Buenos Aires: First impressions
Hi, my name is Simeon and I am a third year economics student originally from Bulgaria. I have been sent by the Careers Network on an 8 week internship to Buenos Aires, Argentina, as a part of the Global Challenge programme. There will be two of us, my colleague Harriet will arrive tomorrow and together we will be working in the procurement division of GlaxoSmithKline, a large pharmaceutical company. I have been here for almost a week now and will share with you my first experiences.
From the start it was clear this would be an exciting affair. At gate A22, Heathrow terminal 5, there was a large TV screen and as I waited for my flight a vast crowd of people amassed to watch Holland versus Spain. This was the first very high profile game of the 2014 football world cup, with equally matched opponents and very high stakes. During the game I met a whole bunch of interesting characters, all united by their love of football. Among those I spoke to a half Iranian half Swedish economics student from Aberdeen and a man from Cameroon, who had lived his entire life in Portugal but had recently moved to the UK to work and got a job in the duty free perfume shop. I also spoke to what I could only guess was a Bollywood celebrity, as our conversations were frequently interrupted by Asian women asking for pictures and photographs. We all watched in shock as the world champions suffered a humiliating 5-1 defeat. A security guard went ecstatic when he found out the score – he had bet 100 pound on Holland and the odds were 12 to 1.
The flight went incredibly smoothly. I strategically waited and checked in late and got three whole seats to myself. I spent the majority of the flight asleep and thus suffered no jet lag whatsoever on arrival. Security was a long and dull affair, rules are slightly different in Argentina and customs check people’s luggage once more, although it’s more of a bureaucratic routine than anything else. I was met by a driver who had been hired by GSK to take me home. We spent a nice half hour driving to the house and I got my first glimpses of the city. It truly is massive and diverse – wide boulevards, shantytowns, high rises, fountains, statues, monuments, you name it!
When we arrived at the flat I was greeted by Martin, a local journalist with whom I´d be sharing the house for the first week. He made a duplicate key, lent me some money and pretty much disappeared, I haven´t seen much of him since. The first day I spent walking around the neighborhood with a newly bought map, getting a feel for the place. We live in Palermo, one of the nicest parts of town, which has a very European feel to it: leafy streets, shops and corner cafes, early 20th century houses and flats. What immediately struck me was how long the streets were – even ours, a two lane, one way street went up to number 3400!
When it comes to food, it is a lot more expensive than I initially thought it would be. Your best bet are the ´Chinos´, small shops ran by immigrants, which are cheaper and well stocked. Fruit tastes great and there are hundreds of small fruit and veg stores littered across the streets. Meat is best bought from local butchers, I have been told to avoid large overpriced supermarkets. Pork is rare, beef abundant. There are also numerous cafes, bakeries and restaurants to tempt curious foreigners and hungry locals alike.
As for public transport, a ride costs about 30 pence in UK terms. You pay in cash or if you want to save a LOT of money and not carry a million coins around, get a rechargeable SUBE card, which works in all modes of transport. The metro system is fast, simple and efficient. The buses are a whole different story. For example to get to work, I take metro line D for 8 stops – easy. Then I need to change for bus 60 and that’s where it gets complicated. The 60 has about 7 different versions, which all look EXACTLY the same, apart from a small neon sign in the bottom left corner on the windscreen, which tells you where it passes through and where it ends up. Even the locals get confused and ask the driver where exactly he plans on going. Buses also don’t always stop, especially if they are empty (you have to wave to the driver) and when they are packed the policy seems to be that there is always room for one more, even if that means speeding down a highway with a door or two open. So far I´ve made it to work in one piece without any hitches.
The first week of work has been quite slow, as they are still sorting out the details of what exactly we will be doing. It will revolve around creating an e-catalogue to ensure faster, more efficient and easier purchases of necessary goods. This will build on the work done by the previous global challenge intern in Costa Rica. I think things will pick up when Harriet comes and we will be given the specifics of the project. Colleagues are friendly and relaxed, lunches tend to be long and coffee breaks frequent. My boss is extremely helpful, approachable and kind, while at the same time managing a million things and people with ease. He speaks only Spanish to me, which although difficult, is valuable and pushes me to learn and improve.
Which leads nicely onto to my next point – the language. I have only taken weekly 90 minute classes at university and a couple of private lessons back home, so I am far from fluent. This was one of my biggest concerns before coming. It has proven largely unfounded, as I am able to do everyday things like shopping, getting lost and asking for directions and holding conversation more or less with ease. My success does depend however on how heavy the accent of the local who´s company I´m in. At work I am quite comfortable with the older employees, but the younger interns tend to swallow whole syllables and I find them hard to understand. A completely different affair is the ‘encargado´- the janitor of our apartment block. He is a man in his sixties, serious and to the point, with a brisk walk and heavy moustache. And I have no idea what he says. Even a simple conversation about taking out the trash turns into a flurry of 12 different languages and a million hand gestures. Despite this, I feel like I am already improving and am much more confident speaking Spanish.
In essence it has been an extremely fast-paced and fun first week. I look forward to Harriet´s arrival and we will go explore the city properly over the weekend. What I’ve seen so far has been a hectic, but beautiful mix of grandiose architecture. I already feel at home and can´t wait for the next few weeks. I’ll start taking pictures too and make the next blog entry a more visual affair.