The other day I sipped some mate with a friend whom I hadn't seen in a couple of months. Both of us have been busy and found it difficult to find a common time to meet. She had gotten a new number not too long ago which also made it difficult to arrange a get together, as some poor pibe was receiving my texts for a little while.
My friend is from Louisianna. She moved to Buenos Aires a couple of years ago and has made a very good life for herself here. She speaks Spanish fluently and has picked up on porteno preferences like mate and Fernet - a stronger, medicinal Argentine Jagremeister made from artichoke hearts.
We were chatting about whether I would consider moving here permanently, if I could find some work, expand my Spanish, get a Master's at the University of Buenos Aires, all things that I have considered over the past month. This moved us onto discussing the difference between people who can adapt to a new place and those who cannot. She brought up the question of whether those who cannot adapt to a new place were just not given the opportunity to live like the locals.
In particular, we were discussing a group of ladies she had recently met that have been living in Buenos Aires for up to 3 years. They are stay-at-home moms and mothers whose husbands were transferred from the U.S. to Buenos Aires for a limited contract. After 3 years of living in an area in the city set-up by the company, where all the families are from the States supporting the husbands on contract work, the ladies barely speak any Spanish. On top of that, their children who take Spanish lessons in private, English-speaking schools, do not speak Spanish.
How, my friend asked, can a kid, a sponge, soak up another language, a language that is the native-tongue of the city the family lives in?
She then suggested, maybe it's because the families are put into these compounds, suburbs with no Argentine culture. The suburb is more like a little America, away and secluded from the real life of the city. Perhaps, if the families were better integrated they would like the city more.
Apparently, when my friend asked the ladies if they liked Buenos Aires, they said "no". Essentially, they were counting down the days until they could return to their American suburbs. They looked at their time in Buenos Aires more as a prison sentence, their luxuries taken from them, as opposed to a neat experience. The question we asked each other was, could they adapt if they were forced to? If they were put in the middle of a downtown barrio with an indefinite time-period, could they fall in love with this city, the same way her and I have.
My answer is this: In all honesty, the first 3 months here was hell. I would compare everything that I lacked here to the things I had at home. However, eventually I discovered that there were things I had here that I could never get at home. I realized that things that held me back from fully experiencing this place were the strings that I never thought I could cut. Strings are dangerous things if you are living abroad. I have a friend who went to Asia to teach English. He had some attachments to a life once lived at home. He even went back after a couple of months because the change in culture was so shocking. When he went back, he realized that the knots, the basis of his relationships with family and friends would always be there, even if the strings were cut: They can always be retied. So, he traveled back to Asia where he has since been living for 2 years, learning Mandarin and has a lovely lady.
The short answer is, yes, I do think everyone can adapt and fall in love with a place wherever they are, warzones excluded. You may always call one place home, but can be able to enjoy the experience given to you. The amazing thing about people is their ability to change, not only their selves, but their perception of the space around them. Everyone can do it, but not everyone has the desire to cut strings. It doesn't make one better over the other. It just makes different outcomes.