Taking Part in a Foreign Culture

By Justin Smith ’11

As Americans, we often find ourselves visiting other countries, whether it be for business or vacation. We spend a week or two shopping, eating out, and visiting famous museums and beaches. We then return home, making the claim that we visited “this place, that place, and everywhere else”. But do we truly understand the countries we visit? Do we take part in their culture, discovering what makes them so unique? I thought about these questions as I partook in the study abroad program to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I wanted to experience what it meant to be Argentine, that I could then share my experiences and observations.

One of the first things I had to get accustomed to was the family life in Argentina. My host family consisted of my host mom, Marta, whom I love dearly; my host brother, Nicolas, who was crazy about guitars, jazz, and blues; and the cat, Martina, who somewhat despised my existence, except at mealtimes. One thing I found interesting was that the children usually stayed at home until they got married. This is because it is so expensive to get an apartment, which is what most people live in, that they have to wait until they can live with a spouse. Thus, oftentimes, there would be thirty-year-olds living with their parents. This does not seem to be a problem, as most families in Argentina are extremely close; this is true for the extended family as well. At least once per week, Marta invited her sister, her brother, nieces, nephews, an the occasional friend over to the apartment. There was always something going on with the family. Another interesting fact is that the members of the family are often very open with each other. For example, one day Marta asked me how my life was going with my lady friends. I told her it was fine. I didn’t realize that any other Argentine would have gone into some detail, variations of such depending on the person. As I didn’t offer more information, she began to pry. That was when I learned that almost anything was up for discussion when dealing with families. To be honest, I got a kick out of it!

One other thing I find important when traveling are the friendships. If you don’t have the luxury of being with a family when you travel, you should definitely try to make some good friends! Making friends is another way to experience the culture of the place you’re visiting. I found my friends to b every interesting. From what I saw, most people in Buenos Aires are extremely outgoing. When I was invited to go hang out with my friends, it was often in groups of three to ten. We would go to parks, museums, coffee shops, movies, etc. One thing what intrigued me was that not once did we go out to movies, or watch TV, and call it a night.l Always, without fail, we talked, and talked, and talked. Talking, for Argentines, is the method by which one gets to know one’s friends. And they talk for hours on end, whether it be joking, politicking, or just a friendly conversation. What’s even more interesting is what I call the “ceremony of talking”. Usually, when we got together, someone would have a strong tea called “mate.” They would pour hot water from a jug into a mate gourd, and then pass it to someone. The person drinking could not way “thank you” until they were done drinking (I learned this after my friends looked at me weirdly when I did so beforehand.) The gourd would then go back to the server, who would pass it to another person. When the water ran out, the server would run and get more. This went on the entire time they were conversing. It was truly an interesting experience, one that I repeated many a time.

What I depicted was but a small part of the things I took part in. If you are fortunate enough to travel somewhere, make it worth your while. It’s fun to go clubbing almost every night of the week, but it’s also beneficial to get in on the culture. There are many way s to go about it: talk to shop owners, go to performances, take a walk to national museums, etc. We may say that the world is a small place, but it gets bigger with every new culture we take part in. So: don’t pass up a great opportunity the next time it comes around. You never know what you might learn!

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