I first landed in Buenos Aires at 8 a.m. after a full night of travel, was shuttled into a taxi by IES Abroad staff, and arrived at my homestay where I spent the next several hours meeting my host and being shown around the neighborhood. By the time we arrived home from a grocery run, the only thing I could think about was crawling into bed. The next few days were awash with frustrations—setting up a new SIM card, exchanging money, and finding an electrical adapter all seemed like minor tasks from my room in Wisconsin but became instantly more difficult in a language where most of my vocabulary revolved around school supplies and pets. Most days, I would come home, crawl into bed, and watch Gilmore Girls for three hours straight while my brain struggled to retain a single thought and I swore I would never understand a single word in Spanish again. But by the next morning, I would wake up, down my café con leche and toast, and head out the door once again.
During the first week of orientation in Buenos Aires, a therapist came in to talk about the stages of cultural adjustment. She talked about how the honeymoon phase, full of excitement and discovery, would inevitably give way to frustration at the many differences and challenges of living abroad, which would eventually turn into an adjustment process until finally, we would reach acceptance of our new home and its culture. Of course, emotions never happen in such a neat order and I quickly found myself rotating through all four stages daily. There have been moments, like when I sat on the IES Abroad balcony eating homemade Asado and looking out over the city or when I walk through the streets at sunset, when a wave of gratitude and disbelief hits. Hours later, I’ll find myself glued to my bed by exhaustion and sadness.
I spent a lot of the first month riding the ups and downs; I seized the moment when I felt good, and rested when I didn’t. Small things, like sitting in a coffee shop alone or going grocery shopping, could paralyze me with anxiety. During my second week in Buenos Aires, I worked up the courage to go to a café on my own and then proceeded to bumble through my order and sit self-consciously (sure that all eyes were on me, the dumb American) at a tucked-away table for 20 minutes before I had exhausted my nerve and headed home. At the same time, I got such a thrill out of having a successful conversation in Spanish or being recognized at my favorite restaurants, and I’ve found that these little victories can help with the anxious moments. I’ve re-learned a lot of the same things I’ve been learning my whole life, which mostly boil down to two things: Sometimes you’ll feel sad or mad or annoyed at everyone but it’ll usually pass with time or rest or food or some combination of the three. And, we’re all just doing our best, and sometimes our best is bad and that’s okay. Still, there are a few things I do here when I feel especially hard hit with sadness or anxiety.
For one, I nap. Especially in my first month in the city, I spent at least an hour a day in bed, lights off, thinking no thoughts. My room became my sanctuary, where no one needed anything from me and I could completely check out. When I feel especially stressed, the first thing I do is clean my room. It seems like annoying advice, but it really does make me feel better. Sometimes, I call my mom. Or I call a friend. We usually talk about nothing in particular, but it helps to hear another voice and it helps to say my feelings out loud.
As I sit here writing this, I’m having one of those slightly-sad-for-no-logical-reason nights. But two months into study abroad, something is different: I was in Chile last week for spring break, and when my plane landed in Buenos Aires at the end of the trip I surprised myself with the realization that this city feels like home for now. Walking up the steps to my apartment, climbing into my own bed, taking the bus to classes, and returning to my favorite coffee shop all feel comforting and familiar.
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I'm a junior sociology and anthropology major at Carleton College in Minnesota. I'm also a prospective Spanish minor and I'm both excited and nervous to dive into a semester of Spanish immersion in Argentina. Although I go to school in a small town, I love cities and am endlessly fascinated by their different cultures and dynamics, so I'm especially excited to be living in Buenos Aires this fall. At school, I play club frisbee and write for my college's news site, and in my free time, I love to lounge with a good book, cook meals with my housemates, and enjoy the outdoors.