Got culture shock? It happens to the best of us. I must admit that when my advisor talked about the phases of culture shock before I went abroad, I was skeptical. After having been so excited to come to Argentina for so long, I could not imagine it ever being difficult. However, it is true, and after the initial adjustment period and subsequent intense infatuation with your new environment comes a time when things aren’t quite so easy. That is obviously not what you want to be nor what your should be focusing on as you embark on your experience abroad, but it does help to be aware of the phenomenon. That way, when the waves of culture shock start to splash upon your foreign paradise, you can understand your feelings and deal with them realistically.
Needless to say, after having been in Argentina for about two months, I am going through that period right now. It seems ages ago that I was scurrying through my house to finish (over)packing just hours before my flight, landing in a rainy Buenos Aires 24 hours later, having my first meals with my host family, and learning enough information to fill volumes during orientation. It felt like a whirlwind time of discovering new things, trying to do anything and everything possible, meeting people, getting lost, getting found, and being overwhelmed but loving it. To an extent, I still feel like that, since in such a big city not a day goes by where I could not do something new, but I have also started to find my routine. I know which buses to take, how much time I have between classes, which supermarket has the best variety of products, and how to navigate the city’s vibrant nightlife without spending a fortune every weekend. Having this sort of grasp on my day-to-day gives me a sense of accomplishment in that I am starting to make Buenos Aires my own. On the other hand, I find that among my everyday activities, I have had less time to try new things and stimulate my adventurous side. It is all about finding a balance, which I have not achieved quite yet but undoubtedly will with time.
It has been this among this mild crisis that I have encountered the rough patch of my cultural immersion experience, which unfortunately coincided with the beginning of school for all my friends back at home. This has meant that I’ve spent perhaps a little more time than I should on Facebook before bed browsing through their pictures and that I’ve been missing a lot of things from home, like iced coffee, our farmer’s market with deliciously fresh produce, riding my bike everywhere (which in Buenos Aires has been accurately described as a suicide mission), or not having to pay for water at restaurants. However, having been well primed in the in the cycle and effects of culture shock, I have realized that these are mere things, things whose absence has not severely affected my ability to enjoy my time here thus far and that adapting to living without them is all part of this experience. More important for me to focus on are the many aspects of porteño culture that I have come to appreciate and incorporate into my own.
That said, the one thing that I have found most significant and endearing about Argentine culture has not been the tango, their political awareness and activism, or their deep passion for fútbol, but rather the idea of buena onda. It literally means “good vibe,” and as my program director has said, you either have it or you don’t. There’s no way to learn how to have a buena onda, and if you do try, then you definitely don’t have it. Though it’s just a phrase, the idea behind it is that the culture as a whole has a laid-back, no-worries feel to it, whether they are lounging in a park every chance they get, lingering over dinner, or turning the idle strumming of a guitar into a full-on jam session. This mentality makes its way into many different parts of daily life, even into seemingly names. Everyone here seems to have a nickname, whether it is a shorter version of one’s given name (Matias becomes Mati), related to one’s appearance (and usually not PC, like el Gordo or la China), or just completely out of left field (one of my host brothers’ name is José, but he goes by Pocho). After about a month of being here, my host brother and his friends informed me that my name does not have a buena onda. Apparently, “Michaela” is what someone might call me if they were mad at me, but it’s too formal and long for everyday use; so now I am just “Mica,” which I love. Who knew such a carefree concept could have such complex implications? Either way, while I might be feeling a little homesick here and there, Argentina has taught me that I should simply exercise my buena onda: acknowledge the feeling, but just relax and keep on enjoying my time in this crazy cool city.