My name is Kendra Nusbaum, and I am a junior from St. Cloud, Minnesota. I study nursing and Spanish with a minor in Child Advocacy Studies (CAST).
This past spring, I studied abroad in Valparaíso, Chile with Academic Programs International (API) to finish my Spanish major. Beyond expanding my knowledge of the language and making memories to last a lifetime in two months, I discovered that home is without borders.
One week before I left for Chile, I wrote the following words, and I never would have imagined how much truth still resonates from them:
Though I have not yet left the country, I have learned a lot through this process. Despite having the best-laid plans, some things are out of your control, and that is not always a bad thing. Embrace uncertainty. Embrace the journey.
In studying abroad, I had three main goals. First, to dive deep into a culture I had only ever learned about in the classroom. Second, to find meaningful ways to develop my Spanish skills and confidence in speaking the language. And finally, to step out of my comfort zone and be open to the wonders of South America. With much gratitude, these goals became reality.
I cannot deny that the pandemic played a part in my study abroad story, but it did not define the complete experience. Instead of allowing myself to think of the 3 months cut short and what could have been, I focus only on the highlights of the immersion. I trekked to a summit and saw the entire width of Chile, from the sea to the border of Argentina. In moments like these, I felt on top of the world. I fell in love with Chile and feel immense joy to have lived there, even if it was for only two months.
The times in which I was pushed out of my comfort zone taught me the art of adapting. No itinerary will ever go how you planned, but it’s the moments of surprise you remember the most. The early sunrises, walking through the empty streets of a quiet, coastal town in Patagonia. Shopping at the local supermarket to make dinner at the hostel with faces from all over the world. The tanker ships off in the distance with the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing into the rocks, only 3 blocks from my home. The taste of my host mom’s 7-layer manjar cake and the hours spent conversing at the dinner table with her.
Less than 24 hours after receiving news that my program was canceled, my friends and I woke up before sunrise, and with ice picks, gas masks, crampons, and the help of professional guides, we climbed the most active volcano in South America. We were determined to end our time abroad surrounded by Chile’s natural paradise. I still stay in touch with those friends, even though we are spread out all across the country.
I will always feel connected to more than one place. The world can feel big and distanced at times, but the relationships I formed abroad will continue to play a role in my life. By creating a home away from home, my care for the country of Chile and its people did not end when I boarded the plane back to Minnesota.
My Spotify playlist filled with Chilean artists continues to expand. My bookshelf seems to have more purpose as I acquire literature by Chilean authors like Isabel Allende. I have a Pinterest board dedicated solely to Latin American recipes. I listen to Chilean podcasts when I miss their distinct Spanish accent. I am still in communication with my host family and Chilean professors.
Often, I find myself spinning the globe on my desk and dreaming of all the places to see in this heartbreakingly beautiful world. In the meantime, I advocate for students studying abroad. The biggest recommendation I can give students is to find their passion and reason for wanting to study abroad; everything else will follow.
It is easy to become discouraged in the pre-departure steps or the obstacles others keep telling you about, but the passion and purpose will lead the way in perseverance and making the experience abroad happen. It may not be the second you walk off the plane in your host country you feel at home. It may take a few weeks or even months, but in the end, you’ll find all the hard work, the long hours writing scholarship applications, driving to the local consulate for your student visa, and much more was worth it in the end.
Take the leap, embracing uncertainty – you never know just how much you can bloom from it.