My time for traveling has come to an end as my pocketbook has gleefully reminded me,
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My trip last week to the 4th largest city in Argentina was an important one. Way back during the application process for study abroad, I was torn between big city life of BA, and here in peaceful outdoorsy Mendoza. Ultimately I chose BA , yet I told myself I would eventually visit my would-have-been home. I was worried coming here that I would fall in love with Mendoza and regret choosing the dirty calles of BA.
Indeed, Mendoza is an absolutely beautiful city- extremely walkable, with not too much traffic. Every street is lined with trees, currently in springtime bloom, as well as aquaducts with gently flowing water. There are multiple parks like Plaza Independencia and Parque San Martín, filled with open fields, plenty of trees and stunning views of the Andes, only a few miles away. There are plenty of cute cafés and shops. Probably most dramatic is the quiet! Sure there are a few parks in BA but you can always hear the city around you. Here, you actually feel connected with nature. There aren’t too many tall buildings, so you can actually see the sky! Even the air seemed purer. Life definitely moves slower in Mendoza, although you have hiking, skiing & rafting nearby for a change of pace.
I definitely would have been happy here, yet I don’t regret about my choice. At this point, I have a solid footing in BA, I feel good about my classes, and I have great friends, both American and Argentine. I had never lived in a city before, plus Bates was already relatively isolated, so I’m glad I got this different setting. I’m also glad I’m at the center of Argentine politics with protests and debate everywhere. The fact that I’m still discovering new parts about the city from its barrios to its people also means that everyday is different.
I was accompanied by one of my closest friends from the program while walking around Mendoza. She also comes from a small LAC, with close proximity to nature. We both agreed that we would have been happy in Mendoza, although we’re content with our current lives in BA. We also discussed some of the not so nice things we’ve noticed about our experiences:
Despite getting 15 pesos for every dollar, costs still add up, but it’s obvious that this is more of an issue for some people than others. For some, side trips every few weeks to new places like Mendoza just isn’t feasible. Obviously it’s an enormous privilege just to be in BA on a program like this. Yet especially in the beginning, being social and making friends requires these trips, going out to expensive restaurants and spending lots of money in general. I know for myself I’ve felt pressured to spend more money than I was planning just so I could be social and not feel left out. In the future it would be nice if IFSA held a general discussion around the topic of money so people wouldn’t feel ashamed by having less than their peers.
Similarly we talked about the need to really take advantage of our time here. Throughout the trip, fellow IFSA people have been our go-to people for dinners or to hang out. Some of us have made friends through the program, some I haven’t seen since orientation. Regardless, it can be frustrating trying to immerse yourself in your surroundings when you’re with a large group of IFSA people, speaking English and generally looking very American. Sometimes I actually wish there was a language pledge- perhaps we wouldn’t get to know each other as well, but we’d improve our castellano so much. That’s why I think I’m going to have my own self-imposed language pledge for now on. We’re also more and more comfortable with the idea of exploring alone. Obviously I’ve made wonderful friends here and I’ll continue to go out with them, but if plans don’t work out, I won’t be upset, I’ll survive. We’re only here for a limited time (only two more months gahhh), and we’ll be interacting with Americans anyway once we return. That’s why I intend to take full advantage of my remaining time here and learn as much about the culture, the people and castellano as possible. As Mendoza emphasized, independence is the key.
I was gonna write a different blog post today, likely something trite about how much time and have left in Argentina (answer: not that much eeek), and how I should be consistently conscientious (stuff I referenced a bit in THIS post) while I am here to get the most out of my abroad experience. It would’ve been straightforward, mildly (psh, more like SUPER) interesting, and safe.
But I don’t want to write about that today. I’d rather write about what’s been actually perturbing me lately, much more than my efforts to be a well-behaved cultural traveler. What’s been perturbing me lately has been culture shock. Culture shock, aka the buzz-word of every study abroad program story ever, is defined by our friend the Webster Dictionary as, “the feeling of confusion, doubt, or nervousness caused by being in a place (such as a foreign country) that is very different from what you are used to.” However, Noah Webster also never left the United States, and while he was a brilliant revolutionary thinker (and also certainly never contributed the phrase “Culture Shock” to the lexicon that now bears his name), he had no experience with this sensation first hand. So, for his posthumous (RIP Noah) information, and for yours, I would like to explain what culture shock means, at least to me.
First, let me start with the word, “Shock.” In my case, it’s a misnomer. It wasn’t as if one day, out of nowhere, all of my doubts and fears and petty annoyances about living in Argentina came crashing down like a lightning bolt from the heavens; and as I lay smote between the calles, the denizens of the Whitman Off-Campus Studies office cackled at my dismay between cries of “I told you so!” No no, nothing like that. It’s more of a Cultural Boil, really. This feeling is subtle: tough to quantify, and can sometimes take a while to kick in; but by the end of it you’re in hot water and you’re not really sure how you got there (even if the signs were all there). One day, it’s the feeling of inadequacy as I fumble through a foreign language while trying to do something as simple as tell the bus driver my destination. The next day it’s stepping in the dog shit that laces the streets of downtown Buenos Aires. Today, it was getting sandwiched between two smelly people on the bus while yet another politically-charged protest spilled into the streets of my route, hopelessly clogging traffic and thus causing my commute to turn to a standstill. I was en route to change money on calle Florida so that I could pay for an excursion onto a glacier in Patagonia (my weekend destination, because my life here is still unreal), and despite having had a pretty good day up until that point (see the preceding parenthetical statement), I all of a sudden felt overwhelmed by everything. I almost wept, just because it was all just so damn different and so damn obnoxious. WHY did the people had to protest about every little thing in this country?! All of these grassroots political parties want the same stuff, and it’s not like rioting in front of the Casa Rosada every freaking week is going to make the president see you in a better light. And WHY was I crammed into this crowded bus to go get swindled by a sleazy merchant and then go wait in line so that I could pay something that I could do by credit card if I were at home!? WHY don’t the people walk faster in this country, HOW should I be expected to get to class on time if the commute is always this chaotic, WHAT do I need to say so that the people here don’t look at my foreign self as though I were a beetle, and WHERE can I find a decent cup of coffee (most of the coffee here is rubbish)?! WAAHHHH!!
ahem. Pardon me. Give me a second to collect my aching mind.
Alright, we’re good.
After my deluge of feels subsided, that’s when I realized I had been well and truly culturally boiled. It wasn’t fun, but I think it was actually a super necessary part of my abroad experience, especially since I wasn’t really expecting it. Despite a childhood in which I was unable to leave on a week-long backpacking trip without crying myself to sleep every night because I missed home (this was at age 14, mind you), I’ve recently become a person who embraces new experiences, thrives on change, and is comfortable with pursuing multiple different passions. To me, studying abroad was a natural extension of my curiosity, and I couldn’t imagine how people could ever get fed up with the experience (especially someone who is lucky enough (as I am) to live in a house with a family and hot food and running water and internet). I had read many of my friends’ blogs about culture shock (shoutout to my pal Rachael Barton’s post, especially), and while I had enjoyed learning of their insights, I never really took it much to heart. “That sort of doubt and annoyance is for other, less adventurous people” quoth I, “and I’m never going to feel anything like that. Besides, Argentina is too fun!” And I was right, to an extent, but I also had no idea really what to expect.
See, culture shock is different for everybody and for every situation. I absolutely adore Argentina, pretty much every day here is fantastic, and because I was so happy here I assumed that culture shock (a presumed “sad thing”) would never catch me. But cultural shock isn’t happy, nor is it sad. It’s a realization, a state of mind that caught me in the middle of an everyday discomfort that made me realize how (despite my high level of comfort in this city) unfamiliar every damn thing was. However, it is a necessary realization, and one that I am honestly grateful for, because so many people live their whole lives without realizing the unbelievably vast amount of culture that exists on this planet. Therefore, today was a learning experience for me, and while I definitely wanted to Skype my family and hug my fat cat again today, I also took a step towards realizing the beauty that lies within the innumerable bits and pieces of culture that separate the Argentines from me.
Gosh, it feels good to write this out.
Yes, I still hate how misogynistic the men here can be. Yes, the commutes can absolutely suck. Yes, I sometimes just miss having the familiar twang of English wash over me as compared to the constant rush of oft-indecipherable Castellano. And yes, today these differences all got to me in a pretty emotive way. But I wouldn’t trade these feelings for blissful happiness, or really anything else, because without these realizations, I would never have realized how many new things I am absorbing during my time here. After all, sometimes it takes a shock to get the heart beating again.
October 30th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” by
Last weekend I took my first international weekend trip since I’ve been to Ireland! I traveled quite a bit before arriving in Galway but it was my first trip to Hungary (the country where my dad’s side of the family immigrated from), and the first time where coming back to Ireland felt like coming home.
Unfortunately, a few nights before I left my wallet was stolen at a bar in Galway. In all honesty it was probably more my carelessness that enabled someone to take it than anything else since I’m the only one from my program to experience any kind of problems here.
Luckily my immigration card wasn’t in my wallet but I did lose some money, my NUIG student ID, and most unfortunately, my debit card. On a positive note, I have some amazing friends who helped me out and loaned me money while I cancelled my card and ran out of the cash I had at home. Since I opted not to open an Irish bank account and my bank is a smaller state bank, I had to wait for them to send my card to my home address in the US and have my mom forward me my card here, where it got stuck in customs for a few days because it needed some kind of special form to be filled out. Then there’