All I wanted was peanut butter. About a month into my stay in Buenos Aires, I was going crazy for peanut butter and was seriously dedicated to finding some. It’s not the most common thing here, where super-sweet dulce de leche is preferred, though it is definitely available in health food stores called dietéticas. However for some reason I had the hardest time securing a jar of my heavenly, creamy, good-anytime treat; I had heard of some places to find it from people on my program, but either I couldn’t find the store, they would be out of stock (since the American students were all raiding these places around the same time), or I’d find a store to realize it was be closed. For a good two weeks, peanut butter was on my brain. I think my host family found my fanaticism a bit ridiculous, but at that point in my stay, I was feeling the low point of culture shock, and peanut butter represented home to me. I was craving the comfort of something just so American to pull me away from the difficulty of being far away. I was frustrated that something so common in the United States was so difficult to obtain here, frustrated that stores are closed on Sundays when I had the time to go to them, and frustrated that I didn’t have the variety of food here so readily available to me like I do at UMass.
When I finally found peanut butter, it was awesome. I ate it at least once a day and went through two full jars all by myself within the next month. However, I haven’t had it since then. Part of the reason is that I did admittedly go a little overboard with it, but the other part is about adapting to the culture. On the one hand, I have found healthy alternatives that I can pick up at the supermarket instead of running around the city to search for them, and on the other hand, I have become comfortable here and don’t have the desperate need for the comfort of something American. Obviously there is more to the phenomenon of culture shock than the desire for sandwich spreads, but I think it serves as a good analogy for the process. As the semester has progressed, I have learned to adapt myself more to the porteño culture, instead of the other way around, and my ability to do that has made me so happy here. Feeling incorporated into the culture and having settled into my daily life has made Buenos Aires feel much more like home. It is a great comfort that makes me amazingly content and excited to be staying here another semester.
And that is another topic in it of itself. Right now I have been at the peak of the culture shock transformation for a while, and since I am staying in Argentina for the year, the prospect of continuing this experience, getting to explore the city even more, and being able to immerse myself further into the culture is a welcome relief. However, hearing about all of my friends on my program getting ready to go home and see family and friends makes me miss home a lot more than I feel like I would otherwise. I don’t know what it would feel like to be going home soon, if I would be reluctant to leave, if I would have considered extending my study abroad for another semester, if I would have been happy going back to UMass (which I do miss a lot!) after this crazy semester…All I know is that I am staying and I am so happy about it. Being away from home for so long will no doubt be difficult, and I am curious to see how culture shock will manifest itself over a longer period of time, but at least now I know where to get myself some peanut butter if I need it.