Looking back, there where alot of different things that inspired me to go abroad. Growing up, I had always wanted to be bilingual. I played and refereed soccer for a long time and always wanted to understand and talk to the kids and the parents. So, when the time came for me to pick a foreign language, Spanish was it. I've lived in Texas my whole life and we have a huge Hispanic population here, so it made sense to try and learn a foreign language that I might actually get to use one day. I took Spanish classes throughout middle school and high school, which I enjoyed, but learning in a classroom never really did it for me.
In 2012, I had the opportunity to go to Costa Rica and that was my first "abroad" experience I had. I got to use my limited Spanish and learned quite a lot from even 10 days. I think the fire to travel abroad and learn Spanish was lit while I was in Costa Rica.
After graduating high school and getting accepted to Texas A&M, I chose a bachelor of arts degree, which required me to take even more Spanish classes. It was all stuff I had learned before, but because I had nowhere and no one to practice with, I never really learned it. I could read and write fairly well, but speaking was (and still is) a totally different beast.
My sophomore year of college was really when I started looking into study abroad programs. I had countless people tell me that the only real way to become fluent was to immerse yourself in the culture. I'm one of those “go big or go home” type of people and knew that three weeks or a month just wasn't going to cut it, so I started looking into semester and year long programs. The final push came from a professor from Argentina whose class I had taken and really enjoyed. She and I became close and she strongly encouraged me to pursue a study abroad program. After that, it was just a matter of narrowing down my options and choosing the best program for me.
Why did you choose Sol Education Abroad?
There are TONS of study abroad programs to choose from. It wasn't until I had narrowed down where and when I wanted to go abroad that I was able to pick one. SOL had come to A&M many times to present to classes on their different programs, so I had them on my radar as one of my options. After lots of research, comparing different programs and crunching numbers to see which one was the best, I decided on SOL.
They are a smaller company, but they have years and years of experience. Money was a big factor as well, because study abroad isn't cheap. They offer competitive rates, and overall, I found they are the best bang for your buck. Since they only have programs in four countries, I knew that right from the start I wouldn't be just another student. They really took care of me, answered all of my questions, and facilitated everything from getting my classes in order at the beginning to getting my transcript when I got back. I couldn't of asked for a better program.
What was your favorite part Argentina?
First of all, Argentina is HUGE. There are so many different parts of the country to visit, places to see, and things to do. Buenos Aires is the hub of all of that, being the capital. There is no shortage of things to do in Buenos Aires, but I have to say the food and the wine are what I really loved about Argentina. You could find any type of food like any big city: German, Thai, Mexican, Chinese, and Italian. You name it, you could find it. Not to mention the traditional Argentine food, which was incredible. I would've gained so much weight had it not been for the fact that I walked everywhere!
What made your experience abroad unique?
What made my experience in Argentina unique were the people in my program and my host mom. SOL is a smaller program, we only had about 15 people, but we all got along incredibly well for not knowing one another beforehand. We all took trips together on the weekends or during our breaks from school, and someone was always down to go exploring the city or get food. SOL also did a really good job of placing roommates together. My roommate and I still keep in contact and she's coming to visit in May!
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
Our program director Raul was amazing. He knew everything and everyone. He always had a suggestion for something to do or somewhere to eat. We all became super close with him and his family, because he made us feel like more than just visiting students. The program had structure, but he also gave us a lot of freedom as to where and what we wanted to do. He ran the program so smoothly and went out of his way to make sure everything was perfect for us.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish that I wouldn't have wasted the first part of my trip. I was super homesick and didn't really immerse myself until about halfway through my time there. Even so, I had an amazing experience; I just wish I had embraced everything right from the start. I also wish that I had been more proactive in using my Spanish with the other people in my program. It feels weird, but it’s so beneficial.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
We would wake up around 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. and have breakfast with our host mom, which was usually toast with jelly or dulce de leche (aka. stuff of the gods), fruit, and tea. Occasionally we would have medialunas or other pastries, but toast was a staple. After getting ready for class, we would walk to class, which was about 20 minutes. Usually the weather was good and it was an enjoyable walk, but when weather was inclement there was a bus route close by that we could take.
During the first month of the program we had class from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. with a break for lunch, but during the rest of the semester, classes were later in the morning/afternoon. We ate lunch on our own, but there were plenty of options for pretty cheap all around our neighborhood. The rest of the day was either filled with class, cultural activities, studying, or something else.
We always ate dinner with our host mom, but in Argentina they eat dinner much later than we do. Dinner was usually around 9 p.m., so most of the time we would have a snack before dinner to hold us over. During the week we wouldn't go out after dinner, but on the weekends there was always something to do. Argentines love to party, so the clubs and bars were always packed and lots of fun.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
I actually spent quite a bit of my free time with my host mom, running errands or going to the park. Aside from that, the other people in my program and I would plan out something to do. There were lots of different cultural things to do, craft markets, museums, movies, festivals, etc. Despite being a big city, Buenos Aires has lots of parks that were really enjoyable. We spent a lot of time there, walking/running, doing yoga, or just sitting around reading and drinking mate.
Our program also offered a conversation club, called Mate Club, where both Spanish and English speakers would get together to drink mate and have snacks and practice both languages. We would spend 15 minutes in each language switching amongst groups and end by playing a group game. It helped my Spanish so much and it was a good way to meet people.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I was super hesitant about my living situation at first. My host mom, Aida, didn't speak any English and from everything I knew about my roommate, she was the complete opposite of me. But I couldn't have been more wrong. When I first got there, Aida greeted me like I was her long lost daughter. She knew my Spanish was limited and took care to speak slowly and clearly so I could understand her. It really made a huge difference in how I learned because her patience seemed unlimited. My roommate was vegan and I have a lactose sensitivity, and she was truly accommodating to all of those needs.
My roommate and I shared a room, which I actually really enjoyed. It wasn't anything fancy, just twin beds, but Aida made sure we had clean sheets/towels and blankets when it got cold out. Aida made a total difference in my experience. There were other girls in the program who didn't get along with their host moms and it made their trip not as enjoyable. Aida really took us in and treated us like family; she became my best friend while I was there. We would run errands together, cook together, have long talks about life, things that you would do with your real mom at home. I can't say enough good things about her.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
You should have a working knowledge of Spanish before you go abroad to a Spanish speaking country. Even if you just know how to conjugate verbs, that's a start. My roommate had never taken a Spanish class before going to Argentina and she struggled. By the end, she could hold a simple conversation but in the beginning it was tough for her. The minute you step of the plane you have to start using your Spanish. Even after taking classes for years, I had trouble at first. Having a little bit of a background was very, very helpful.
Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?
It's hard to put into words how study abroad has affected me. I think above all, it opened my eyes. I've traveled throughout the U.S. and thought that was enough, but going to another country gives you a completely different perspective. While there are similarities to life here in the U.S., there are also huge differences.
It really brought to my attention how poor our education of the world is. Argentines almost knew more about what was going on in the U.S. than I did. There were important events that happened in Argentina I would have never known about, had I not gone to study abroad there. I think the U.S. is kind of ignorant when it comes to learning about other countries. Experiencing another culture, gives you an appreciation for your own traditions and beliefs, but also challenges those same things.
My view of the world is much broader than it was a year ago. I have more of a respect for other cultures than I did when I left, but it’s also left me with a thirst to know and experience more of the world.
Would you recommend Sol Education Abroad to others? Why?
Absolutely! SOL is small, which some may see as a negative, BUT that has also allowed them to really perfect their programs. My program director, Raul, really knew what he was doing. He and all of the staff cared about each student and did their best to ensure that we had a good experience abroad. I recommend them to all of my friends interested in Spanish immersion programs. If I were to go again, I would 100 percent choose SOL.
Ashlyn is a senior at Texas A&M University, where she is earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is from a small town with a population of 1,200 people, located about an hour north of Austin, called Liberty Hill. Ashlyn’s trip to Argentina was her first long-term trip abroad, and she loved (almost) every minute of it. In fact, she would go back in a heartbeat.