The Overlook Journal

Finding the Language: What I Learned Studying Abroad

By: Quincy A. Campbell, Editor in Chief

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If there was one thing I learned during my month long study abroad in Argentina, it would be the power of language.

In the words of activist and political leader Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

When talking about language, I am not speaking about just verbal speech, but rather any form of communication that can be mutually understood. Simple things such as participating in different cultural traditions and community activities can speak volumes when traveling abroad.

To truly immerse yourself in a community you find foreign, you must first find their language, learn it, and communicate. Unfortunately, this is not as easy as it sounds. On my fifth day in Argentina, my friends and I had the good fortune of running into a group of local teen dance crews at a park. Initially, we were intimidated and chose to watch from the sidelines, but soon with the encouragement of the dancers, (and a great deal of prodding from me), we decided to join the scene. The majority of the dancers did not speak English, but dance was their language. And we learned it. 

We all had a great time together. So much so that we met again several times throughout the month. We are still close friends to this day.

Engaging yourself in a new culture takes courage, and it can be all too easy to just spectate from a comfortable distance. But watching is not experiencing.  

I will never forget climbing with my friends while playing “Aint No Mountain High Enough,” with everyone swearing it was a coincidence. Or when we later reached the top of Cerro de la Cruz and joined a sing circle with local Argentinians. In just one day, I had the chance to spend time with friends, share special moments with people of a different culture, and experience Argentina’s natural beauty.

The most fun I had the first week was the day our class visited a children’s afterschool program outside of Buenos Aires. I had the chance to chat with Argentinians from Middle School and learn what school was like there. We talked about our passions and interests, where we were from, our dreams and more. The more my friends and I spoke, the more we realized how similar our interests were. Almost all of the kids had a love for rap and trap music. I also found it very funny that no matter how far you go, you will always be asked if you play Fortnite!🤣

A few of the kids were a little shy at first, but my friends and I (having overcome our own fears) had already come up with a plan to get the kids out of their shell. We taught them the Cupid Shuffle! This was easily the highlight of the week and the students and teacher loved it.  Developing confidence is essential to making the most out of a cultural exchange.

I had the chance in  a Spanish class to taste an Argentinian herbal drink called “Maté.” It is very important to their culture.  I find it fascinating that there is a specific way of preparing and drinking it, (even the angle in which you put the metal straw). Basically someone would prepare the herbs in the cup and mix them, position the straw, pour hot water in the cup filled with herbs, drink all of the “maté,” refill it and pass it to the next person. It was very bitter but I can imagine drinking it again to relax.

We also had the opportunity to visit with “Un Litro De Leche Por Mes”, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to ensure that impoverished families, especially children, have access to a at least a liter of milk a month and other things such as food and shelter. We spent that day painting the building, dancing with kids, eating delicious foods, and playing intense games of soccer. Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces and having the chance to both give and receive, made this more than just an amazing experience. It was impactful. 

We spent our last Sunday at a Gaucho ranch, further north, where we learned about the Gaucho history and culture, met students from another international program, went horseback riding, ate a traditional Asado (Argentinean Barbecue) and learned traditional Gaucho dances. I also had the honor to play the violin with the local musicians of the ranch. 

With the help of  the CIEE program coordinators, my classmates, and the amazing people of Argentina that supported me, I was able to learn the distinct languages of these wonderful cultures, turning a world I once considered foreign into something familiar. By sharing precious moments with Argentinean communities, learning it’s ever growing history and appreciating its current beauties, I have found myself a new home below the Equator.

“With languages you are home anywhere” – Endmund De Waal

 

Special thanks to everyone at the CIEE International Studies program for granting me this great opportunity, and to all those who supported me on this journey.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Finding the Language: What I Learned Studying Abroad”

  1. Bridgett Ortega on September 10th, 2018 1:57 pm

    Quincy I really enjoyed your article and could not agree with you more. Language is culture and
    culture is language. The human communication process is complex, as many of our messages are transmitted through body language, gestures, glances, slight changes in tone or voice, and other auxiliary communication devices like dance and food. This is true communication which is culture-specific. If we don’t understand the larger framework of culture when we attempt to communicate cross culturally there is great danger of misunderstanding. Great job communicating this point young man!

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Finding the Language: What I Learned Studying Abroad