I have always been a “go with the flow” kind of person, so I try not to worry too much when I encounter a new situation. Given my previous abroad experiences with a homestay in Bolivia and Spain in 2005 and 2012 respectively, I felt somewhat prepared to take on Argentina for the semester. That being said, I did not really make any deliberate preparations for the specific culture of Argentina. Looking back, to aid my transition, I would have researched more about Argentina’s aspects of nightlife, food, transportation, money exchange, and academics.
I would say that I am now comfortably adjusted to my surroundings in Buenos Aires; however, this was not always the case. To briefly summarize what “shocked” me at first: this city never sleeps, people eat dinner very late, public transportation is vital to navigating this city (download Moovit!), other means to obtain money besides ATMs, such as Xoom, give you better exchange rates, and the academic system is much less structured than that of the U.S.
Out of the previously listed aspects that shocked me, the nightlife adjustment reigns supreme. Upon arriving in Buenos Aires, aside from the obvious language different, I noticed that people here NEVER go to bed. For example, dinner is usually served around 9 or 10pm and people leave to go to bars around 12am. However, the bars are not the end destination. Clubs, known as “boliches” tend to get popular around 2am and people often stay well past 4am, sometimes not going to bed at all (speaking from personal experience). I had to ease into this adjustment.
In addition to this shifted, nocturnal schedule I am now accustomed to, higher education in Buenos Aires is also something that takes time to adjust to. Most notably, the concept of strict directions for tests, essays, and homework is seemingly non-existent here. While many of my U.S. professors outlined exactly what to do for an assignment (e.g. 10 pages, 12pt font over topic X, Y, or Z), my Argentine professors do not, and opt for a more open approach to evaluating students. For example, after my class read our assigned novel, El Juguete Rabioso by Roberto Arlt, my teacher told us to “write something intelligent about the book that shows you read it closely.” When we asked him about the specifics of the paper, he said, “It can be 1-120 pages, single or double spaced, any font, what else do you want me to say?” and then proceeded on a tangent, with rather strong arguments, that ridiculed the restrictions of the U.S. education system.
In summary, while many cultural differences between Argentina and the U.S exist and may cause initial discomfort, I find it best to go with the flow and embrace, rather than worry about, this wonderful, albeit occasionally frustrating, experience abroad.