Dealing with Culture Shock in Argentina

By Tracey Chandler

Find out how the language barrier is not the only kind of culture shock that you will have to deal with if planning on living, working or studying in Argentina for a long period of time.So you think you know yourself? You think you like yourself? You think that you’re a cool, independent person who is able to adapt to anything in life and achieve the very best in any kind of situation?

Try living, studying or working in Argentina (or any foreign country for that matter) and you’ll soon find out whether all those things are true or not.

Travelling or going on holidays is one thing. Living, working or studying abroad for a lengthy period of time is quite another. You might have lived a very successful life up until now and you are probably the type of person that friends and family describe as “strong, confident and daring,” but this is likely to change when you arrive to Argentina.

 

LIFE, STUDY AND WORK IN ARGENTINA IS A FANTASTIC EXPERIENCE

Before going any further with this post, let’s make one thing quite clear… Anyone thinking about coming to Argentina to live, work or study for a long period of time should DEFINITELY follow through with the idea. Argentina is a fascinating country in terms of culture, landscape, language and gastronomy.

The capital city is a vibrant beast of fun and stress all rolled into one, nothing beats a merienda at 11am with mate and chipa (don’t know what this is?… come to Argentina and find out!), the steak is tasty, the wine is tastier, el “che” is one of the warmest displays of natural affection I have come across on my travels, you can ski, hike, or feel like you’re dying from heat-stroke, political antics never cease to draw attention, the economy is in a constant state of yo-yo-like activity and there’s certainly no shortage of romance.

This article is certainly not designed to discourage anyone from visiting the country and “setting up their home here” for a while – or forever!

However, culture shock is real. It is something that many people suffer from and, more importantly, most people don’t even realize that they are suffering from it. As a result, they find their own feelings, thoughts and actions inexplicable. Lots of foreigners living, working or studying in Argentina become sad for no reason and find it hard to deal with their emotions because they haven’t opened themselves up to the idea that “culture shock” might be the at the root of all their anxieties.

THINGS THAT CAN BE HARD TO DEAL WITH IN ARGENTINA

If you are a French national living in Argentina, it is likely that the things you find strange will be different to those difficulties experienced by someone who was born in China, for example. Our homelands and native cultures affect us more than we know and what might be hard for one person to adapt to could seem like a piece of cake to another.

Even if you think of yourself as a “globally aware” person, culture-clash is unavoidable. Argentines don’t arrive to the clubs at night until about 2am. Dinner is normally eaten at about 10 or 11pm, particularly on the weekends. Plans are never set until the last minute, specifically social ones. Lots of things simply don’t work very well, like cell phone companies, which can be annoying.

EXAMPLES OF CULTURE SHOCK

Most Argentines are friends with the people that they knew when they were very young, which means fitting in to social situations (even though Argentines are very sociable) can be really hard.

You will not be able to join in when they talk about the children’s TV show that they all watched when they were kids. As your language skills improve and you make more of an effort to fit in, you might find that your humor is simply not transferable and that the way you tell jokes in your hometown is just not understood in this country. Vegetarians might find it hard – not because there aren’t vegetarian options available in restaurants, but because when you want to go to a friend’s house for dinner you sense that your way of living is simply not understood, even if your friend has happily thrown some veggies on the barbecue for you.

Back home, you might have been the life and soul of the party, but in Argentina – for some reason – you feel shy, nervous and pensive all the time. The smallest little thing, like missing the bus, makes you cry and the confidence that you always seemed to have in your hometown has left you.

Culture shock doesn’t have to happen in an instant. Don’t expect to arrive and feel instantly repelled by your surroundings. In fact, when you first arrive, you are likely to feel euphoric. Everything will be new and exciting. You will be on the foreign-life honeymoon period. All the places you visit will fill you with joy and interest, taking the train to a nearby place of interest will seem like the height of adventure and speaking in Spanish will be a real challenge that you can’t wait to dominate.

Once the honeymoon is over, sadness might hit you hard. You might feel unnecessarily angry about things that don’t really matter or you might begin to feel alone even when surrounding by a room full of smiling Argentine faces.

If this happens, don’t worry. It is culture shock. It might not go away easily, it might never go away, but the feelings that you are experiencing cannot be controlled. Don’t start seeing yourself as a failure for feeling the way you do when you should be “having the time of your life.” Culture shock happens to us all and the only thing we can do is learn to roll with the punches.

HOW TO SURVIVE THE EVILS OF CULTURE SHOCK AND LIVE TO TELL THE TALE

There are no set ways of dealing with culture shock head on. Every experience is singular and everyone responds to new and trying situations in different ways. However, there are a few different tips that many expats, foreign students and visiting volunteers have shared with us that might be of use to help you get through your experience with a smile on your face:

1. Be open-minded. Try not to give in to generalizations and make decisions about the place you are visiting during the early stages. Your adjustment is liable to take some time, so let your opinions form naturally too.

2. Do some research. Read up on the country’s customs and culture before arriving so that the things you experience are not so much of a shock to you when you experience them in real life during your visit.

3. Make an effort. If you don’t go out and socialize, you won’t feel like you are fitting in. If you don’t join social groups or activities, you won’t be able to make friends. Finding a way of settling into a new culture will result from the effort you make as much as the kindness of others who invite you to be a part of their lives.

4. Give into your curious side. Living in a new country is all about learning new things. Find out as much as you can and show an interest in the way in which natives lead their lives. You will find that the extra interest you show in their culture and their customs will make them warm to you more. In general, everyone is proud of who they are and where they come from, so give Argentines the opportunity of sharing their culture with you and they will love you for it.

5. Stay positive. This is a hard one. There will be days when you don’t feel good and these feelings will strike when you least expect to feel them. The key is to let them ride over you. Let yourself feel sad, excluded, strange, lonely, whatever. Allow yourself to have those feelings and don’t try to work out why you are experiencing them. Not everything will have a rational explanation when living in a foreign place and you will only make things worse by trying to find that reason.

Good luck!

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