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Olena Cruz | Northwestern '11

A Life-Changing Experience

Olena Cruz, Study Abroad ’09, Northwestern ’11
International Studies, Communications Studies, Business Institutions

Me (Olena Cruz) at Buenos Aires Cafe Shop

Sometimes the best moments in life are the ones you didn’t plan at all. Studying abroad can be a life changing experience. It was for me. My study abroad in Argentina was the most surprising, meaningful and fulfilling journey I had during my undergrad years at Northwestern.

Life is full of surprises. Back in college, I was never particularly good in my language classes. I had taken Spanish in both high school and college but was never really able to grasp it. It was during my last required language course that my professor Elena Lanza encouraged me to explore studying abroad.

At the time, I didn’t seriously consider it, but went to the Study Abroad Fair anyway because they had free food! However, the more I learned about the study abroad programs, the more I entertained the idea. Fast forward to a few months later, and I was packing my bags for Argentina.

Me with my host family, with whom I lived for 5 months

I lived with a host family in Buenos Aires for 5 months. During that time, I went to school; I met new people; I fell in love; I traveled; I stepped way outside my comfort zone and even made a few mistakes along the way. Nevertheless, it was a roller-coaster journey of self-discovery, life revelations, and world understanding. Above all, the people I have met, the places I have traveled, and the skills that I learned continue to serve me to this day.

Dancing at the Buenos Aires Tango Festival with my handsome new Argentine friend, Diego

Discover new passions. It was in Argentina when I first got introduced to salsa dancing. I completely fell in love with the music. I haven’t stopped dancing since. In fact I danced so much that after I came back I started training professional on a salsa team and I was the 2017 Midwest Salsa Champion. Who knew?!

Make friends all over the world. It was during my travels where I met people from all corners of the world. I always recommend staying at hostels, because the people that you meet on the road have the most interesting stories. In fact, the new friends I made traveling Argentina, I would then go visit across the globe. Heck, one of my sorority sisters even met her now husband while she traveled abroad. Wow, talk about a truly global world!

Climbing the mountains with fellow study abroad students in Calafate, Argentina

Launch your career. It was in Argentina that I was able to finally learn how to hold a conversation in Spanish. I interned at a nonprofit called Poder Ciudadano. And although I had no idea what I was doing then, I was able to learn about international business. Now I am able to market myself as multi-lingual professional. In fact, in the role for which I was most recently hired, I now use both languages to manage international contract renewals. Score!

This is your world. My takeaway today for you is this: Know that the most spectacular moments in life are the ones you seldom plan for. Sometimes the most random opportunity may appear in front of you, don’t hesitate, just do it. Even if you don’t know where you are going or what you are doing, don’t stop, it will make sense one day. Part of the journey is to discover yourself and the beautiful world around you.

Who knows what grand adventures the universe has in store for you? Don’t miss out!

Penguin march in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost tip of South America, nicknamed the “End of the World”

Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina with a fellow Wildcat

Mountain hiking in Calafate, Argentina


One Comment:

Posted by Marcelo Spolansky on

I didnt make the cut on any pics posted but I have the memories we shared imprinted on my brain and they still bring a smile to my face…we had fun and I’m so glad to have met you

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