Past the Comfort Zones

Nidhish Lokesh

PHOTO: COLORFUL TUCAN FROM PARQUE NACIONAL DEL IGUAZÚ

There is no better way to understand the scale of the world and of the human experience than by traveling. My study abroad in Buenos Aires has widened my perspective unlike anything I have done before. Many people feel more comfortable traveling to a country in Europe where English-speakers are common and it is very similar to the U.S; however, there are advantages to going somewhere out of your comfort zone too.

I picked Buenos Aires and the rest of Argentina primarily because I wanted to go somewhere completely different and immerse myself in a new language. In school up until college I had learned French, so I jumped at the chance to immerse myself in a Spanish-speaking country. Let’s be honest, Spanish is way more relevant where we are in the U.S. anyways. I was nervous going into the trip with only a semester of Spain Spanish under my belt, but excited to see just how much I could learn in my 3 months abroad.

At first I was quite intimidated here. My internship supervisor and office colleagues spoke about our projects entirely in Spanish, most of the nearly 3 million people in the city spoke Spanish primarily, and even my host spoke only in Spanish. I had no idea how I would learn enough of the language to do more than just survive. The first 4 weeks I took Spanish classes in the mornings before working on my internship projects in the afternoons. My language skills got so much better than I thought was possible – just from the immersion and daily practice. The biggest barrier was my own mental block of sounding like an idiot in a language I didn’t know. The key was to realize that it’s not a bad thing to sound like a fool sometimes, and to just keep practicing. Now, 7 weeks in, I can hold conversations with people I meet at the gym, market, or even at the barbershop about a variety of topics. My verbal understanding has gotten much better (it’s very different than Spain Spanish that we learn in the states, with lots of abbreviated words, slang, and different pronunciation rules) and I feel a lot more comfortable here. Buenos Aires has felt like home for weeks. That’s how quickly practicing something new can become natural. I even like the language better than English now – so many more ways to say things, and it’s more pleasing to the ear.

Comfort Zones don’t just extend to language, though. Studying Abroad is the perfect time to expose yourself to new experiences and try different lifestyles. For example, I was never a morning person before I came here, and I would deny the possibility of me ever being one to all of my friends. Then, I decided to try out a crossfit gym (never had tried crossfit before either), and now almost 8 weeks later I have been getting up at 6 every morning to go to the gym, then practice Spanish over breakfast with some Argentine friends, and then go to either class or to the office for work. As it so turns out, I really like mornings. Who knew? And having my butt kicked by a great workout every morning honestly feels pretty good too. It’s nice starting every day with a challenge.

Even now, with the internship portion in Buenos Aires coming to a close, I’m not going to stop pushing the limits of my own comfort zones. From here, I’m venturing out into the beautiful wilderness of Argentine and Chilean Patagonia. I’ve got some independent study projects I will be working on for professors back home while I get used to a new style of life – backpacking. I’ve backpacked once before, but it was only for 10 days and with guides. Now I’ll embrace the 6 weeks of backpacking through one of the most beautiful areas in the world with only my roommate. I’m sad to leave all of my friends in the city and a little apprehensive of the lifestyle change, but I’ll continue to learn more about myself. After all, how can you know what else life has to offer if you don’t step past your limits to experience it?

-Nidhish Lokesh, fall 2017 internship and independent study in Buenos Aires, Argentina

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