As I sit here, I am one day away from departing on a tri-part adventure to India, Senegal, and Argentina to study urban planning with the SIT-International Honors Program, and to be honest, I have yet to start packing. Its not that I'm a disorganized person or not excited to set off; I've been working on getting my visas in order for the past six months. My unpreparedness stems from the fact that I simply do not know what to expect!
I spent last summer and fall semesters abroad in Costa Rica and Argentina with GW Latin America, I know better than to set expectations. Its not that my experiences fell short of my expectations (quite the opposite in fact), but rather the experiences were far from what I could have imagined. Sure, I expected to go hiking in Costa Rica; I had not anticipated gliding above its forests on a zipline. I expected to go to some tango performances in Argentina; I did not know that I would participate in the country's interactive entertainment.
In fact, one of the first tidbits of advice our Argentine program director imparted on us was to immediately drop all expectations. The Argentines do not hold expectations, he explained, not the way Americans do. In a country that as only escaped from the grasp of authoritarian rule in the past 30 years, where the currency's value is constantly in question, and where industry depends upon foreign investment, the Argentine people do not dump all of their hopes into expectations. Instead, they focus on the joys of the present and remain unflummoxed when all does not go as planned. Essentially, the Argentines have a penchant for making the most of the unexpected.
I like to think that I have adopted a bit of this open Argentine ability to roll with the punches. Some of my most beautiful experiences abroad thus far have been the result of a wrong turn or a missed bus, and I would not trade them for any of the expectations I had at the beginning.
Argentina and Costa Rica were not the countries I had imagined before arriving. In fact, they were so much more complex than I could have ever conceived, full of cultural subtlties and unspoken norms. Thus, I learned studying abroad what I could have never picked up in a classroom. I cannot wait to learn from more experiences. Maybe this notion is the only expectation that I'll carry with me this semester.
And so I'm off! I've got my backpack and open mind in tow, but I've left the expectations back at home.