Today marked the start of my second semester in Argentina. I’m very excited about it, even though doing another semester is outside of the norm. For the last couple of weeks I’ve seen all my American friends that I made through the COPA program leave to the States. I only know of one other COPA student, who’s a distant acquaintance rather than a close friend, who’s staying for Semester 2. Unfortunately, we might be the only ones in store for full integration into this distinct society.
Thinking about it the other day, I realized this is the start of a totally new learning experience. When I left Brooklyn for Buenos Aires in February, I left expecting to spend the rest of the year disconnected from anything American. Adapting to a whole new culture that I was originally ignorant of proved hard though. I wasn’t accustomed to Argentine Spanish and culture enough to mix in well right away. So, at first the only people I could count on were my American companions taking the same journey as me.
My American friends were my comfort zone. We shared common backgrounds as well as aspirations that brought us together. Whenever it was time to tour a new part of the city or go out at night, my American friends would always be down. Whenever I’d get tripped up because of a quirky aspect of the language or culture, my American friends would understand. We were always in it together was we wondered through the unknown.
It wasn’t until a month and a half into the semester that I made my first real Argentine friends. They have been a gift ever since. They’ve taught me aspects of Argentine life I could never have possibly figured out for myself had I continued watching from the sidelines. Common phrases, jokes, stereotypes, where to go and where to avoid, how to read an Argentine before even talking to them, what’s popular and what isn’t; the plethora of guidance and assistance they’ve offered has provided the change from American life I’ve been looking for.
But even still, as close as I’ve gotten the natives from other side of the globe, I kept a connection with my fellow Americans. It was NOT why I came here for, but I couldn’t help it. They were some of the greatest people I’ve met and I wasn’t ready to lose touch.
Now, fate has taken over. They have left, and I am still here. I have no intentions of trying to get to know the new COPA students. I’m completely skipping orientation, which is when they’ll actually meet each other. That leaves me in this new country without the support group that had made life more comfortable. I will have the only American voice that I’ll regularly hear.
Because of that, this second coming semester is going to be just as trying as the first. At the same though, this second semester will be what studying abroad should be.
My story of banding together with my American companions, although sweet, seems to have been the norm among us COPA students. To be honest, porteños haven’t made it easy for us foreigners to integrate. With a combination of luck and determination, I was able to establish a little network of Argentines that I can rely on through the ups and downs. From what I’ve seen, this has not been the case for most COPA students. They’ve had the company of one another to get through this new world, leaving less need for native companions.
It’s hard to adapt right away; it has been evident. 100% of all other COPA students I’ve spoken to the last several weeks couldn’t wait to finally leave. Understandably, they want the comforts of home. To be honest though, I’ve noticed that they’ve all changed since we first got here. After completing a full semester in this country, they now finally seem ready to integrate with the locals.
If you want to fully integrate into a new culture during your studying abroad experience, one semester isn’t enough. It takes a full semester cycle to learn how the wheels turn and it takes a second to put what you’ve learned into action. Studying abroad is becoming more widespread and common every year. As its popularity grows, I hope more consider the two-semester option. From my experience so far, integrating into a new society is exciting and rewarding. I hope others will be willing to take on the challenge and reap the benefits.