2013-01-29

5 Tips for Coping with Culture Shock while Volunteering Abroad

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Chating at the community kitchen Chating at the community kitchen Voluntario Global

On arrival in Buenos Aires, almost all volunteers experience some form of culture shock. Feelings of isolation, homesickness and uncertainty are common when you find yourself totally immersed in an unfamiliar environment. It can take anything from a few days to a couple of weeks to adjust to your new surroundings, but with input from other volunteers I have compiled a list of suggestions to facilitate the process of settling in.

1. Talk to other volunteers It’s always reassuring to discover that everyone else has been through the same thing- unlike your friends and family from back home, other volunteers will understand exactly how you feel and be able to make suggestions to help you through the first few days. Furthermore, you’ll be inundated with invitations to go out and see the city- tango shows, sampling local cuisine at one of the many cheap restaurants, or even just wandering around a street market.

2. Interact with the locals By far the easiest way to adjust to life in Argentina is to make friends with the locals, known as porteños. Arriving from England, I was initially taken aback by the friendliness of the Argentinian people- it seemed that everyone, from taxi drivers to supermarket cashiers, was genuinely interested in where I had come from and what I was doing. Having local friends to show you round is not only a great way to practise your Spanish, but also helps you to see the less ´touristy´side of the city.

3. Get involved with your volunteer work The more time you dedicate to your work as a volunteer, the more you will get out of it. As well as being a hugely worthwhile way to spend your time, it also keeps you busy, helping to distract you from thoughts of home; since it often involves working in poor and run-down areas, volunteering gives you a sense of perspective.

4. Learn something new While it is impossible to take advantage of everything that Buenos Aires has to offer, learning a new skill- dance lessons, for example, are popular among the volunteers, as are Spanish classes- is one of the most effective ways to combat culture shock. Not only will it distract you from homesickness and help you to feel more involved, the sense of achievement serves to counteract any uncertainty about moving thousands of miles from home.

5. Go exploring There is something interesting round every corner- tango performers, colourful street art, quirky themed cafes, and so on. Wandering the streets in the sunshine with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice from one of the many roadside vendors is an ideal way to get to know the city and learn to love its eclectic architecture and friendly people, all of whom are always eager to help a lost ‘extranjero’.

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