College is under no circumstance an easy transition, and I'm pretty confident that this applies to absolutely everyone who attends. There are zillions of things to worry about, but, for those who have the privilege to study abroad, moving miles away from home and leaving your entire life behind you is seemingly the hardest part of the process, or so I thought when I made the move to Virginia from my Latin America home...

Gloria Berguido

I'm from Panama, also known as the land where clocks and watches exist pretty much for decoration and fashion purposes only, and punctuality is an infrequently employed concept.

Like the rest of Latin America, us Panamanians have a particularly vague sense of time. Except on a few occasions—having class, or going to work—arriving late is perfectly normal and rarely frowned upon. Likewise, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at as late as 12:00 pm, 4:00 pm, and 10:00 pm, respectively, is a typical Latin American custom. Who wouldn't love such a flexible, laid-back lifestyle? 

But, attending college in the US has made me realize two things: 1. This is definitely not how the rest of the world thinks or functions, and 2. Adapting is not easy.

The Transition...

rice, milk, sweet, cereal
Heather Feibleman

As I mentioned earlier, I always thought moving away to a new, unknown place where I'd be surrounded by complete strangers would undoubtedly be the toughest part of the whole leaving-for-college process. To my surprise, this wasn't nearly as hard on me as I thought it'd be. Instead, I came across an entirely new issue: adapting to Americans' eating schedule.

On my first day of orientation, I remember reading the schedule we'd been given and seeing lunch being set up for 11:30 am; I automatically thought there was a mistake. It had to be. "Who eats lunch so early?" I thought to myself, "I have barely even gotten through breakfast by then." 

As the days went by, and classes started, I noticed it wasn't a mistake. I realized that if I intended to eat breakfast, I'd have to be at the dining hall at 9:00 am, or earlier. By 10:00, there are only leftovers left. Similarly, heading over there between 2:30 and 3:00 pm, when you either have a break from class or are done for the day, is a complete waste of time, since it's already being prepared for dinner, and again, there are hardly even lunch leftovers.

beer, coffee
Lauren Lee

But, dinner is by far the worst. If I try and go to the dining hall at the times I've forever been used to having dinner, either all the food would be almost entirely gone, or they'd be closing the place for the night. Not surprisingly, I'm already hungry again by 9:30 pm.

Of course, I've had no choice other than to adapt to these eating schedules and increasingly make my peace with them. Now, I'll be sitting at the dining hall having dinner at 7:00 pm, which, a couple of months ago, would've been too early for me. Moreover, when I go home over the breaks, I find that my meal times have been North-Americanized, instead of going back to normal—especially if I'm alone. Otherwise I'll eat at the same Latin American times my friends and family do. 

So, what have I learned so far?

When I first came here, it never even crossed my mind that this would become an issue, and I wish someone would've given me a heads up before it did.

My advice for any future Latin American college student coming to America: snacks will be your best friends. Keeping a few snacks in your dorm is the smartest thing you can do; they are lifesavers. Trust me, this will keep you from starving through the night and help you survive the dining halls' highly non-Latin American hours.

Also, don't be too hard on your budget. Always have enough money to actually buy snacks (and to treat yourself to the occasional "fancy" dinner at a restaurant—dining halls can and will get boring. Shocker, I know.)

Gloria Berguido

But, most importantly, don't skip meals. If you don't have time to actually sit down and eat, take something to go, and if there simply isn't much left at the dining hall when you get there, which has been most of my experience, grab what you can find, but never skip a meal. It's extremely unhealthy, and not at all worth the hunger you'll feel at the end of the day. 

North and Latin American cultures can be quite similar in various aspects, but regarding eating schedules and time notions in general, they are very different. At the beginning, it can be pretty challenging to adjust, especially if you're a particularly late eater like me, but you'll slowly adapt and increasingly modify your daily agenda. Your inner North American will be proud.