Oh right, I’m going abroad

On June 2, 2019, I realized the next two years of my life were going to be consolidated within two suitcases. I was leaving to spend the summer away from home, spending my fall and spring semesters abroad, then spending the next summer away from home as well. I’d probably have a cumulative three out of the 90 weeks in Sarasota, the cozy beach town that I grew up in. I realized that until I returned to Tulane as a senior, I wouldn’t have a sense of ease. For a long time, everything would be new and unfamiliar. Life was going to be a myriad of different experiences, and the only thing I had was my two suitcases.

Like most students at Tulane, the summer before my junior year was spent at a fast-paced, demanding, full-time internship. I was working 40-50 hours a week, while some of my friends were clocking in 60-70. When you allot time for eating, sleeping and at least some fun, your schedule is already overbooked. I was living in New York City of all places, a world where “downtime” doesn’t exist (along with personal space and reliable air conditioning). Towards the end of the summer, people would ask me if I was excited to go back to Tulane. Then it would hit me, “Oh right, I’m going abroad.”

Next semester – well in three days – I’ll be studying abroad at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. I’ll be living in exchange student housing, taking all of my classes in Spanish and working towards my goal of learning how to salsa without looking like a fish out of water. I’m writing this flying back from New York City. Two days at home, then on to the next adventure.

The thing is, this isn’t unusual for most students to do. My friend Alex Duffy spent her summer in Jakarta, Indonesia, came home for three days, and is joining me in Bogotá to begin the semester. Life comes at you fast, and all of us studying abroad are expected to undergo drastic, quick changes and adapt as necessary. If all we had to do for the few weeks leading up to our arrival was prepare for abroad, it’d be a piece of cake. However, most of us are at our first full-time jobs, attempting to learn the endless acronyms of the corporate world and make connections with people we hope to become our future employers.

Pre-departure for abroad is all about multitasking. Most of the time, these tasks also come with different languages and different time zones. I watched another intern attempt to make an appointment with the Italian Consulate for three weeks, making sure to log on at the exact time people were waking up – in Italy.

As for my own course registration, I had a group chat with my other friends studying in Bogotá – of course we were all counting down the minutes until registration opened. I had already asked students from previous years what classes they recommended and my “peer buddy” from UniAndes had given me some advice on teachers. As much as I tried to control the situation, of course it ended up going in a completely different direction. Classes conflicted, teachers were changed and my computer froze at least three times, but it all came together quite nicely. This is pretty in line with the advice I heard about abroad: “It never works out the way you think it will, but it somehow works out just as well, if not better.”

It’s a balancing act, thinking about the future while still trying to make the most of the present. Pre-departure feels as if your brain is constantly a mile ahead of your body, frantically attempting to think of everything you’re going to need to prepare for when you’re alone in a foreign country. Of course, I’m sure I’ll realize that no matter how well I think I’ve prepared, I can’t even begin to imagine what the moment I step off the plane will feel like (spoiler alert: I am not that well-prepared). The truth is, I hardly had time to think about my semester abroad during the summer. So in three days, I’ll be jumping in with two feet.

I’m living a quick walk away from the university, but in order to have fun you just have to step outside your door. Already, I’ve been getting posts about parties, sports tournaments and taste-testing events. Most of my classes will be in Spanish, spanning from business development in Colombia to derivative markets. I’ll be looking forward to street art, views of the Andes Mountains and stumbling through Spanish conversation for quite a few weeks. Here’s hoping that I’ll figure it out along the way. Buena suerte, as they say.

Margo Schnapf (BSM ’21), a finance major, is studying at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, during fall 2019.