First of all, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Peter and I’m a third year BIB student majoring in Finance. I chose Spanish as my language of concentration and Buenos Aires, Argentina as my destination for the study abroad year.
To start off, living in Argentina is nothing like living in Canada. The differences in lifestyles, attitudes and cultural norms can be shocking at times for any foreigner. Living for just one week in Buenos Aires taught me many valuable lessons. I will list them below along with a quick explanation and my personal advice on how to avoid simple but costly mistakes.
- Money matters. It really does. Living abroad for a year is the most expensive project in my life thus far. As a quick heads up just a one way ticket from Ottawa to Buenos Aires costs around $1100 CAD. It is best to create a budget before coming here. Rent payments along with food expenses and transportation can deflate your wallet by as much as $800-$1000 USD. I will post a very detailed blog about the cost of living in Argentina as I feel that it is important to know how much does it cost to live away from home for students. Argentina is also currently experiencing unusually high rate of inflation.
- Arranging a transfer from airport to a hostel or a shared apartment before departing from Canada is key. After 18+ hours long flight, with a high possibility of delays, the last thing you would want to do is to discuss the price with a taxi driver in a foreign language. I made that mistake and paid slightly more than I should have.
- Practice the host country language as much as possible before you leave. In my case, I had a decent level of proficiency in Spanish before I arrived here, but still I couldn’t understand more than half of what locals were saying. There is a significant difference between the Spanish one learns in a classroom and Argentine Spanish spoken by locals (or other dialects). The best advice here is to listen to specifically Argentine television or Youtube videos in Spanish that originate from Argentina.
- Transportation is critical especially in a big city like Buenos Aires. Although a walk to the university campus takes roughly 8 minutes in my case, it might not be the same case for others. Try to get the SUBE card the next day you arrive to Buenos Aires. It acts like a debit card from a bank. You can reload it at the same place you bought it and use it for all methods of transportation within the city limits.
- Watch out! In Argentina, one has to pay close attention to everything happening in front, behind and to the sides. People in Argentina have a very informal approach to almost everything. When crossing the street, look both ways before you cross, while you cross and after you’ve crossed it. I might sound silly, but car accidents involving pedestrians are very common here. People might cross a street on a red light, when there are no cars passing by, but I suggest you to wait until the light turns green and then proceed with caution. Also keep your personal belongings in your sight and watch your step there are many broken tiles on the sidewalks.
- Inflation is your worst enemy. As an international student, I had to do tons of research on both official and unofficial web sites before coming to Argentina. While the official statistics told me that for the year of 2014 the inflation was 15.6%, the Economist suggests that there is a huge discrepancy between official data and the real rate of inflation.
- It is best to arrive one to two weeks before the orientation week starts. I found that it is good to come in advance and get adjusted to the climate, the city atmosphere, new language and visit some of the tourist attractions before things start to get busy.
- Ask locals for help. Argentines are very kind and helpful, so don’t hesitate for assistance. In my very first day, I couldn’t enter my apartment so I had to call the next building’ concierge for assistance. As you can see, this leads back to my point #3. To ask for help one has to know the language to do so.
- Communication is crucial. I learned that life without an internet and cell phone connection is quite hard. Hence, getting a stable Wi-Fi connection and a prepaid cell phone plan are the two important things to keep in mind.
- Boil the water! One of the shocking that could cause severe health problems is the tap water. Unlike Ottawa, tap water here is not what you want to drink right away if you don’t have a strong filter. It is best to get a water kettle and boil the tap water. Another solution is to buy bottled water from a nearby store. Keep in mind a 1.5L bottle is the biggest I could find so far costs anywhere between $1.10 to $2.3 USD depending on the store.
- Buying electronics in Buenos Aires is not a good idea. Try to bring a lightweight laptop or a tablet with all the necessary accessories. Prices on electronics here are beyond a reasonable limit. For the same price in Canada you would get a much more advanced gadget than what you pay for here.
A word of caution: don’t look at the figures I provided above as something concrete. Due to the high level of inflation and the continuing financial instability, the prices here will change very quickly.
Questions, comments and suggestions are more than welcome! If there is anything you want to know, comment below and I will try to respond as soon as I can.
Thank you for reading!
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