WHOA – Michael Hernandez

Student taking a selfie

Hello, my name is Michael. I am a second-year transfer student with a passion for Sociology and Philosophy. I had the opportunity to study and intern abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, through the Latin American and Latino Studies (LALS) Global Internship Program. Studying abroad as a first-generation student of color and a social science major was an eye-opening experience for me. Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina and it houses individuals of diverse and intersecting identities given its rich immigrant heritage. It was enlightening to discover and analyze the many intersecting factors that make up my identity as a person of color and a first-generation American while interacting with the dynamic porteños of Buenos Aires. As a student intern abroad, I worked at an NGO called Encontrandose en la Diversidad, where we did workshops on diversity, inclusivity, and sexual education in public and private learning institutions. 

As a social science major, my global learning experience was eye-opening in that I was able to witness first-hand the distinct cultural practices and the cultural differences between the United States and Argentina. I discovered that the culture in Argentina is much more affectionate, liberal, and accepting when compared to the culture in the United States where individuality and personal space are important aspects. Although the majority of the population in Argentina is fair-skinned, as a person of color, I felt completely at home and accepted by the individuals in my host community. Another important part of my experience was exploring, submerging, and adopting new cultural practices and customs. I ended up discovering an underground artistic counter-culture safe space for artists, graffiti artists, tattoo artists, emerging rap artists, and hip-hop enthusiasts that had nightly events leading into the weekend. In this artistic counterculture, safe space I re-discovered aspects of my identity, as a first-generation person of color, that I had to forget or had to leave behind to assimilate into American culture.

Notwithstanding the comfort I felt, I did face challenges while abroad. One challenge that I experienced was my initial confusion and inability to fully understand or be understood by the locals. Although I speak Spanish, there is a slight difference in the dialect and vocabulary that locals use in Argentina. For example, I was exposed to new words altogether and some phrases had a completely new meaning than what I am used to. However, after a couple of first-hand experiences socializing with the locals, I began to understand and pick up on the message that was often lost in translation. Another challenge that I encountered while studying abroad in Argentina was the change in my American diet and getting accustomed to the foods and vegetables available in Argentina. Argentina is known for its traditional breakfast of medialunas and cafe cortado, sweet and savory pastries accompanied with a latte, and also for its delicious empanadas. During my first three weeks in Argentina, I survived eating medialunas and empanadas while I discovered new places to eat in the area Eventually, I even gained some weight on this diet that mostly consisted of protein and carbohydrates. After a time, however, I finally began assimilating to some of the social norms and local customs and began to explore the various coffee shops in the area that offered various food items, which included vegetarian and vegan options. I often returned to cafes that offered daily house specials and made sure to start including greens in my meals. This also served as an opportunity to socialize, network, and make friends with locals in various cafes.

The final challenge I experienced, especially as a first-generation college student, was locating the funding necessary to fully cover my program expenses. Initially, I was concerned about not being able to participate in the global internship program due to the program costs, however, I was able to secure funding through financial aid and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. The Gilman scholarship enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad. Students must be receiving a Pell Grant during the time of application or provide proof they will be receiving one during their global learning program. I highly recommend that anyone who meets the scholarship eligibility apply because it helps ensure that those of us who otherwise might not participate in global learning due to financial constraints have the means to access these important experiential learning opportunities.

To conclude, I gained a plethora of valuable life lessons that have enhanced my perspective and understanding of many intersections of my identity as an American, first-generation, person of color, and social science major. Therefore, this served as an eye-opening experience for me to explore, re-discover, and analyze the many intersecting factors that make up my identity. Some of the lessons that I will take away from my study abroad experience in Argentina are quite permanent because I ended up befriending a tattoo artist and getting a tattoo of a centaur done by them. The tattoo that I received from my friend holds great significance because it represents a pivotal yet transitory period in my life where I had to come to terms with my rational mind and wild personality. I would encourage first-generation, students of color and any other students, in general, to experience the opportunity to study abroad and find a new home in their host country. As a result of this beautiful experience, I am inspired to continue studying Sociology and pursuing a degree in social work.