Kelly Slatery is a Cognitive Science student at the University of Virginia and attended the IFSA-Butler Spanish Translation and Linguistics in Buenos Aires Program in Argentina in 2016. Kelly is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-to-Study program.
When it comes to studying abroad, we all have our own challenges to overcome—some we share, some we differ on. But what is a common thread among all of us is that it took the support of our families to get here.
While a lot of my peers on this program, myself included, got the support and encouragement we needed from our families, we still dealt with other challenges like: our parents’ worries, financial struggles, extra responsibility, and even skepticism. But whatever challenges we faced, we’re here now. Here’s how Amber, Chris, and Dylan talked their parents into it:
Amber: Economics & Psychology major at Northwestern University
First-Generation College Student
Amber: “I’m a first-generation college student, so I’ll be the first to graduate with a four-year degree. They were mostly thinking, ‘How is this going to happen?’ and not wanting me to start the study abroad process and then not be able to go.”
Some of Amber’s other family members also reacted with skepticism at her decision to study abroad at all, let alone in a country that doesn’t speak English.
“How did these concerns play out?”
Amber: “My school is thankfully super involved in terms of financial aid for study abroad, so I already knew I was going to try to do a program that was either through my school or approved by my school because then the financial aid process would be really easy. I also looked into IFSA-Butler scholarships and applied and got the First Generation Scholarship.”
Amber started researching possible programs and financial aid resources at the end of her first year. On top of a scholarship from IFSA-Butler, she also found a scholarship from her community back home that covers all of her academic expenses while abroad. In terms of answering to her family’s skepticism, Amber was honest and explained that she wanted to skip the “College 2.0” experience by not going on a large program through her school to places that were common tourist destinations for Americans.
Dylan: Sociology major at Bates College
Dylan: “They were a little concerned with how Argentina would influence me because of my sexuality because I’m gay.”
Cultures around the world vary drastically in terms of their acceptance of LGBTQ+ identities, so Dylan’s parents were understandably worried about how his identity might be received abroad. However, they were generally very supportive of him, especially since his older siblings had already braved the terrains of Russia, South Africa, and China. After that, Argentina seemed relatively close to home to them.
“What did you do to counteract those fears?”
Dylan: “I did research and Argentina is one of the most gay-friendly countries in South America, and I guess the fact that it’s the Jewish center of South America as well doesn’t hurt.”
Dylan’s family is also Jewish, so the knowledge that there would be a large faith community he could depend on while he was in Buenos Aires was also reassuring to his parents.
“And how did those fears play out in Buenos Aires?”
Dylan: “When you read that Argentina is the gay capital of South America, you get a certain image in your mind, so when I came here, I was surprised because there’s barely any visibility—there’s no two people of the same gender holding hands, there’s no gay neighborhoods really… There is a pride parade in November they have every year!”
However, Dylan has occasionally attended Hibbad, an organization that connects international and local Jews. After getting the organizer’s contact info, they grabbed a coffee, and now Dylan says Hibbad “has been a lot like being around during the holidays at home. In terms of that, it hasn’t been hard to find a community.”
Chris: Latin American History major at Cornell University
Type I Diabetic
Chris: “Getting all the diabetes stuff figured out… My parents were really scared about it, but they didn’t want to say, ‘You can’t do this because you have diabetes,’… At one point my dad was like, ‘Why don’t you just study in D.C. like your brother did?’”
Dealing with diabetes is difficult anywhere, let alone in another country on your own where there’s a language barrier and even your insurance doesn’t work the same. Chris was scared, too, telling me, “There were times when I was like, ‘This is too hard, I sort of don’t want to do it because there’s so much fear involved in it.’”
“What convinced them (and you) that it was worth it despite the risk?”
Chris: “Knowing that [fear] was a stupid excuse… I don’t want to let diabetes limit me. I think that’s sort of what kept my parents from outright saying ‘you can’t do this.’ What also made them feel better was that they knew I was sort of just as scared about these things as they were… They know that I’m a good diabetic. They were super scared before college, but after those two years were done, they’d gained some more confidence in me.”
Chris is also an aspiring Latin American history professor, and study abroad presents him with the unique opportunity to gain experiences he can speak to in that profession while he still has the freedom to travel before post-graduation life. Study abroad is almost an academic requirement to him.
“How have these fears played out in Buenos Aires?”
Chris: “I just constantly need to have snacks on me, and I always make sure to carry some money on me, too.”
His parents, being worried, also sent him off with a huge reserve of glucose tablets, which he has been thankful to have since he can’t find anything like them here. In summary, it hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it.
At this stage in our lives, we are constantly struggling between dependence and independence. And while living in a country thousands of miles away from home may be about as independent as it gets, none of us could have gotten here without the support of, and these conversations with, our families.