Carlos Balbuena is 29 years old and was born in Mexico City. I had the pleasure of teaching him English while he was studying at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Florida. Carlos was a quiet student who was eager and curious. I remember when I took a group of students to Barnes and Noble. Carlos was the student who had picked out at least six books that he wanted to buy. The first week he arrived, he spent half of his spending money on books for leisure time. He has a very well-read mind and is very inquisitive — this is what makes his writing so unique.
What sparked your dream to study abroad?
“Definitely pop culture and literature. I grew up watching movies and seeing all those places, landmarks, and people traveling. I read my father’s city travel guides all the time. By the time I was an adolescent, studying abroad was something I was really looking forward to. Then I began to read literature – specifically Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. That was pretty much the final bump that led me to actually pursue studying abroad and do it.”
What were your expectations before you left? How have they changed?
“I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everything I thought came from pop culture, books, and my imagination. I wanted to have a great experience, so in order to do that, I knew I had to leave any expectations behind and just enjoy things as they would occur. I needed to be receptive and open to everything in order to get a real grasp of what life is like in the US.
As I grew older, my perceptions of the US changed. I was a little scared of being targeted in some way. In general, us Mexicans hold a (wrong) opinion about the average American, so we are constantly defending ourselves. I think this works both ways, as Americans generally have a wrong opinion about us as well. Yes, radical people exist, but they exist despite their nationality or political affiliation. It’s human nature at its worst and it could happen anywhere or anytime.
The important thing is that there are always more good people than bad ones. In the end, I’m really happy I went because every single person I met in the US was amazing to me. Oftentimes, I hear loose comments on what Americans are like. I hope I left a good impression on the people I met in America so they feel the same way I do when they hear a loose comment about Mexicans.”
What did you not expect?
“I didn’t expect to talk to so many people. I was able to look back and be very glad that I went, and I actually miss it all the time. Talking to lots of people, especially as an introvert, was a huge success for me. It was also a warm and welcome surprise to be complimented on my English. It made me realize that I was going in the right direction.
I wasn’t expecting to end in bad terms with my fellow Mexican travel companions, though. I guess it’s ironic that I got along pretty well with the locals but not with most of my countrywomen.”
What’s your next step?
“It’s been a very hard year for me, guys. Everything that could have gone wrong is going wrong. So, in all honesty, I’m not sure what my next step is. This year, to me, is about getting the hang of things as they are now. Recently, I had a difficult loss in my family. Right now, it’s all about taking care of things. I want to travel again, soon, but now isn’t the right time. I would like to live someplace else but I’ve become aware that it may take a little bit longer than I thought it would originally. Ultimately, it’s still what I want to do with my life. I’ll just have to be patient.”
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to study abroad?
“Surf the Internet: search for local scholarship programs and see if you fit the requirements. If not, then work to fit them. Study and improve your notes, then apply again. If you have an interest in a specific country or a city, soak yourself in it. Watch YouTube video blogs about it, listen to local music, read books related in any possible way to it, and study the local language. Don’t let fear grip you. It will be hard, but it would be harder to look back with regret for not trying.”
Good Memories of an American Experience While Studying Abroad
Carlos made friends while in the US, which is arguably one of the most important parts of studying abroad. He made an everlasting impression on many of the people he interacted with in Tallahassee and I am so glad I had the pleasure of teaching him. I was able to catch up with Carlos this past April in Mexico City while visiting on a vacation. I met Carlos before my grandma passed away and since then, I have moved to Madrid and have moved back. While living in Madrid, I experienced the greatest loss of my life… my grandma passed while I was abroad.
My own grief has taught me that the way to let someone know you care about them is to tell them. When we met, Carlos was experiencing grief and I could sense that it was very painful. I want our readers and Carlos to know that the memory of our loved ones who pass never fades. The pain gets better with time and life sorts itself out. Hang onto the good memories and let go of the bad ones. Carlos, life is full of opportunity and for you — it’s just begun.
The American experience studying abroad not only provides education but also introduces you to new cultures. Many students who leave to study abroad are leaving their home for the first time. Dreams Abroad has created a Facebook community for travelers, students, and educators to share their passions and stories.