UNK students travel to Argentina for unforgettable experience

UNK Communications

KEARNEY – Marissa Kuehn was looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, an opportunity to step outside her comfort zone and try something completely new.

She found it more than 5,000 miles away, on a trip that exceeded all of her expectations.

Kuehn and 11 other students from the University of Nebraska at Kearney recently traveled to Argentina as part of a study abroad program organized by the Department of Modern Languages. They spent nearly three weeks in the South American country, immersing themselves in the language and culture.

“It was only three weeks, but I feel like it shaped me in so many ways,” Kuehn said. “You learn so much about yourself and there’s a lot of value in having these experiences. I gained this new sense of independence that I never really knew I had.”

A Lincoln native, Kuehn had never traveled outside the U.S. before, so she was both nervous and excited. But the trip “couldn’t have gone better.”

“It was so amazing,” said Kuehn, who’s studying advertising and public relations with a Spanish minor. “I honestly could talk about it for so long. It was such a cool experience.”

Janet Eckerson, an assistant professor of Spanish, designed the study abroad program with a couple goals in mind.

She wanted the participants – all Spanish majors or minors – to improve their proficiency by spending time in a country where “the language is everywhere.”

“Nothing compares to that firsthand experience,” Eckerson noted.

She also saw an opportunity for students to enhance their cultural awareness by visiting an area that represents “a completely different vision of what Latin America is.”

“Everything from the cuisine to the racial and ethnic background of the people in Argentina is different from what we stereotypically associate with Latin America,” Eckerson said. “So it’s really an opportunity to broaden your perspective and engage in some cultural comparison – what do we have in common with Argentines and what’s really different?”

Plus, her husband is originally from Argentina, so the UNK faculty member had some “insider knowledge” to share.

Led by Eckerson, the study abroad trip started in Buenos Aires, where students attended a theater performance, visited historic sites and took a tango lesson at a local milonga.

“The experience we had visiting a milonga on a Friday night in Buenos Aires was unlike any other tango experience I’ve had before,” Eckerson said. “The place was packed and the quality of the dancing was incredible. It was absolutely delightful to watch.”

After a few days in the capital city, the UNK group moved on to Córdoba, where they spent the majority of their time. The students studied at Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Latin America.

“They had classes four hours a day where they were learning about the history of the region, then in the afternoons they visited museums and historic sites to actually see what they were reading and learning about,” Eckerson explained.

Instead of staying in a hotel or residence hall, the UNK students were hosted by local families, allowing them to eat homecooked meals, engage in honest conversations and experience everyday life.

“It was really cool to learn from the family and build that relationship,” said Kuehn, who stayed with a mother and daughter. “Everyone we met was very welcoming and nice.”

Along with the people, Kuehn enjoyed all the places. One of her favorite stops was the Sierras de Córdoba, a mountain range she describes as “peaceful and beautiful.” She also went to Villa Carlos Paz, a resort city west of Córdoba, and the group visited a modern art museum in Buenos Aires before returning to Kearney.

“It was different from anything I’ve ever experienced before,” Kuehn said of the trip.

That’s exactly the kind of reaction Eckerson was hoping for.

“One of the things study abroad does is help you see how life can be different and how people can do things differently,” she said, “and that helps you not just understand other cultures, but also understand your own culture. You begin to appreciate how big the world is.”


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