Hello, reverse culture shockBuenos Aires, Spring 2009

I just moved in with my friend Vani, and she’s taken in a stray dog that wandered up to her house. A majestic white Husky, he seems very well cared for, but she hasn’t been able to find an owner yet. We think that maybe he was abandoned. He’s very sweet and gentle, grumbles and bats his paws appreciatively at a good belly rub, but there’s also something sad and listless about him. He wanders around in a daze, picks at his food, and howls when left alone. He has these piercing light blue eyes, the color of ice with deep water underneath, and I stare into them and wonder what his story is.

I can’t help but identify with him a little. I’ve been wandering around too, unsure of what to do with myself.

Before leaving Argentina, I didn’t think much about reverse culture shock. I vaguely remembered hearing something about it at IES during orientation, but adjusting to life in Argentina was easy, so why would returning be any different? Boy, was I wrong. I’ve been back for exactly one week, and I’ve been a complete mess. I still don’t feel like myself. I’ve been irritable, moody, weepy, and just downright confused. Going to the grocery store, driving–seemingly basic tasks are somehow challenging, and I feel like I’m screwing things up constantly. Adding to that, there’s only a month until school starts, and I’m nervous about making the right choices for my future. None of this feels normal, but everyone tells me that it is…so I guess for now my plan is to wait it out while trying hard to focus on the positive things. I have lots of great memories and photos from Argentina, supportive friends and family here, and coping strategies like music and exercise. And everything gets easier with time. In two weeks, I’m going home to visit family and enjoy the last little bit of summer (summer, not winter, as I sometimes have to remind myself), and I know by then I’ll be doing better.

This isn’t to scare off any future study abroad students. Everyone experiences this stuff differently, and some people adjust faster than others.

One difference I’ve been thinking about is that when you live in a place where you have to communicate in a second language, every interaction is an exciting chance to prove yourself.  For example, I would get a lot of happiness from brief chats with the woman who worked at the produce store in my Buenos Aires neighborhood. She always had a smile that seemed reserved just for me, and she’d ask how I was doing as she weighed my fruit. Nothing much, but it kind of was, somehow. And if our conversations had been in English, they wouldn’t have seemed nearly as special.

So maybe the idea of study abroad is that it puts you in this place of constant learning, even if you don’t realize it at the time, and then you return to “Real Life,” find it completely lacking without that sense of daily challenge, and force yourself to seek out new ways to try to recreate it.  So that’s my plan for now, to work on putting this into perspective.

This is my last post–it’s been fun writing these, and I hope they helped! If you have any questions about study abroad, IES, Argentina, traveling, being a confused English major, whatever, you can always email me at rcahalan@gmail.com.

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