Argentine Adjustments

Mollie Abts
February 28, 2019

We often hear the term “culture shock” when discussing global experiences with friends or family that have studied abroad, lived abroad, or traveled abroad for a short amount of time and have experienced feeling out of place when moving to an unfamiliar society and way of life. I was thoroughly instructed on the topic before my departure to Argentina by my university through in-person presentations and an online module, which informed students preparing to study abroad on what to expect and how to cope with cultural adjustments. I again was briefed on cultural shock during my orientation week, so by now I would expect myself to be an expert on cultural adjustment and the many stages of emotion while studying abroad; however, I don’t think any number of powerpoints will be able to teach you the “proper” way to take on culture shock until you experience it firsthand and learn how to cope with the uniqueness that is your way of thinking and processing.

Admittedly, I didn’t think too deeply about what types of culture shock I would experience and how I would handle these changes. But nevertheless, I have picked up on so many differences between culture in the United States and Argentine culture.

The first difference is how late Argentinians eat and how their meals drastically differ! Dinner at my host home usually occurs between 9:15 and 9:45 at night, usually lasting until around 10:30. This is about four or five hours later than what I am used to! It was a struggle at first to adjust to eating lunch at “normal” times of noon or one, and waiting another eight or nine hours to eat dinner. Snacking is dangerously tempting but in moderation has helped me last until dinner. I’ve also been keeping busy at our IES Abroad Center into the evening so that when I get home, I only have one or two hours until dinner. Meats and breads have a heavy presence in a typical Argentine diet, and fruits and veggies are absent in most dishes. However, I’m lucky enough that my host mom has done an excellent job making sure we get our daily dose of both these items! The most seasoning you’ll find is a pinch of salt, so if you’re a fan of spicy foods I’d suggest bringing your favorite seasoning or sauce to last you, as you won’t find them in any Argentine kitchen.

Another difference that’s hard to ignore is the difference in time perception. What I mean by this is that start times are approximate even in the most official settings; classes or tours set to start at 10 will actually start at least 10-15 minutes later, professors strolling in fashionably late without thinking twice. This relaxed perception of time is a huge change from the U.S., as being prompt is essential to success. Dining out also takes a bit longer as it is custom in Argentina to take your time when dining out, contrary to usually feeling rushed when dining out in the States (especially during peak meal time hours).

Pickpocketing and theft is a larger issue in Buenos Aires than what I’m used to in Minneapolis, so having to adjust to always being vigilant when in public has taken some time. Thieves pray on the tourist that seems distracted, so being alert to the people around you is a must. Before coming to Argentina I knew that pickpocketing was a big issue, so I was prepared for the worst! But realistically when you keep track of your things and don’t go around flashing your expensive belongings, your possessions will be safe. In Minnesota, I love going to coffee shops to do homework; if I’m ever alone and need to leave my table for a quick minute, I usually will ask the table next to me if they can watch my things for a second while I run to the bathroom or grab a napkin. When I come back, my belongings are all there, and we both go on with our studying. Unfortunately I cannot keep up with these practices in Buenos Aires. I’ve learned that if you want to use your laptop in public, sit near the back of a coffee shop so that a person can’t just quickly run in, grab your laptop, and easily escape. Likewise, don’t sit near a window with your laptop; that’s basically screaming to the people on the streets, “Hey, look what I have! A laptop that’s worth two times your salary!” Being smart about cellphone usage has also been an adjustment for me. I love taking pictures, but when you’re walking around the city or taking public transportation in a small group or alone it is best not to pull out your phone, as someone can just come up and grab it. But in all honesty not being able to have my phone out at all times is refreshing, as I am using social media less and being present in the moment. It's the little things like putting a luggage lock on your backpack, not wearing flashy jewelry, or keeping your purse at the front of your body instead of the side that can easily prevent petty theft and not put a damper on your experience abroad.  

Keeping an open mind is the best “cure” for culture shock, in my opinion. There have been times that I’ve felt so defeated when I haven’t been able to properly communicate with locals. But I have to stay composed and use it as an opportunity to learn rather than brush it aside. I’ll either ask my host or use an online Spanish dictionary to learn what I was trying to say. Looking at cultural differences as learning opportunities instead of barriers will help ease your transition. There will still be bumps in the process of transitioning, but I feel a lot more confident in my transitioning process and feel more prepared for my arrival in Chile in just over a month!

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Mollie Abts

<p>Hi all! I am a junior at the University of Minnesota studying Global Studies, with a focus on the global political economy in Latin America. I love being able to experience my favorite city, Minneapolis, while<br>gaining my education. My hobbies include reading, trying new food, shopping and exploring. My favorite animal is a sloth, and my favorite travel memory so far was when I got to witness a sloth climbing down from a tree outside of the Panama Canal!</p>

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