Studying Abroad During a Global Pandemic

What is it like to study abroad during a pandemic? This is an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone but at the same time, it is something I will never forget. I was based in Buenos Aires, Argentina studying anthropology and improving my Spanish speaking abilities. Our first month of intensive Spanish at the Universidad de Belgrano went just as you might imagine – making new friends, getting to know our new city, traveling to neighboring Uruguay and Brazil in our free time. We seemed to have so much to look forward to over the next four months. However, when the semester finally started and we had only been in the actual classroom for four days, we got the message from ISA that it had made the very difficult decision to cancel the program. We had only days to leave the country. 

Devastated, I started packing my bags and saying my goodbyes. I do count my blessings, though, as I was fortunate enough to have an option unavailable to the other students because my father is from Córdoba, the second-largest city after Buenos Aires. While my friends were securing their flights back to the U.S., I flew instead to my Argentine home, Córdoba, where I ended up quarantined with my uncle, aunt, and cousins for four months. We would all finish our Universidad de Belgrano courses online but I would be able to stay in Argentina.

Woman standing at train station

I will say, the online classroom is not the ideal way for me to learn any subject. I have struggled with dyslexia and ADHD all my life and found it particularly challenging. I would get easily distracted. I would put off work and honestly, I skimmed through a lot of the readings. Due to the national quarantine, I was not even able to leave my uncle’s house to find a quiet place to study and try to focus on my four classes, all of which were taught in Spanish. I really missed being in the classroom and being able to interact with our professors but they did everything possible to work with us and make the best of the situation.

One of the reasons why I chose to study abroad in Argentina was to improve my language skills and the other was to learn more about my culture. I hoped to discover my personal identity. I have always been in conflict with myself, as having parents from two different countries made me feel like I had to choose. Was I more American or more Argentinian? I felt like I couldn’t be both. I would get backlash from people in the white community who would say I looked foreign and would ask me where I was from originally, as well as backlash from people in the Hispanic community who would say I wasn’t a real Latina because I did not speak fluent Spanish. 

This is where the silver lining comes in from being abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic. While staying in my uncle’s house for those four months, I learned so much more Spanish than I would have otherwise. I learned more about Argentine culture and created deeper bonds with my family. For these reasons and more, I will never forget my study abroad with ISA and will be forever grateful for everyone who made it possible. It was an adventure that took many turns and while it didn’t end up how I wanted, in so many ways it turned out better than I could have ever imagined.

Three women smiling

Adriana Asef-Sargent is a student at Eckerd College. She is an ISA Identity & Inclusion Blogger and studied abroad with ISA in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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