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The US in Words #10: Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

The tenth in a series looking at U.S. life and culture through its idioms. View previous entries.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained = If you don't try something, you will never achieve it (idiom)

With the FLTAs at Stanford
With the FLTAs at Stanford

I had always dreamed of going to the United States; since I was a child I felt such passion for the English language that going to that country just seemed right. But I had always imagined that I would be there as a tourist, so when I got the chance to do an exchange program for nine months I was so excited.

I knew right away that spending such a long time abroad would have serious implications on my life as I knew it, so I prepared as best I could, but nothing could foretell how much I would change and be changed by this experience.

Throughout the course of the year I have written about things that were interesting or important to me. But it is only now that I am back in my home country that I can look back and see what each of those experiences really meant, and how each of them helped transform me into this different being, marked by what I lived abroad.

Like Apples and Oranges: Learning to Greet Americans – January 5, 2013

After writing about the sheer excitement of arriving for this new experience, one of the first things that stood out to me was how differently Americans relate to others compared to what I was used to from Uruguay.

I went into the experience ready to absorb as much as I could from my surroundings – to get involved to the bone in whatever came up. And I did so. I was submerging into a culture that I had studied but never been exposed. I knew, for instance, that people didn’t kiss to greet each other, but experiencing it was a bit unsettling. Now, of course, I got so used to it that I find it difficult to kiss those who I’m not close to.

There were other unexpected behaviors that I found intriguing, such as the efficient way in which Americans handle time. Whereas in Uruguay we take our time to do things and to interact with people, in the States people always seem to be pressed for time. It took me a while to understand that just because they don’t linger for an hour after dinner it doesn’t mean they aren’t friendly.

All of this shaped my understanding of American culture, and gave a new significance to the customs and traditions from home that I used to take for granted.

Another thing that clearly molded my personality was living with people who I didn’t know and didn’t choose to live with. I think we developed the right dynamics to get along though tolerance and honesty, and with sincere love and communication. It made me think of them as family, because you have to work things out if you want to live in peace together.

Sharing almost an entire year with these friends made me a better person. They helped me overcome difficult situations, and they challenged me to leave behind prejudices and pushed me out of my comfort zone.

Pinned Down: How I Discovered My Own Identity – January 14, 2013

My role as a cultural ambassador and teacher of my mother tongue, Spanish, also helped me define myself. One of the realizations that most struck me this past year was what it means to be Latina.

Where I'm hoping to travel!
Where I'm hoping to travel!

I had always taken my language for granted and never stopped to think much about my identity as a Latina; however, taking responsibility for representing my culture forced me to get much more involved with my roots.

As a result, I did some research on different Latin American countries and learned more about the varieties of Spanish. And I developed a greater sense of what being Latina is and where I fit in that category.

In fact, I fell so much in love with my own continent that I am already planning a trip around South America next summer (next southern summer, that is).

YOLO: Finding a Better Version of Myself – February 19, 2013

It was in February when I began to realize just how much I was changing, both in my personality and my ambitions. Without a doubt one of the experiences that changed me the most was traveling - getting involved with new communities and meeting people from around the world.

To begin with, setting foot in cities I had dreamed about my entire life was exhilarating. New York City, for instance, was literally a dream come true – the yellow cabs, a ferry to the Statue of Liberty, riding the subway, contemplating the night skyline from the top of the Empire State Building.

In breathtaking landscapes like the Grand Canyon I got the feeling that I, as a human being, am so insignificant and tiny in comparison to the massive and incredible world that surrounds us.

But it wasn’t only the places themselves, it was also the people I met when I traveled. I was forced to face my fears, to drop my prejudices, to stop perpetuating stereotypes. I consciously changed the way I speak and the language I use because I became more aware of all the constant bias that we use in our words without even thinking about it.

I can’t begin to explain how much I appreciate having shared moments with friends from all over the world – some from countries I had never even heard about – who were always patient and kind enough to give me some insight into the ways they live.

It is only now that I see how deeply impacted I was by all the moments I experienced as an international student, both those I thought significant enough to write about at the time and those that passed by almost unnoticed.

Every person that I met, every place that I saw, every situation I went through contributed to the change that I underwent and now I feel those moments are so deeply rooted within me that they really help make me who I am. I am eternally grateful for this life-changing opportunity.