Day 100: For Study Abroad, Leave Your Ego at Home / by Sarah Kakusho

Dear yo…

As I write this it is 3 minutes till it hits midnight and 100 days of being abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Congratulations Kusho, you have made it this far and you only have 56 more days to live, love, laugh, and scream on Argentine turf.

Being here has definitely been one of the most challenging endeavors I have ever encountered in my life. I think it’s safe to say that NOTHING will ever be this challenging again, though I will continue to fight every moment in my life. Let’s backtrack:

In July I was a mess: couldn’t understand a lick of Spanish and couldn’t comprehend the concept of Castellano. And, speaking was a totally different world. I could hardly meet new people and I was reluctant to open up to what the city had to offer. Although I feel like I did the most exploring during this time, my heart wasn’t there; it was still at home tucked away under my security blankets. This was my first indication that I wasn’t chanting enough. First night, I remember wanting to chant all night, just so that I could be so sure that everything will be all right in the end, and all I could do was chant under the bed sheets to sleep.

In August things were still difficult. School still hadn’t started, let alone coordinating classes between 5 different universities was a nightmare. It’s insane how class registration is 1-2 weeks before classes start. Luckily, I kept it simple and decided to take all my classes at the film school [all my classes meaning, all 3 of my elective classes outside of what the program requires]. In terms of the city, I still couldn’t get over not seeing a lick of green for blocks at a time. The parks here only made me crave more of the nature that I wanted. This is when help from a familiar place came and I was able to, first, go to the kaikan with Erika and then to Mendoza with her for a weekend before classes started.

I think of all the months, August was the most challenging. Classes started and I broke down mentally and physically. Some aspects of Argentine life made me so angry. Why was I being called “China, China.” Why couldn’t people understand how wrong it was to just group people that look the same like that? And I got so sick from [with hives that even affected my vision because my face was so swollen, depression, and minor flu] that I thought I would have to drop out of Argentina and go back to the US. And, the strange thing is, I was doing it to myself. My faith had dropped like it fell into an endless pit. My daimoku bottle had finally emptied out. With this I started chanting again, not consistently, but whenever it was convenient. It was only the start.

Then September came…and went. I focused more on studies. I was so overwhelmed by the fact that what I earn as a grade here will actually transfer and get incorporated into my GPA when I get back to SUA. Castellano was still very difficult, and I think my days were all the same, a routine, but I had a better grasp of things: where my favorite kiosks were, which station to get off at to go to certain places, how professors teach, when to laugh at jokes, how to get from place to place without a Guia T. With this routine, I incorporated a more consistent faith and even wanted to do a 10-hour toso, for myself, before the end of study abroad so I can come back a stronger person.

And here we are, October. It started out with my 21st birthday, my halfway through study abroad, and a rather different approach to study abroad. I was so worried about academics that I had forgotten my stay here was limited. With this I began to haul ass. But before that, I wanted to be able to lay past worries to rest with fresh determinations. So on October 10th 2008, I did my first 10-hour toso, from 10am to 10pm with a few short breaks in between. I didn’t think I was able to get through it, but I did.

One of the concerns I was chanting about was to get in contact with one professor who would start class immediately and run away as soon as class was done, so I was never able to talk to her about how I was going to get graded, especially since everyone else in the class had to write a large thesis. A week later, she approached and talked to me about how I was going to get evaluated for the class. It was more than enough to make me feel like everything else would work out. I was able to do more and I felt free from being worried about unnecessary things. And needless to say, I was able to really get out of my comfort zone and meet new people, make new friends.

The point is [yes, it’s taken a long time to get here… I get an “F” for getting off topic], the difference between the beginnings of study abroad and now, is like night and day. And it’s not a matter of what’s going on around you either. It was most certainly internal. My outlook on my life in Buenos Aires changed tremendously. I think one thing about SUA is we are forced to study abroad. I think deep down I was one of those who didn’t want to study abroad or at least felt like it was too early. But, now it’s just a matter of living or don’t.

Comparisons are a no-no. There is nothing to compare, but yourself: the “you” of where you were and the “you” of where you are now. Change is inevitable and regardless of where you are fighting your life, you are changing. Your mind, your heart, your views. The way we express ourselves, the way we talk, the way we listen, the way we act. Todo. I didn’t realize till a few weeks ago when I dropped my French fries and screamed “MIERDA” instead of “F***” that I have changed in this way. When you’re willing to open up to the world around, the world will open for you.

So in closing, if it’s anything I’ve learned so far from this experience, leave your ego at home and don’t forget to pack your heart. When you have an ego stuck to you, you are less open to the new world you’ve yet to experience. I can’t wait to see myself 56 days from now when I’m on the plane home, how much I’ve changed from the moment I started this letter to yo. To me.

May the next 56 days hit me like a train with action, adventure, pensive thoughts, long-lasting friendships, deep dialogues and, without doubt, memories-to-be. Thanks to all who have been SO supportive throughout this long process. I will not let you guys down.