Why Cultural Differences are the Best Part of Study Abroad

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Amanda Edwards is an International Studies student at Johns Hopkins University and studied abroad through the IFSA-Butler Argentine Universities Program in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2015.

Just yesterday (or who knows when you’ll be reading this) I was crossing the street back in my not-so-abroad home of Baltimore, Maryland when I was kindly pulled over by an officer for jay walking. “It’s not Argentina,” he reminded me. “People actually obey the traffic laws here.” Okay, so maybe those weren’t his words exactly, but that’s what I heard. In the USA, drivers actually do what the stoplight demands of them. You don’t just have to dash across the street, praying that for those ten seconds a bus won’t appear out of nowhere and give you a little nudge. No, this is the U.S. and when the walk signal says walk, you walk. If it doesn’t… well that’s where the police come in.

Why Cultural Differences are the Best Part of Study AbroadBut hey, don’t let the lack of laws dissuade you from studying abroad. In fact, let them persuade you. Parents, aren’t you just dying to send your kids to far away places where gelato is valued more than life itself?

In all seriousness though, the crazy driving in Argentina was only one of the many cultural differences I experienced that made my time abroad so unique (never did I think I’d sound so cliché). I mean, when else in your life do you have the opportunity to live in a country where your biggest worry is forgetting to kiss someone when you enter the cafeteria? #ImstillsorryFelipe. Or, unintentionally refusing to take a sip of the mate (tea shared by everyone through one straw) from that mom you just met in the park. By going abroad, I encountered a whole new level of friendliness… even with people I thought were complete strangers. Turns out, now we are the best of amigos.

Why Cultural Differences are the Best Part of Study AbroadThe cultural differences also taught (or maybe forced) me to learn to become comfortable being uncomfortable. That may not seem like such a crucial skill, but take my word that it quickly becomes one when you realize you’re the only foreigner to be found for miles. When entering a room full of rowdy Argentinos, for example, there were definitely times when our differences gave me the urge to “people watch,” aka stand awkwardly in the corner, too shy to talk to anyone. And that was if I even made it to the event. I hate to admit it, but sometimes I hesitated even going places out of fear of showing up alone.

Not anymore, though.

In Argentina I came to accept that yes, there would be parties in which all the other chicas would hover over me (with the help of their five-inch platform heels, no doubt). Or that in class I would have to pay ten times more attention than anyone else and still need to ask the kid in the first row for help (thank you, language barrier). Or additionally that as VegHead going to an asado (an Argentine BBQ) I would be slightly overwhelmed. I mean can you imagine everyone inhaling carne as if the world was about to end while you stood snacking on a jar of palm hearts?

Why Cultural Differences are the Best Part of Study Abroad

But, I learned not to let possible uneasiness get in my way. I learned to be more independent and if there was something I wanted to do, I just had to do it. I learned to cross the streets (is that cheesy enough?) and follow the study abroad motto of “say yes to everything (except drugs, of course).” And when things got awkward, all it took was that wholesome Argentine laugh of a “ja ja ja” to set me back on track.

Where will your studies take you?

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