Semester Abroad, Global Correspondents Living and Learning

January 2, 2020
By Thomas Maggiola, CAS '21

Thomas Maggiola is one of the Semester Abroad Global Correspondents, writing and sharing his experience abroad during the Fall 2019 semester. Follow along with the group of correspondents on our blog and check out their student takeovers on the @pennabroad Instagram.

Semester Abroad
CIEE Rio de Janeiro

It is hard to believe that I am now in the final weeks of my study abroad semester in Brazil. The last 4 months of my life have been unforgettable, and I am incredibly grateful to have been able to have this experience. As I reflect with nostalgia over my time here, it is easy to see the various ways I’ve learned and grown.

One of the valuable things that this experience has taught me is how to be more flexible, adaptable, and open to making mistakes. Through my daily life and my travels, I have been forced out of my comfort zone, and thanks to that, I have had no choice but to learn from every situation I found myself in.

Back in October, I took a weekend trip to Paraguay. There, I ended up on a bus ride, from midnight until 6 in the morning, in which I did not have a seat.  Those 6 hours standing were extremely difficult. A couple of days later, as I was set to go back to Brazil, my flight got canceled, and I was stuck waiting for hours in the airport before getting sent to a hotel to spend a few hours before having to go back to the airport for my new flight, now leaving at 2 am. This was very frustrating, but there was nothing I could do but sit back, relax, and be patient.

When I was trying to return to Rio at the end of my trip to Manaus, I missed my flight, which was supposed to leave at 7 am, due to a dumb mistake I made that could have been easily avoided. After waiting for a couple of hours in the airport and finally rescheduling for an afternoon flight with a layover in São Paulo (and paying an inexplicably high fee), I was very frustrated with myself. Thanks to my mistake, I had plenty of time to reflect and think about what happened. I came to terms with it, but little did I know that the inconveniences were far from over.

After my new flight was delayed a little due to a storm, I was finally on my way back. As we were getting close to São Paulo, the captain informed us that the flight would be diverted to nearby Campinas due to air traffic at our destination. Of course, this meant I would miss my connection and wouldn’t be getting to Rio anytime soon.

As it was already 9:30 pm, there were no flights to Rio, and the airline sent me, along with several other passengers who were trying to get to Rio, by taxi to a hotel in São Paulo (after waiting for a couple of hours of course). I arrived at the hotel at 12:30 am exhausted, ordered my complimentary room service, and went to sleep, knowing that I would only have a couple of hours to rest before having to get up for my flight, which was now leaving at 6:30 am. 

After nearly missing that flight due to the airline’s disorganization, I finally made it back to my apartment in Rio at 8:30 am. Shortly after, I got a notification on my phone saying that the airline was refunding me a generous $3.87 for the inconvenience. Despite the over 24 painful hours I spent trying to make it back, I could later see that this was a valuable learning experience. At the end of the day, I was forced to be patient, accept my mistake, and use my Portuguese to actively resolve the issue. Being so far out of my comfort zone, and away from Penn’s uptight, perfectionist culture, allowed me to see the positive in a day when seemingly everything went wrong.

Beyond these inconvenient travel experiences, in my daily life, I had to lose my fear of making errors with Portuguese in order to go out and communicate with people.  I found that the only way to learn a language in this setting is to dare to use it, make mistakes, and learn from that. Language immersion is a difficult, tiring, and incredible process that I wouldn’t trade for anything.'

Thanks to this study abroad experience, I am now better equipped to take on the challenges of life, since life inherently involves leaving my comfort zone, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes.

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The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.