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.