Traveling or studying abroad is an amazing experience and Córdoba, Argentina, will offer you incredible opportunities for learning. Before you go, there are things to do to prepare yourself. You'll think about what to pack, how to dress, how to speak, and what you will be eating. There are a lot of little things you won't think about before going to Córdoba.
For example, you probably won't ponder to yourself “I wonder what the consistency of the napkins in Argentina is like?” And if in fact you do question what napkins you will be using, you probably won't be able to find out that information by any typical guidebook or study abroad guide. Guidebooks are useful resources for finding general information about a city or country before you go, but they do not tell you about the smells and the dirt in the wind and the smoothness of the sidewalks. That is where this guide comes in.
The Napkin Issue
The pondering about napkins is actually a good place to start, because the napkins in Argentina are in fact very different. There are a few restaurants where you will strike gold and find the nice, slightly thick, absorbent napkins where cleaning up a small spill is a non-issue. However, the rest of Argentina is stocked with little squares of what is essentially wax paper. You are thinking that wax paper is probably the least absorbent form of paper, and you would be quite right. Thus it becomes quite a challenge to mop up a messy orange juice spill with thin sheets of slightly shiny paper. If you can manage to view this issue as a challenge you can make cleaning up into a sport and adapt quite well.
The next issue relating to paper in Argentina is that of toilet paper, or papel higénico, whose absence is sorely noted in the majority of public restrooms. If you do happen to come across toilet paper, it is more likely to resemble the napkins, and is nothing like any of that plush, 2-ply, cotton fluff you might be used to. Bring your own toilet paper with you when possible. If you decide to opt out of using the cardboard-like paper, there is another option. In almost all houses, hotels, hostels, and one-person bathrooms you will find something that looks like a cross between a toilet and a urinal next to the toilet. This is what is called a bidet, and if you are not accustomed to it, can be quite a surprise. Essentially, it sprays water so you can clean yourself without the pain of the toilet paper. The most important thing to learn is sit on the bidet before you turn on the water, so as not to flood the bathroom. That could become very embarrassing to explain to your host family or new travel friends.
Eating in Restaurants
To change topics completely, you will definitely want to go out to eat some time during your time in Argentina. What you will find in the restaurant is not a drastic difference from what you might be used to, but there are some subtleties that are important to note. First of all, you will seat yourself wherever you choose, unless you cannot find a table on your own because it is too crowded and ask one of the workers. The waiters do not stop by your table every two minutes, so when they come to ask for your order, don't expect to see them come back until they bring your food. When you pay, you are not expected to leave a tip, unless you had incredible service and are not clearly a college-aged student. The tipping issue may leave many tippers feeling like they are cheating their service, but the staff actually gets paid a salary that does not take tipping into account. It just adds a little more income to the restaurant.
When you are traveling long distances, there are three different kinds of buses you can take. The first option is called semi-cama, which is a relatively comfy seat that reclines and has a little footrest so your feet can be a little higher. This is the cheapest option and is not all that bad if you are able to sleep in bus seats. The cama bus does not in fact include a bed, as the name would suggest, but is just a seat that reclines back even farther and has more of a footrest and more legroom. This is a little more expensive but definitely comfortable, provided you are not expecting an actual bed, in which case the seat would be a big disappointment. The most expensive is the ejecutivo seating, which is usually on the lower level of the double-decker buses, has a lot more room, and the seat essentially reclines to the horizontal. It is a good idea to figure out which seating works best for your body and your wallet before you take one of those 20 hour bus rides that you would take to Iguazú or Patagonia from Córdoba.
The cities of Argentina, and especially Córdoba, are full of spontaneity. This can manifest in many forms. For example, if you are in a car and stopped at a light, there might be people dressed as clowns who walk out in front of the cars to juggle bowling pins or balance balls on their head or play a song on trumpet. You might see all the modern cars pass by and then suddenly hear the clic-clic-clac of horse hooves, and turn around to see – sure enough – a horse pulling a cart, full of vegetables or cardboard or items to sell in the city. Gas is expensive here, and some people with less money use the old-fashioned form of transportation. You may also wander through the city and see stray dogs who greet you with a tail-wag, or stumble upon a concert going on in a park or plaza. You get to the point where you expect to find things that are unexpected, and might be surprised by how little surprises you. You incorporate it into your life and breathe the culture.
Your Personal Response
One thing you might not think about before you go travel or study abroad is the effect your trip will have on you. It is easy to think of your experience beforehand very objectively, but once you are immersed in a culture, you start to think differently. It might change you for the better, it might open your eyes to some ugly truths in your life or in the world around you, but no matter how long you stay or where you decide to go after, you will remember your stay in Córdoba. You will remember the rains of the spring that flood the dry streets or the cool breezes of winter. You will remember dirt and the smell of the bakeries and the dogs in the street, and you will remember how you changed. No one can say how the change will happen or what you will learn, but you will emerge with new ideas and new perspectives. And that is the most valuable part of a trip and something you will not even realize until it is time to say goodbye.