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The Retransition: Coming Home

My mom and I when she picked me up from the airport

Some people have asked me what I miss most from Argentina, expecting an answer about a food, the weather, or a daily ritual. In truth, I miss the struggle of trying to communicate with less-than-fluent Spanish abilities, the discomfort of not knowing how to behave in an unfamiliar situation, and the unpredictability of wandering through six weeks with a loose schedule. After throwing myself completely into experiencing and enjoying the difficulties of studying abroad, the ease, comfort, and predictability of life back home seems foreign.

I was warned about “reverse culture shock” (the culture shock one experiences when returning home from study abroad) even before I had left for Argentina. At the time, I didn’t take it that seriously. Home is familiar, I thought, how could coming home be shocking? Towards the end of my stay in Argentina, as our class discussions turned more frequently to the prospect of returning to the United States, I began to consider it more seriously. Our professor, who has had lots of study abroad experience, advised us that the “shock” would come from the abrupt, begrudging return to reality, to real responsibilities and obligations, to due dates and work schedules and to-do lists. So this is what I expected upon my return to the U.S.. After all, though study abroad is definitely not just a vacation, it did often feel like a break, or at least like a separation, from “reality.”

What I have struggled with most, however, is not the abrupt return to reality but the feeling that a part of me is stuck in South America. It’s messaging in Spanish with friends I met in Santiago who are now skiing in Patagonia while trying to appear interested in my aunt’s small town gossip. It’s reading contemporary Argentine novels then watching the American Netflix shows I missed while abroad. It’s sharing memes about capitalism in the group chat with my classmates from Argentina while trying to catch up on the missed inside jokes in the group chat with my Conservatory friends. It’s trying to finish up coursework for my Argentine culture class while trying to prepare to return to a intense semester of music education classes. It’s having left my mind and heart in Buenos Aires while my reality and responsibilities are here in Kansas City. This would be my definition of reverse culture shock: feeling shockingly not ‘at home’ in your own home.

A lot of people say that one of the best parts of traveling is the feeling of coming home. I would argue that the beauty of traveling is gaining more homes in places and people scattered around the world. Even if I never feel totally “at home” here again, I think the experience of building new “home”s abroad is more than worth the cost.


Amber Litteken is a freshman at the University of Missouri-Kansas City majoring in Instrumental Music Education and minoring in Spanish Language and Literature. Amber will spend six weeks of the summer abroad with the UMKC Faculty-Led Spanish Language Summer in Buenos Aires, Argentina as a Gilman Scholar. Amber is from Breese, Illinois and plays bassoon.

Disclaimer: Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

Three Days Without Internet? Yes, Please!

After finishing our final exams concluding weeks of intensive language courses in the bustling city of Buenos Aires, all of us “Kansas people,” as our dear ISA staff liked to call us, were ready for a leisurely escape to the rural northernmost provinces of Salta and Jujuy. The highlight of our trip to the north was our 3 day/2 night stay with el Rey de Campesina, an indigenous farming extended-family living in the foothills of the Andes mountains. After spending 4 days traveling around on buses, we were all thrilled to be staying in one spot for a few days and I, for one, was particularly excited about the complete lack of Internet connection.

Upon our arrival, we hiked up through the brush with our luggage to be divided up into the different homes of the family members. After settling in and enjoying an evening snack with our hosts, we all reunited at one house to enjoy a huge welcome dinner; the 13 members of our group and the 8 or so family members sharing one long table outside in the dark and freezing cold.

The next morning, after breakfast in our respective homes, we enjoyed a tour of the family vineyard and bodega (artisanal winery). Then we learned how to make empanadas for lunch.

This meal was one of my favorite memories from our trip to the north – all of us sitting around the same table eating, laughing, and drinking homemade wine, soaking up the warm sunlight, surrounded by beautiful mountains. After lunch, the patriarch Enrique and his nephews led us on an intense half-day trekking, which proved to be more rock climbing than walking, and pushed all of us to our physical limits.

Dinner that night was quicker and more subdued as we were all exhausted from the day’s adventures and eager to fall into our beds. The next morning we had talleres (workshops) in basket weaving or tapestry loom weaving from indigenous artisan women.

After a bittersweet farewell lunch, we packed up our things, said goodbye to our gracious hosts, and headed back down to load the bus and begin the journey back to Salta, then Buenos Aires, then back home to the United States.

This experience was my favorite part of my study abroad program in Argentina. I wish I had taken more pictures with which to remember the people I met and the places I saw. At the time, however, I was surrounded by so much natural beauty it was impossible to decide what to take pictures of. Besides, I was too busy experiencing everything and living in the moment to think about pausing to take photos that could never capture what I hold in memory.


Amber Litteken is a freshman at the University of Missouri-Kansas City majoring in Instrumental Music Education and minoring in Spanish Language and Literature. Amber will spend six weeks of the summer abroad with the UMKC Faculty-Led Spanish Language Summer in Buenos Aires, Argentina as a Gilman Scholar. Amber is from Breese, Illinois and plays bassoon.

Disclaimer: Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

The One Time I Try To Make a Plan

During a long four-day weekend off of classes in Buenos Aires, I decided to take advantage of the cheap flights to Santiago, Chile. This would be my first trip anywhere (let alone a new country) by myself as well as my first stay in a hostel. I booked my excursion with no plans besides my plane ticket and hostel reservation.

On Friday and Saturday, I had enjoyed simply wandering somewhat aimlessly about the city on my own during the day and then returning to the hostel at night for dinner and the (literally) daily fiesta. On Sunday morning, however, I wanted to do something more specific/planned, but less expensive than the tours most of my new hostel friends suggested. At breakfast, my new German friend Debbie told me about her plans to climb Cerro Pochoco, a “mini-mountain” accessible by Santiago public transit. This sounded perfectly accessible and affordable, so I did a little research while my phone recharged and then set off determined to climb a mountain.

After two hours navigating the Metro (subway) and colectivos (buses) to the outer limits of the city, I arrived at the end of my Google directions. Looking around, I did not see the parking lot and trailhead I had read about online. After wandering about for a bit and receiving confused, contradictory directions from two different locals (I did not have data to search the Internet for answers), I noticed a street sign labeled Calle Cerro Pochoco. I double-checked my phone and realized that Google Maps had directed me to a street named after Cerro Pochoco instead of the actual Cerro Pochoco. I was on the wrong side of the city.

A little dismayed, I began walking back towards the Metro station when lo and behold I ran into Debbie and her two friends. They had made the same mistake I had. Her friend Servi, who could use data on her phone, set a course for a new cerro to climb and invited me to come along. I agreed and we set off on the Metro together.

Through the train windows, the bright canopies of a féria caught my attention, so I left my new friends and hopped off the train at the next station. This féria was very different than those I had visited in Buenos Aires. The férias in Buenos Aires were full of artists and vendors selling crafts and homemade goods, whereas this was more like an open-air Walmart, with everything from fruits and vegetables to toilet paper, clothing and books to small electrical appliances. The best difference of all was that it was not intended for tourists. I was the only white person (and probably the only foreigner) there. Instead of tourists looking for souvenirs, I met Chileans doing their grocery shopping.

After walking about absorbing the authentic Chilean culture, I enjoyed a hearty lunch of whatever the amicable waitress recommended because I didn’t recognize anything on the menu. It was an excellent opportunity to talk to some more locals, eat affordably for the first time that weekend, and enjoy the sun and the heat after three weeks of cold in Buenos Aires.

I had noticed I small cerro in the distance and started walking off my lunch in that direction. I noticed some families and dogs climbing around and found the entrance to a rough trail. Once I reached the top, I realized just how far from downtown and how close to the Andes mountains I had wandered. Even from such a small cerro, the views were breathtaking. After catching my breath, soaking up the moment, and taking some obligatory selfies, I started heading back “home” to my hostel, completely satisfied with “lost” day.

The one time I tried to make a plan, it failed. But that mistake created my favorite day in Chile (and one of my favorites all summer) and provided an opportunity to experience a side of authentic Chilean culture far from the city center.


Amber Litteken is a freshman at the University of Missouri-Kansas City majoring in Instrumental Music Education and minoring in Spanish Language and Literature. Amber will spend six weeks of the summer abroad with the UMKC Faculty-Led Spanish Language Summer in Buenos Aires, Argentina as a Gilman Scholar. Amber is from Breese, Illinois and plays bassoon.

Disclaimer: Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

Study Abroad Fail 1/?

In preparing for my trip, I have been told time and time again that study abroad is about failing, about getting lost and finding the way back, about enjoying when things don’t go as planned. I figured these character-building failures would not begin until I was actually in-country, or at least the airport. As it turns out, I experienced my first #studyabroadfail while still at home in U.S.

The Plan: drive home from Kansas City to Illinois on Wednesday evening, spend time with my family, fly out on Friday afternoon

The Hitch: at 9:57 Thursday morning, I realized I had left my passport in my Kansas City apartment

I have always been a relentlessly organized, obsessively over-prepared person. I had packed my bags a week in advance, crossed everything off my to-do lists in my pristine bullet journal, and was excited to spend two days relaxing at home with my family before taking off. It took a full 30 seconds for me to accept that I had actually committed the monumental mistake of forgetting my most important travel document in a shoe box 287 miles away.

My mother and I promptly abandoned our plans for the day in favor of a 9-hour round-trip drive to Kansas City. She was remarkably unflustered about it, reminding me in her typical motherly fashion that “at least we remembered today instead of tomorrow, two hours before your flight.” This reminder helped to decrease the frequency of my self-deprecating exclamations that inevitably punctuated our drive. (She did, however, immediately regret her comment during breakfast about hoping to go on a road trip soon.)

Our impromptu road trip actually provided an excellent opportunity for us to spend time together before my departure. The long, tedious, uneventful drive across the entire state of Missouri gave us plenty of time to catch up, argue about politics, and jam out to the Hamilton soundtrack. Though I think we both would have preferred hanging around the house in our pajamas and grabbing lunch and coffee at my favorite hometown spots, the drive was comfortingly reminiscent of the hours we used to spend in our beloved Mighty Prius when she drove me to lessons, rehearsals, and summer camps while I snoozed or did homework in the passenger seat.

In the end, this seemingly huge mistake actually worked out okay; I retrieved my passport with plenty of time to spare and got to spend some quality time with my mom. This pre-departure mistake showed me that it is okay to fail, that mistakes can be fixed, and that it is possible to enjoy the journey that these failures bring. I’m definitely ready to relish in all the mistakes and failures that my time abroad will inevitably include.


Amber Litteken is a freshman at the University of Missouri-Kansas City majoring in Instrumental Music Education and minoring in Spanish Language and Literature. Amber will spend six weeks of the summer abroad with the UMKC Faculty-Led Spanish Language Summer in Buenos Aires, Argentina as a Gilman Scholar. Amber is from Breese, Illinois and plays bassoon.

Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.