Laura E. Turner
Laura E. Turner


Fred came to Buenos Aires on a 6 month student exchange program. He complains about "not fitting in", and feeling "confused and awkward", specially in doing things that he much enjoys in his own country, i.e. playing tennis, or when speaking Spanish, although he is fluent enough to communicate without major difficulties. His psychotherapy is focused on his fear of "losing contact with his own culture if he incorporates elements of Argentine culture". This therapeutic work enables him to acknowledge that it is about "adding", not "losing": that new experiences are enriching and add up to those that belong to his roots, which can never be "lost", since they are the essence of his identity.


Mathilde, another exchange student, demands help on account of her difficulty, which sometimes turns into real fear, to establish relationships with local young men. This was never an issue in her home country. Working through her therapy sessions, we discover it stems from a "cultural misunderstanding": in the echoes of local language, which she is just about starting to learn, she perceives an aggressive nuance that she also associates to the latin gesture and body language, mainly in men. Once the subject of cultural differences is identified and clarified, she is able to overcome this difficulty.


Sandy is a student who comes from a rural area and attends a small university where all students know each other, with a close relationship between students and professors. Her exchange program focuses mainly in "cultural immersion", and classes are held at the local public university, which is completely different. Crowded classes, non-personalized teaching approach, students used to manage on their own without much guidance or supervision, political activity interrupting classes... Everything is so different to what she is used to that she feels overwhelmed, lost and anxious, experiencing feelings of failure when unable to comply with the academic requirements. In her therapy sessions, we work through these differences, emphasizing the need to reduce her self-demand and opening the possibility of receiving tutor guidance and advice in the process of adjustment to this new environment.


Mark has an intellectual profile, and is surprised at discovering that night life in this city starts almost at dawn. He is not attracted to night clubs or alcohol, unlike the majority of his peers. Therefore, he spends most weekends in his room, bored and sad. He asks for help because he has second thoughts about staying or going back home, since he has not yet achieved social integration. He feels guilty for not being able to "make the most of this great opportunity" and for "not enjoying it fully" as his peers seem to. His therapy focuses on the most common expectation of exchange students: "having fun all the time and partying every night". But, what if your interests are quite different? In his home country, Mark has many friends with whom he shares different activities. He starts going to support and reflection groups for foreign students where he meets other youngsters with similar interests and obtains information about the variety of cultural activities that this city offers. Soon, he is part of a group of students, starts sharing outings and trips with them, and abandonds the idea of returning home.


Ellen moved to BA because her husband was transferred to the local branch of the multinational company where he works. She is also a professional, and in her home country had a managing position in another enterprise, which she had to give up. In this country, her occupations are scarce, since her children go to school and she has house help. She is depressed, frustrated, and unable to adjust to the new situation. Also, she feels guilty for not being patient with her husband and children. Her treatment focuses in developing personal resources to "reinvent herself" in this stage of her life, which is so different from her routine in her home country. She starts to get interested in local culture, takes Spanish classes and courses at a private university. Also, she gets involved with community actions at an NGO, and takes up activities that she enjoys but does not have time to do in her home country: reading group, movie workshop, yoga. All these spaces fulfill her and she is now satisfied with her new life.


Eric is a european executive in a multinational company. He was transferred to the local subsidiary during a period of three years, with his family. This is his first experience in expatriation, and he had never been to South America before. He has a managing position that involves supervising a local staff of 15 employees. Although his basic knowledge allows him to communicate, he does not master the language. As soon as he arrives to the local firm, he notices that its organization and dynamics are completely different to those in his country. He has a hard time managing the team on account of the huge cultural gap; this leads to constant misunderstandings that disrupt the work environment. At home, he is anxious and irritable, and eventually decides to seek help. His therapy focuses on "cultural shock", identifying and explaining the main cultural differences, with the goal of developing adequate strategies to overcome them.