Here are just a few from my personal experience living in Buenos Aires, Argentina for just over three years. Of course your experience will be completely different from mine, but if I had to guess, I bet you will learn these lessons too:
1. You’ll learn how to wait effectively.
Think that you’ll manage to go to the bank AND the post office during your lunch break? Think again. Everything in Argentina takes at least three times as long as it does in the United States. My particular job in Argentina required me to go to the bank often and deal with real live bank tellers. This meant taking a number and sitting down with 50-100 other impatient people who had numbers before mine.
At first, I was horrified about how much time I wasted doing things that would take me a matter of minutes back home. But I caught on fast. I’d show up at the bank armed with a thermos and my current book of choice and enjoy the relaxing one hour break built into my day. Between the bank, post office, bus, and subway, I read more books while living in Argentina than any other time in my life! My suggestion to you: be prepared to wait. And embrace it for the cultural experience that it is.
2. You’ll live in the moment.
Things hardly ever met my expectations in Argentina. The bus would be late and I’d miss yoga class. I’d rush out to print something and find that the copy shop was closed for vacation. Sometimes the subway stopped halfway to work and we all had to get off and flag down taxis or buses. Sometimes the Internet stopped working for a day or two.
You get the point. The beauty in all this is that when you learn to let go of your expectations; you are constantly presented with opportunities to live in the moment. Missed yoga class? Why not hit up that new sidewalk cafe for people-watching and a sweet treat? No Internet? Awesome! You get an excuse to disconnect and take a Skype-cation from your friends and family back at home. Spend enough time in Argentina and you’ll notice that people are really great at seizing the moment. In fact, it’s one of the things that makes life in this country so charming, spontaneous, and fun.
3. You’ll talk to strangers.
So when you combine lots of waiting time in public and things frequently going wrong, you get ample opportunity to interact with strangers. This can be alarming at first! Here in the United States we are not so accustomed to being intimate with the masses. We’ll take our hermetically sealed and climate controlled cars, thank you very much. Spend just a day in Argentina and you will undoubtedly end up talking to a fellow bus passenger, listening to a taxista ramble on about politics (or asking if you are single), or explaining to a store clerk where your accent is from and what you are doing so far away from home.
I remember one morning when I was clutching a folder of important documents and walking briskly towards the immigration office, when a truck driver parked by the shipping docks invited me to share a drink of maté (the Argentinian version of tea). At first I shook my head no, but then figured what the heck? and stopped to chat for a bit. I was not attacked, I enjoyed a pleasant conversation, and headed back on my way. Now that I’m back at home, I find that life can be a little lonely at times, so I am sure to chat up the barista, UPS man, hair stylist, and anyone else who crosses my path…
4. You’ll speak up for yourself!
Yes, there are tons of nice strangers in Argentina who will offer you maté, but there are also a handful of hijos de #$%@ who will try to take advantage of your smiling yankee face. The good news? You’ll learn to speak up for yourself.
I used to be a shy and wimpy pushover, and I’ll never forget the first time a taxista tried to charge me double what the cab ride should have cost across town. I made a scene, told him he was being unfair, and gave him what the fare should have been. It was not a pleasant situation, but man, it felt soooooo good to stand up for myself. In Spanish. In a foreign country. Booyah.
5. You will soar through your life back home with the greatest of ease.
You might have guessed this by now, but when you finally do come back home to the land of easy, you will be surprised at how much more effective and powerful you are. You know how things work, what to say, and where to go. Furthermore, you are patient, you can live in the present, you’re far more social and open-minded, and you don’t take any crap. How’s that for a few souvenirs stuffed in your back pocket?
So there you have it. Go, make your own stories! Live your own lessons! It will be awesome, I promise.