Many co-eds look forward to that one amazing, yet challenging semester they study abroad during their college career. Traveling to foreign countries provides co-eds with a fresh perspective to help better understand this great, big world of ours.
Kirsten Albers, rising senior at Georgetown University, was lucky enough to live in both South America and Africa for a full year abroad. As a major in Regional and Comparative Studies within the School of Foreign Service, Kirsten focuses her studies on political development and social justice, specifically comparing Latin America and Africa.
Kirsten knew that spending five or more months in each place would give her the optimal experience for her academic studies, as well as personal growth. I had the incredible opportunity to share my semester abroad with her in Buenos Aires, and I can vouch for how fabulous she is, inside and out.
CL: Why did you choose Buenos Aires, Argentina and Gaborone, Botswana?
KA: I really wanted to study abroad in both Latin America and Africa because my major focuses on comparing the two regions. I chose Buenos Aires to improve my Spanish, learn more about Argentina’s historically insane and complex political economy and fall more in love with a city I had visited on vacation, the perfect combination of a European metropolis with distinct Latin American cultural anomalies. I chose Gaborone, Botswana to study a “success story” of African development, a country which has avoided the resource curse and implemented an incredible public health program to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic with universal ARV treatment and clinical services. While it was strange to go from a city of 16 million to one of 200,000 residents, it was incredible to have such diverse semesters.
CL: What were some challenges you faced while abroad?
KA: In both places, I struggled to achieve complete immersion into student life at my universities. It was extremely difficult to break the barrier of being a foreigner, with and without a language barrier. I did not want to be treated differently but most of my peers could not see beyond my label as a foreigner and, more specifically, an American. In Botswana, I also faced challenges with the apathy towards politics of the country. I had grown used to the extreme passion of most Argentines with relation to politics, but could not get Batswana to tell me their opinions or complaints about policies. Overall, adjusting to the education systems and bureaucracies allowed for some moments of both frustration and hilarity.
CL: What were your top five favorite places you traveled to during your year abroad?
KA: While Buenos Aires is my favorite city in the world, the top places I traveled were Baños, Ecuador; El Calafate/Patagonia, Argentina; San Pedro de Atacama, Chile; Cape Town, South Africa; and all of the tiny, beautiful, mountainous Kingdom of Swaziland.
CL: What do you miss the most about being abroad?
KA: The friendships formed, the gourmet cooking of my porteño host parents Bettina and Leandro, exploring cities, and traveling.
CL: How have you adjusted to post-abroad cultural shock back in the United States?
KA: I struggle with the little things. I keep bringing toilet paper with me everywhere, I speak the wrong language to people, I get on escalators the wrong way and tried to get into a cab on the driver’s side (those British colonies). I also find it difficult to shut up about my abroad experiences because it made such an impact on me. I am sure that my friends will all be very sick of hearing about my time abroad soon. Besides that, I am enjoying and appreciating my life back in the United States.
CL: What are your plans for next year, and beyond?
KA: Graduate! After that, I hope to get a job. Something hopefully related to one of my plethora of interests and would allow me to spend some time abroad.
CL: What is some advice you’d give to fellow co-eds during their abroad experience?
KA: Go in without expectations. After experiencing the best semester of my life in Buenos Aires, my expectations were very high for Gaborone and it made the adjustment much more difficult. Do not expect the education system, treatment of women, or other aspects of life to be the same as in the United States but appreciate and try to understand the new culture you are experiencing without criticizing it.
Not only does Kirsten love to explore, but also she’s a great friend and very genuine to everyone she meets. She’s definitely someone you’d want to help you plan your next adventure! I can’t wait to see where she goes next.
When Kirsten isn’t busy traveling the world, she loves being at Georgetown with friends end enjoying D.C. Check out some of her fun responses to our bulletin below!
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