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by Alexander Kopko
Adjusting to a New City, New Family
It has officially been one month since I landed in Buenos Aires. On one hand I feel like I have already learned a lot in my short time here, but at the same time I also feel like I just got here. This first month has certainly been a period of adjustment and learning. As when you move to any new place there are many seemingly small things you must learn very quickly: how the bus and subway systems work, how to get local currency, what foods are popular, and in the case of Buenos Aires, how to understand the local accent (it’s tough). All that learning can certainly be difficult, and that difficulty is compounded when all of it is being done in a language other than your own. There have been hard times, but they are far overshadowed by the positive experiences. First and foremost, the experience of living with a host family has been the most rewarding. Especially in a foreign language program, living with a host family is by far the best way to immerse yourself in the local culture and ensure that you get the most out of your semester abroad. My host family has quickly become my number one resource for recommendations on things to do in the city and answers to my questions about the language and culture. It would be very easy to come to a global city like Buenos Aires and speak very little Spanish and learn very little about the local culture and customs. Living with a host family takes away the option of that “easy way out,” and forces you to take in the experience for what it should be. Of course, living with a new family is not easy, and has certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone a few times, but that temporary discomfort is worth it for how much I have learned.
Feeling at Home Abroad
As my program nears its end, I have begun to realize that Buenos Aires is starting to feel like home. I know my neighborhood like the back of my hand and could walk to my program center with my eyes closed. The language difference also poses much less of a barrier than it did when I arrived, and I am know longer feeling the “culture shock”. This drastic change really surprises me, because when I arrived, the shear size of the city made me think I would never really feel at home. There are several vital things that have allowed me to achieve this sense of comfort despite being so far from home. The first and most important in my opinion is the friends that I have made abroad. I think that wherever you are in life it is important to establish a support network, and my friends have provided just that. Living in a foreign country with a new family, speaking a different language would be impossible without the friends I have made here. Making friends abroad can also be a little bitter sweet, especially with the end of the program right around the corner, knowing I will never see many of these people ever again. Despite this sense of melancholy, friendships abroad can be just as close as at home.
In addition to making friends, establishing a routine is vital to becoming comfortable abroad. Though the idea of “falling into a rut” can be daunting while abroad, establishing a relatively stable routine can be a great way to control stress in a new place. During the first weeks, it was difficult to do even the small things like buying groceries, or taking the bus, but once you have a routine, those things become second nature, just as they are at home.
Overall, I will try to take full advantage of my last month in Buenos Aires and am both excited and sad to be going home at the end of June.
As I am writing this I am also packing my bags, as I will be flying home in just two short days. As my program comes to a close, I am feeling a mix of sadness, nostalgia, fulfillment and excitement. I am sad that my semester abroad is almost over and feel nostalgia for all of the friends I have made, and the fun experiences I have had. But I am also excited to be going home to see my friends, family and of course, Ann Arbor.
As cliché as it sounds, studying abroad in Buenos Aires has been a life-changing experience. I have learned so much. First of all, my Spanish skills have greatly improved. But on top of language, I have also learned what it is like to live in a completely different culture for four months, and how to survive on my own thousands of miles from home. Argentine culture has certainly left its mark on me. I can’t help but pronounce “double Ls” with a sh sound (my Spanish professors will kill me for this), I am addicted to yerba mate and alfajores, and I can’t even think about eating dinner until at least 9 pm. It will certainly be a hard adjustment moving back to the US, but I am prepared for the culture shock part two.
If I had to choose my favorite part of my semester abroad it would probably be all of the great friends I made during the program. If I had to choose a less cheesy favorite part of my study abroad, it would be all of the travel I did. Although I fell in love with Buenos Aires, it is impossible to really take in Argentina without leaving the capital and exploring the rest of the country. Argentina is a diverse, exciting, vibrant country, but if I spent four months in Buenos Aires then I wouldn’t have gotten to know its other sides. The capital is a bright, exciting, modern city, and I enjoyed every minute of it. But thanks to my travel, I also got to know the north, the west, and Patagonia in the south, which all have their own special things to offer.
Overall, my study abroad experience has been both rewarding and challenging. Every day there has been a new adventure, some small like finding a new café, some large like climbing a mountain in Patagonia. After all of my experiences here, I am glad to be coming home, but will never forget these four life-changing months.