Learning to Live in a New Part of the World

The best way to deal with culture shock is to understand that it is happening to you and not to fight the process. Anywhere you travel will be different, and it's truly a challenge to acclimate to a new place. Just because you researched everything there is to know about the place where you are studying abroad does not mean you won't have culture shock. You will!

I adjusted to culture shock by taking baby steps. In Buenos Aires, everything felt big, and I didn't know how to get around. I used to take short walks in the morning in order to figure out what was 5 blocks in each direction of my house or what was one subway stop away. I would also ask a lot of questions to other students in my classes, my professors, and my host family about Argentine culture and customs.

It helps a lot to ask others what to expect during certain events, like "What should I expect during the World Cup?" or "What should I expect to be on the first exam?" Questions like this help you to be prepared in advance so you're caught less off-guard. Additionally, I would observe people in different situations to see what behaviors were natural. For example, I watched what people said to the checkout person at the grocery store. I learned that it's polite to greet the employee and make conversation while he or she checks out your groceries. Learning these behaviors helped me to understand more and to fit in with the culture.

The biggest advice I have about culture shock is not to feel pressured. You are studying abroad in a new place, but that doesn't mean that you have to agree with everything they do or see every issue in the same way. For example, Argentines don't value efficiency as much as most Americans. They often aren't in a rush to get things done, and they don't always understand why one would want to work in advance on a project. I have a great respect for that-it's a much more relaxed lifestyle and people are in less of a hurry. However, as much as I respect this, it doesn't work personally for me. I want to do things in the most efficient manner. You have to constantly remind yourself that events, foods, and customs are "different," not "weird," and reassess why you hold certain beliefs or do things in a certain way.

Being abroad is a process of understanding other people; I wasn't studying abroad in Argentina to become Argentine, I was studying abroad to become a better, more understanding world citizen.