a few weeks, the lime green color faded to what can only be described as highlighter yellow. My hair was so bright that a gentleman told me it hurt his eyes to look at. But over time, even the highlighter yellow gradually faded to a softer shade of pastel yellow. Once the color of my hair was neutral enough to allow How My Hair Set Me Freeanother dye job, I headed back to the salon. This time, I opted for dark blue! Most people told me they preferred the darker color to the electric colors I’d had before, but personally, I liked the lime green best.

I Went for It and Never Looked Back

The final change that I made to my hair was arguably the most dramatic, and definitely the most permanent. I was hoofing it home from class on one of the first hot days of the semester, with the sun beating down on me and my hair sticking to the back of my sweaty neck. I was already wearing shorts and a tank top, so there wasn’t any clothing I could strip off to cool myself down.
I realized there was only one thing I could remove that would help me to cope better with the heat, and that thing was my hair. That very afternoon, I went to the salon and had my hair chopped off. I had never even considered cutting my hair so short before, but (if you can’t tell) I’m rather impulsive, so I went for it and never looked back. I’m happy to report that I absolutely loved the shorter cut, and I’ve kept it short ever since.
How My Hair Set Me Free
So, what does my ever-changing hair have to do with my greater study abroad experience? I think it’s a visual representation of the evolution that I was undergoing personally. I tried new things with my hairstyles in the same way that I tackled life in a new place, surrounded by new people, expressing myself in a new language, and navigating a new cultural landscape. In order to get the most out of your time abroad, it’s necessary to put yourself out there—to take risks, to make yourself vulnerable, to take a different approach to living. My hair, in all of its phases, is a visual representation of me doing those things.
As I mentioned before, I’ve chosen to maintain my short haircut since I got home. I started my semester abroad looking one way, I experimented a lot, and I came out looking another way. That process occurred both externally, in terms of my physical appearance, and internally. I emerged as a changed individual. I tried new things and I found out I like them. In fact, my hair and I are currently planning to move back to Buenos Aires after graduating.
What color do you think I should try next?
Erika Robota is a Professional Writing student at Miami University of Ohio and studied abroad through the IFSA-Butler Argentine Universities Program in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2015.