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Thomas: Culture shock

September 9, 2011

When someone is placed in a new environment, an environment that differs from their own and one that they are not used to, they are taken back, anxious and uncomfortable. Culture shock is the popular term to describe this phenomenon. On a short vacation to a foreign country, one is not likely to experience this because of the many “tourist settings” available across the world, and the mindset that the stay is only a few days or weeks.

Since arriving in Buenos Aires, Argentina over a week ago, I have definitely experienced a form of culture shock and am likely still going through some initial fazes. It’s located on the other side of planet Earth, on a continent I had never even set foot in. One can expect some culture shock. Experiencing culture shock is the only way to know how it actually feels, so I will not try to describe it. I will however, highlight a few of the differences between Buenos Aires and Minnesota, more specially Minneapolis since this is the last place I have lived. To compare it to rural Minnesota and my hometown wouldn’t be at all justifiable, however, there are some similarities in the people.

1) City Life: For those (some in my family) who think Minneapolis or St. Paul is overwhelming, come to Buenos Aires. Much like New York City, Paris or Rome, Buenos Aires is a huge, bustling urban development. There are people everywhere you look at nearly all times of the day. Like any large city, street crime is an issue. Pick pocketing and theft is always a concern. Not being used to this type of activity definitely had me on edge the first week. Going outdoors seemed like a chore and was mentally exhausting. I discovered that you adapt very quickly to this reality and it becomes natural to remain guarded and vigilant.

Traffic is also a huge issue within the city. From what I have observed, traffic laws are not typically enforced. Most drivers obey street lights, but on the streets with no lights, pedestrians like myself must remain aware for fear of being hit by cars. I choose to exclusively walk to wherever I want to go. Only at night when you happen to be far from home would you take a taxi cab. I have yet to take a bus.

Overall, at least in the first week, large city life has been exhausting.

2) The obvious language barrier. I won’t go into this, but it is very frustrating when you want or need something and you find it hard to communicate what that is to the other person. It’s a great way to learn the language though, and I can already feel the progress.

3) The people. Argentinians in general, are very nice people. They are proud of their heritage, their country and their families. I find some similarities in them with people from my hometown, who are also very proud of their heritage and are very nice. The biggest difference between people here and in Minnesota is the way they act and converse in public. Argentinians will always greet each other with a kiss on the cheek and maybe even a hug. They are very touchy, affectionate people. A lot of times they will even kiss strangers on the cheek. It doesn’t matter who you are. In the U.S., primarily you would never see this. A handshake maybe, if you like the other person and maybe a hug for a family member or close friend. Nothing more—we like our space.

There are several other differences in ways of life to be pointed out, but I will stop there. And of course I was told about all of these things before arriving, but you never can truly understand them unless you experience them firsthand.

As a newcomer to this country, you can do one of two things; reject and criticize the culture of the Porteños and detest your experience abroad, or accept and embrace the differences in lifestyle/culture to enjoy and learn. I think the choice is clear.

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