UMD: A Globally Connected University

Meredith McVadon

Program: Maryland-in-Buenos Aires 
Term: Spring 2019
Major: Public Policy 

Studying abroad expanded my view of globalism and neoliberalism, enhanced my Spanish skills, increased my compassion, and, frankly, calmed me down. We tend to know the stereotypes about a country or culture before we actually study and experience it. My understanding of the U.S. role in foreign policy has totally shifted, and so has my knowledge of how South America's history is intertwined with current affairs. Overall, meeting new people, getting stranded in foreign airports, taking the wrong bus, and communicating through a language barrier made me a more humble, empathetic, and patient person.

Advice for future #TerpsAbroad: As a woman traveling alone, acquire skills and tools that make you feel confident in managing and protecting yourself. Understand the customs for women in your country and act accordingly, even if it may be contrary to your personal beliefs. Carry pepper spray or a knife if you know how to use it and want to. Learn phrases in the native language to call for help or scare people away if need be. ALWAYS carry cash!! Do not put yourself in a position to rely on others. Most importantly, don't be defined by fear. Knowledge and planning will enable you to have any experience you want.

One of my most memorable experiences was going to a concert alone in Buenos Aires. Cuco was performing at Niceto Club in Palermo, so I was super excited to see one of my favorite artists for the first time, but I was nervous to navigate the whole thing alone. On my way to the club I saw a girl about my age, dressed in semi-concert attire, so I decided to ask her ¿Vas a el concierto de Cuco? We ended up spending the entire concert dancing and singing together. Most of the recorded music played before the show was in English (Frank Ocean, the Internet) and I even translated some of it for her. Plus, Cuco is Mexican-American, so his show was entirely in Spanish. I loved experiencing a different performance than I would be able to at, say, the Fillmore in Silver Spring. Moral of the story: go to live music performances! don't be afraid to fly solo!

Advice for future #TerpsAbroad: Study abroad allows you to grow, learn, and understand others in a unique way that your home university can't offer. It can be intimidating, expensive, and seen as "unnecessary," but it is possible and within your reach if you are committed to making it happen. Work with counselors to find the financial support you deserve; ask yourself what your fears of study abroad are rooted in; and, most importantly, ask yourself what you can gain from international immersion.​

The hardest part was figuring out how to overcome my embarrassment of my limited Spanish in the beginning of my trip. Without easy access to the words I wanted to express, I felt childlike and dumb. At first, this made me more timid and shy. But after a week or two, these feelings served as strong motivation to practice my Spanish more and engage in conversations where I felt safe being vulnerable, like with my host mom, university professors, and Spanish-speaking friends. Without even trying, you absorb Spanish through ads, TV, random street conversations, restaurant menus and more. It doesn't take long for the desire (and need!) of communication to overcome the fear of speaking incorrectly.