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Top Five Things to Forget When Studying Abroad in Latin America

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I compiled this list while studying abroad in Argentina for a semester, but many of these tips apply to other regions of Latin America as well. Here are some cultural differences for which you should prepare. In fact, just forget these things while studying in Latin America:

Forget about your concept of time.

Whether the micros (public buses) are running 30 minutes late or your professor decides to come to class an hour into the scheduled time, you will soon find your idea of punctuality and time management challenged. Any errand will take twice as long as it should and every meeting with your friends will start late and last long into the night. Though at first jarring, this attitude towards time eventually influenced me for the better when I looked around and noticed that no one else cared that they were wasting time; rather, they embraced an opportunity to relax for a few minutes and enjoy the day.

Forget about your busy schedule.

As long as you’re spending time with people you love, there’s no such thing as wasting time in Argentina. In the U.S., I fill every spare minute on my schedule with class, homework, and extracurricular activities. Here, I take note of the tendency to spend the whole evening getting coffee with a friend and the whole night chatting over dinner with the family even when you have a midterm later in the week. Working on personal relationships and working on homework are equally valid uses of time.

Forget about your food intake limits.

I never knew just how much bread one person was capable of eating until I spent a day with myself in Argentina. Because I pass 10 bakeries on my 10-minute walk to class every day, I could soon test that limit. Your host mom will feed you so much food that you think you can’t take one more bite, then she’ll refill your plate completely. When (and if) you finish, she’ll ask you why you’re not hungry today. Every pound I gained while studying here, I earned.

Forget about the existence of taboo conversation topics.

There is no such thing as a question that’s too personal in a conversation with an Argentine. They’ll be your friend right away, and once they’re your friend, they’re not afraid to ask you anything. As a teaching assistant in English classes, I got asked anywhere from “Have you ever been in love?” to “Do you like President Trump?” to “Do you believe in God?” Although at first the abruptness of these personal questions unsettled me, I soon embraced the chance to exchange opinions and beliefs with people with completely different lives from mine.

Forget about personal space.

No, not everyone is flirting with you; they’re just touchy people. As someone who values highly her personal space, kissing strangers on the cheek and snuggling up to unfamiliar people on public transportation was new to me. But I soon learned to let my guard down and open myself up to conversations with new people. And though greeting someone with a kiss will never seem natural to me, I don’t visibly grimace anymore when I see PDA in the park, which I think is a win.

Emma Houston is an English literature and Spanish major at DePauw University who studied abroad with IFSA in Argentina in Fall 2018. She is an IFSA International Correspondent through the IFSA Work-To-Study Program.