It seems like few people remember their college orientations very fondly. I remember thinking that my own orientation, a seven day period right before the beginning of classes, would never end. Even though orientation leaders tried to make the ice-breakers fun (instead of uncomfortable) and plied us with enough candy to sustain weeklong sugar highs, it’s hard to forget the boring group activities, overwhelming academic presentations, and awkward question-and-answer panels.
Even without the scheduled activities, the first week of college comes with enough personal challenges that anyone would need time to adjust—the biggest one being learning how to survive on your own, usually for the first time in your life. All the while, you’re trying to make friends, get along with your roommate, and prepare academically for the next months. It’s justifiably exhausting.
Needless to say, I was glad when it was finally over. I cheered thinking that it was the last orientation I would be forced to attend in a while, if not forever.
Ironically, only eleven months later I got off of the plane in Buenos Aires and hopped right into another weeklong orientation program.
In many ways, my IES Abroad orientation was completely different than my last one. Instead of touring the university campus, we had walking tours of entire neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. Instead of reminding teenagers to shoot a text to their parents every now and then, our orientation leaders taught us how to buy and make calls using Argentine phones. We went to musical performances together; tried to learn tango as a group. We shared maté on the way to a gaucho ranch. Learned how to make authentic empanadas. Stood in line to get our visas together.
So, it was completely different than my university orientation. But I wouldn’t trade my first week here for anything. Having time to settle down, tour my new city, and learn the culture before classes began was priceless. It helped me get used to Argentina and feel more comfortable in the country where I’ll be living for the next four months.
Of course, I still have questions—no one can become a porteño in a week, even though that would have been great—but the worst of them are gone. It’s not easy learning how to live in a foreign country for the first time, but it doesn’t have to be hard. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it or ask someone to repeat their words more slowly. Don’t ignore cultural norms, just because they aren’t the same as in the United States. Don’t be too frustrated when your host family talks in Spanish and you feel lost, or when you have a bad day and just need to watch Netflix.
Even though college orientation was exhausting, the months that followed it were some of the best of my life. I’m excited for that trend to repeat itself here in Buenos Aires.
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<p>I am Maria Oldenburg, and I'm a sophomore Economics and International Studies double major at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. On campus, you can find me pretending to be a professional photographer, exploring the local coffee scene, or hopelessly planning my dream backpacking trip across Southeast Asia. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I can't wait to eat my weight in empanadas, learn quality puns in Spanish, and tango with the best of them during my semester in Buenos Aires!</p>