On Admitted Students day of 2019, I listened in on a panel with staff from the Fried Center Global Engagement Office as they described the many opportunities that Hope offered to study abroad. I went home to my mom, and told her that I was considering studying abroad at Hope. Her response was simple: “Do it. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.” I had no idea how true her words would end up being. 

Arriving at Hope, I knew I wanted to study abroad, but didn’t know exactly where. All I knew was that for at least one semester, I wanted to study in South America to improve my Spanish and to go somewhere I had never been. I remember going to the office of one of the staff members with this criteria, but nothing more. Within the following two years after that meeting, he helped guide me through the process of selecting programs that not only met these preferences, but that also aligned with my degree in Political Science. 

Fast forward to Spring 2022, and rather than being on Hope’s campus, I am in Washington, DC, participating in the Washington Honors Semester. While I was nervous because I had never lived outside of the midwest a day in my life, I also remembered my mom’s advice and decided that I would take this as an opportunity to not only explore a new place, but to come one step closer in figuring out my academic interests and my post graduation plans. 

The semester was more than anything I could have anticipated. I met people from all walks of life, in different careers that I didn’t even know could possibly exist. I was able to discover myself and live independently, setting my schedule and discovering my passions. I made new lifelong friends and made so many new memories with classmates. I was able to explore the city and grow so accustomed to DC life that I now have decided to return post graduation to work for a gap year. But I didn’t want the studying abroad experience to end, and I still needed to meet my goal of studying abroad in South America. 

Visit to the White House

So, in Fall 2022, I found myself studying off campus once more, and arrived in Argentina with an anxious excitement that was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Despite the nerves, I once again remembered my mom’s advice, and reminded myself that this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity I needed to take advantage of. And that’s exactly what I did. 

My program allowed me to further explore my passion for Latin American communities and development, while also allowing me to meet my goal of improving my Spanish. I was blessed with two friends to share all my memories with, program directors who provided me with academic guidance and support, and a host mom who loved me as if I were her own child. I was also blessed with the opportunity to not only live and take classes in Argentina, but to also learn in Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The possibilities felt endless while I was abroad, and even though I’m back in the US, I still feel as though I have so much room to grow and so much of the world to see.

Sunset in Uruguay

Studying abroad is not easy. Despite the highs of traveling, exploring, and making new connections, there are also the lows of loneliness, culture shock, and academic adjustment. In these low moments, I wanted nothing more than to go home, to be hugged by my loved ones, and to be in a place of familiarity. However, I also remembered my mom’s piece of advice, and followed it until the very end.

So, for those who are debating studying abroad, I leave you with my mom’s piece of advice. “Do it. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Published by Hannah Santiago

Class of 2023 Hometown: Chicago, Illinois Major: Political Science

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