The crooked streets, tricky street signs, and sometimes complex forms of public transportation make it easy to get lost in Buenos Aires, especially for a clueless 20-year old from the Midwest. However, while getting lost is simple, deciding to stay lost is often more difficult.
“Total cultural immersion” is a common phrase that foreign exchange students use when declaring their goals for an upcoming trip. However, cultural immersion isn’t something that just happens, as I have learned. It is necessary to find it, and you find immersion by remaining lost.
Here are 5 rules that have helped me to stay lost in Buenos Aires.
1. Live with a host family
Living with a host family can be intimidating and tiring. There is never a break from the language barrier or cultural differences, and because of that, simple things like eating a meal at the dinner table can turn into a stressful experience. However, the stress is good. Not only have I gotten more opportunities to listen to and talk in the native tongue, but if I hadn’t decided to live with a host family, I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to drink “mate” or to begin to understand what life is like for a real “porteño.”
2. Say good-by to your iPhone
With the rise of technology, foreign exchange students have been able to become more dependent on their smartphones to survive in a foreign country. Ducking into a Starbucks to use wi-fi is definitely easier than relying on help from the locals or from city maps when trying to navigate in a foreign city. However, this certainly takes away from the immersion aspect of a study abroad trip. Even deciding to leave your iPhone at your homestay while you are out and about has the potential to give you a more authentic experience.
3. Take the long way home
Buenos Aires has so much to offer, and you are only here for a few short months. Finding the quickest, most efficient routes to important places like your university, homestay, or grocery store is definitely essential. There will be times when shortcuts are necessary. However, when time permits, walk the extra few blocks to find a new street that will bring you to your homestay. In Buenos Aires, nearly every street you walk down is home to an assortment of churches, parks, fruit stands, cafes or “heladerías” (ice-cream parlors). Who knows what gems you will find or locals you will meet simply by walking down an extra block.
4. Leave your English at the door
Speaking in a foreign language 24/7 is difficult, no matter how many language classes you have taken to prepare for your trip. But speaking in English while in a country that speaks a different language will make it infinitely more difficult to interact with the locals in a natural way. Many locals will recognize your nationality and speak to you in English, even when you address them in Spanish first. Don’t make cultural immersion even more difficult for yourself by speaking in English among your friends. The locals will notice.
5. Don’t take pictures
Okay, take pictures. Your family and friends back home are going to be anxiously waiting to see what trouble you are getting yourself into, and in a few years you will want pictures of yourself in order to look back on this experience fondly. But also know when to take pictures, and when to simply take in your surroundings and let the experience wash over you. Because let’s face it, opportunities like this don’t come knocking on your door every day.