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Life Happens: Study abroad even better second time around
Co-Life Editor Andrea Castillo had very different experiences during her two study abroad trips.
Published 1/18/2012
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: I caught the travel bug last year, so bad that it’s practically now a serious illness.

The dreams I had as kid to grow up and become a veterinarian or a supermodel or an artist have all been reduced to one simple aspiration: to see as much of this beautiful planet as I can before I’m too old to move anymore. My travel bug is so bad that even journalism, a career goal I’ve spent the better part of four years to achieve, has basically been thrown out the window.

It all started when I decided to study abroad last year. I spent my fall 2010 semester in Ecuador where I lived a luxuriously comfortable life in a mansion complete with a maid named Leonor. My laundry was always washed and ironed, meals always on the table and she even gave me a foot rub when I sprained my ankle. Well, that part actually made me uncomfortable but Leonor became the second nicest lady I’ve ever met, right after my mom, of course.

I chose to study in Ecuador because of my background—my mom is Venezuelan, so I grew up speaking Spanish as my first language and listening to salsa music during spring cleaning. My experience in Ecuador was exactly what I wanted: to go abroad for my first time in a place where I knew I would feel comfortable and not cry my way through the first couple weeks like some other students did.

I had an amazing time because of that comfort. I was able to meet great people, get around easily and haggle my way to the cheapest prices because of my fluency in Spanish. It was like a breath of fresh air to be around a whole population who understood that part of my culture.  When it finally came time to leave Ecuador I was sad, but at the same time I was content with going back to my life in the U.S.

After returning to WSU I realized one day that I could study abroad again and still meet all my requirements to graduate on time. I nearly started hyperventilating, frantically calling my mom to ask, “So should I do it??? Should I?!”

Looking at country options completely consumed my time. At first I thought about going back to Latin America, maybe to Guatemala or Mexico. But then I realized how narrow-focused I was being. Most students don’t even study abroad once (though I think everyone should). With this kind of opportunity, I knew I needed to go explore the unknown. So, without knowing much else other than what I had learned in my philosophy class, I applied to a program in India.

Having come back just two months ago, my five-month trip to India is still fresh. I went with an open mind, choosing to ignore known stereotypes about the culture, and got more in return that I could have ever imagined. Indian culture seemed about as different from my own as a culture could be. But I chose to assimilate rather than stick to my own stubborn ideals, even when that meant sometimes accepting things I didn’t agree with.  

I learned to (somewhat) speak Hindi, eat with my hands, bathe with a bucket and hand-wash my clothes. And while to some people it may seem like learning those things would be a huge hassle, I grew to enjoy every minute of my new lifestyle, to the point where eating regularly with a fork and knife again felt alien.

However, no one told me about the return culture shock which, in my case, was more like reverse luxury shock. It took me an entire month to stop contemplating the purchase of a flight back to the other side of the world. My bed was too soft, everything seemed ridiculously expensive and many people didn’t understand why I would ever willingly choose to spend five months in dirty, smelly, poor India.

Living in India made me realize that I can adapt to any culture. Even though my experience in Ecuador was comfortable, I realized I don’t really need luxury to be happy. And even though Hispanic culture was certainly more relatable for me, India paved the way for me to continue exploring new cultures and places.

That being said, I think I’ve found my calling in travel—at least until I become old and frail or too poor to afford it, whichever comes first.  

A friend of mine once said, “Intelligent people read books, but educated people travel the world.”

I like that. I think I’d rather be educated than intelligent, anyway.

 

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