There was an indescribable bittersweet feeling upon my return to the United States from South America. I am happy to speak my native language and to spend time with my family and friends, but I already miss the daily cultural immersion, aspects of leaning, and adventures that I experienced while I was abroad. Before I left home, I attended seminars and listened to my professors discuss the effects reverse culture shock that I would experience upon returning from abroad, but I never really thought that same experience would happen to me. Every day was a new experience, and I did not understand the significance of even my smallest interactions until I returned. Though I was saddened when these exchanges suddenly stopped upon returning home, I learned valuable lessons outside of the US.
Through traveling overseas, I have learned the value of cultural introspection. Prior to this summer, it was difficult for me to observe culture within the US. At that time, I mostly considered the US to be a melting pot of cultures in which it has become increasingly less common to maintain cultural ties and practices outside the environment of a particular culture. Latin America provided fresh insight to my definition of culture as I was able to observe and become immersed in authentic cultures of people with a shared set of beliefs and values. After some time, my own personal definition of culture expanded, and, over time, I became surprised to find that my culture was more significant to me than I initially thought.
One of the differences I noticed while I was engaged with these other cultures and societies was the vague systems and unconstrained organization which guided the culture. This laxity seemed to create an intricate yet chaotically coordinated web of interactions which functioned just as well, if not better, in the absence of strict systematic restrictions. This was astonishing to me as I was accustomed to the methodical tendencies of my own culture. For example, while sitting on a bus weaving in and out of traffic, stopping for bystanders before suddenly restarting again, I recognized that no other passengers were struck by the erratic bus stop patterns and unspoken communication between the driver and commuter.
Events like these were particularly spectacular and inspired cultural introspection to the necessity of the intense guidelines we follow within the US. While I understand that some regulations are fundamental and others provide preventative measures to problems which could otherwise arise, it is interesting to consider the possible simplification and expedition of processes in our daily lives without a change in results or outcomes. Though I realize that this is often unlikely, and we are the result of generations of work that cannot be undone even within a decade, I think it is important to contemplate the effects of systematic processes on marginalized persons who lie outside of the systems. With the implementation of more encompassing programs and greater flexibility and acceptance of people, our punctuated society could increase its efficiency and effectivity.
While it is not beneficial to compare cultures to each other, it is important to embrace change and learn from others. My experience abroad has increased my passion for helping marginalized people, and it has exposed me to the divides and dangers that exist in our current society. Study abroad is more than studying and living in another culture, it creates an opportunity for inspiration, introspection, and identification within our own lives.
Felix Amparano is a senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying Chemistry, Spanish, and Biology. Felix is excited to spend six-weeks of his summer studying Spanish in Buenos Aires, Argentina with the UMKC Spanish Program. During his time abroad, Felix hopes to gain a better understanding of Argentine culture and health care with the hopes of becoming more culturally competent in his approaches to patient treatment.
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.