The best part of studying languages is definitely the year abroad. In my third year, I chose to spend half the year working in France as an English teacher and receptionist in a language institute. For the Spanish side, I decided to go further afield and accepted a job offer in Argentina, also teaching English. My job in Argentina was contracted through a second party business, who determined where the placement would take place. Due to this, I didn’t have much of an idea where I would end up working.
I spent the first seven months of my year abroad working in South West France. Despite my apartment looking like something from Les Miserables, I led a bit of a luxurious life. I lived opposite a pâtisserie, within walking distance to the beach; I spent most evenings after work with the cool Atlantic waves lapping at my feet as I sipped ice cold beer and ate apple and calvados crepes. So, as you can imagine, it was a bit of a shock to the system when I arrived in my new home of La Quiaca, Argentina the following March.
I was to fly from London to São Paulo, then on to Buenos Aires. Due to my plane being delayed at Heathrow, I landed late in Brasil and missed my connecting flight. With my lack of Portuguese and their confused faces when I spoke English or Spanish, I realised this would be my first struggle. I was sent across the airport being told it was my fault I had missed my connecting flight and that my suitcase was “perdida”.
I found my bags and persuaded the airport to give me a boarding pass to Buenos Aires and I messaged my boss to let him know what time I would arrive. We had arranged that I would meet my taxi, a man named Daniel, outside McDonalds. After finally landing, I searched the airport, yet when I asked where McDonald’s was, I was informed there wasn’t one… I met Daniel a couple of hours later, convinced airport security he wasn’t intending to kidnap me for money and eventually made it to Mercedes 7 hours later, Daniel in the front smoking like a chimney, shouting “hombre!” (and less polite phrases) at passers-by and beeping his horn every thirty seconds.
I spent an amazing week in Mercedes with thirty other students like me, before being sent off to my work placement up North. As missing my flight wasn’t enough, I had to, of course, miss my bus as well. We drove at very fast, definitely illegal speeds in a car whose seat belts seemed to have gone missing. I managed to make it in time to the next station before my bus left without me for the second time. Little did I know that I was about to spend over 38 hours on that bus.
At about 5 pm the following day we arrived at (what I can only describe as) an Argentinian version of “take a break”. I fled straight to the loos where I was attacked by the largest number of mosquitos I have ever seen and was joined in my cubicle by a small stray dog. I covered myself with the remains of my hand sanitizer and made my way to the restaurant.
There was no menu, you just had what you were given. I was very grateful for being given a free meal, even if it did look like Oliver Twist slop. It turned out later that it actually wasn’t free, I had just left without paying. Whoops. Facing me across the table was a Bolivian lady, aged around 50 at a guess. Just as I was about to tuck into my slop, she took out her teeth, put them in my glass of coca cola, gave them a swirl and left them to soak. I guess she didn’t need them to eat the slop. I continued hungrily on my journey and arrived the next day at 4:30 am in La Quiaca.