Adapting to New Cultural Norms: Studying Abroad in Buenos Aires

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IES Abroad
April 2, 2018

When you study abroad, learning about a new culture goes way beyond the classroom. Interacting with your host family, commuting on the bus to class, and ordering at a restaurant may be challenging at first. However, as you overcome these day-to-day challenges, you’ll find yourself successfully adapting to the new culture.

Ambassador of the Year, Matthew Helfond (IES Abroad Buenos Aires, Fall 2015 | Santa Clara University), shares five ways he had to adapt to Argentine culture while studying abroad in Buenos Aires:


One of the first things you notice that is different about the Argentine culture compared to U.S. culture is how they greet each other and say goodbye. In the United States, you give a handshake, but in Argentina you kiss each other on the cheek. This custom was unfamiliar to me, and was something that took time to get used to, especially when I would meet someone for the first time or in a business setting.


I thought I had a good understanding of Spanish after studying it throughout high school and college, but I was surprised by the differences I noticed in the Spanish spoken in Argentina. For example, the way Argentines pronounce the double “ll” and “y” is different. They use the pronoun “vos” instead of “tú” as the informal “you” when addressing someone.

In addition, Argentines have their own slang called lunfardo. I was able to pick up on the subtle changes in pronunciations, but it was not what I was expecting. This made my experiences challenging at the beginning, but I was eager to take on that challenge, and I was able to learn it quickly.


While studying abroad in Argentina, I had an internship at a nonprofit organization where I was a Spanish translator. It added to my study abroad experience because I gained the ability to speak Spanish in a business setting. What struck me was how Argentines place value on time while doing business.

In the United States, you can never arrive late to a meeting; otherwise, that would be considered rude. However, in Argentina, arriving late is the norm. For example, delays are common and not meeting deadlines is understandable.

Another example of this is after arriving to my internship on time and sometimes 10 to 15 minutes early, I was told that it would be okay to arrive later, like 15 to 30 minutes later than scheduled. I found this very difficult to adapt to because I have grown up in the United States where you must arrive on time and never be late for work.

Subway in Buenos Aires

Fútbol (Soccer)

One thing that you should know about Argentines is that they are crazy about fútbol, or, you know, soccer. I did not realize how important soccer games were to Argentines until I was there. The game would be on TV, and the city would grow quiet. Everyone would stop what they were doing and watch the game as if it was an unspoken rule. Even if you were not a fan of either team, everyone would watch because soccer is a major part of the Argentine culture. This is especially the case for soccer games between Boca and River, the two rival teams in the city of Buenos Aires.

Futbol game in Argentina


Of course I cannot describe the Argentine culture without mentioning the food! The asado, or barbecue, empanadas, and dulce de leche are the first three things I think of that represent Argentine cuisine and the country’s food culture. You cannot go to Argentina without experiencing a traditional asado where people gather together and share stories over an open flame.

Being from the United States, you are exposed to many different types of food, and you have many choices. In Argentina, I was surprised that most meals revolved around bread, wine, and meat. Because bread, wine, and meat are major exports of Argentina, it should not have been a surprise to me. While you can find other common foods that you are accustomed to, there is less variety to choose from.

After returning home, I was happy to have home-cooked food, but at the same time, I missed having the empanadas, dulce de leche, and other delicious foods that helped make my experience amazing.

Cooking meat in ArgentinaEmpanadas

How will studying abroad in Argentina redefine your world? We can’t wait to find out. Apply today.


Matthew Helfond

Matthew Helfond, 2018 IES Abroad Ambassador of the Year

IES Abroad Buenos Aires – Latin American Societies & Culture, Fall 2015 | Santa Clara University

Matthew is a recent Santa Clara University graduate who studied Accounting, International Business, and Spanish Studies. He credits his study abroad experience for pushing him to be more outgoing and understanding of others and other cultures.

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