May 2011 issue

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The lure of Argentina and Chile

Sharing a 5,300km international border, geographical neighbours Argentina and Chile boast bold landscapes, friendly people and comprehensible Spanish. Nicola Hancox finds out why studying Spanish here is a winning formula.

Argentina is one of the more developed Latin American countries with a modern infrastructure, transport links and is relatively safe,” asserts Joanne Hurley, Sales Director of Expanish in Buenos Aires. “It is therefore a great place to experience Latin American culture whilst enjoying the benefits of a modern and developed culture.”

Based in the capital city, just one block away from the famous Plazo de Mayo, the main square, Hurley relates that the Expanish school recently moved to this “beautiful, recently refurbished listed building”. Here, she says, students are ideally placed, with iconic landmarks and great transport links to the rest of the city on their doorstep.

Like Hurley, Kai Peter Weers from Córdoba-based Pasantias Argentinas, an organisation specialising in volunteer work, internships and language acquisition, is eager to list the major benefits of studying Spanish in Argentina. As a year-round language learning destination (pleasant during any season), Weers says few nationalities require a visa, the Spanish spoken – and taught – is distinct yet clear and the cost of living extremely affordable.

Arriving from Germany to set up an exchange programme over 20 years ago, Weers recounts, “In 1991 almost no language schools or internship providers existed in Argentina. It was a great challenge to be one of the pioneers.” Having set up a language school division in 2006 to compliment its internship offerings, Pasantias Argentinas can now offer students the best of both worlds. After all, “social integration by working, by being part of something,” is a great way to involve oneself in the local community, enthuses Weers.

Coupled with geographical marvels in varying extremes – think luscious lakes, cooling glaciers, searing desert, snow-topped mountains and a 4,465km coastline – it is unsurprising Argentina has become a study traveller’s paradise and today schools offer out of classroom add-ons that are just as culturally immersive as the curriculum that they teach. Pasantias organises an array of weekend activities says Weers, including horse back riding, excursions to national parks, rafting in Mendoza, carnival in Gualeguaychu [a certified party town during carnival season], whale watching at Peninsula Valdés and trips to Iguazú waterfall – one of Argentina’s most powerful spectacles.

Students at Set-Idiomas, another Córdoba-based language school, benefit from tailored activity programmes and given the school’s close proximity to mountains, rivers and lakes activities like sailing, hang-gliding, mountain climbing and hiking are available.

“We have traditional as well as a number of unusual extra-curricular activities,” expounds Hurley. Students can cycle around Tigre (a town about 28km north of the city centre), take a guided tour of Buenos Aires’s vibrant graffiti scene or take lessons in Fileteado painting techniques. Plus, given their gregarious nature, Argentineans love to talk, making the whole language learning process fun rather than taxing, adds Hurley.

“Because we have been teaching Spanish to foreigners for more than 20 years, we have developed our own method [of teaching] with great success,” gushes María Florencia Castellano Terz at Code Servicio Linguistico in Buenos Aires. The school is centrally located in one of the city’s most colourful neighbourhoods, Barrio Norte, while Recoleta – an area of great historical and architectural importance – is just a few blocks away. The school periodically organises cultural tours within the city and the surrounding areas at “affordable prices”, notes Castellano Terz. Taking in a Tango show or visiting one of the city’s many museums provide “an opportunity to practise Spanish, make friends and learn a side of Buenos Aires not normally familiar to tourists” vouches their website. Mini tours out of the city are also available from Thursday to Sunday.

Like Expanish, Academia Buenos Aires is also located near Plaza de Mayo. In fact, affirms school Director and Owner, Federico Hoeser, the academy is quite literally “on it”. Founded in 2004, the branch is based on the top floor of a recently restored historical building and “offers the latest in modern infrastructure for the student”. Given the sheer scale of Argentina, Hoeser insists students take their time when exploring its landscape, climate and people. “You cannot possibly want to see a country the size of Argentina in two weeks. It takes five hours to fly from the north to the south!” A big fan of the endless Patagonian landscape, he notes that school staff are more than happy to share their experiences as to what and where students can journey to on weekend escapes. Local, organised activities are also available. “Tango is obviously a big thing in Buenos Aires and we encourage students to take classes at our local partner school which at US$7 for 90 minutes is really quite affordable,” says Hoeser.

Known as the land of sun and good wine, the region of Mendoza has become synonymous with viticulture and it is here Cristina Isenrath founded language school Intercultural. According to Claudia Lazo, Marketing Manager at the school, in 1994 there was not a school in the region that struck the perfect balance between country and city life; that was “big but not too big, and [boasted] an international ambiance with a human and traditional character”.

A bustling city with a laid-back feel, the city of Mendoza is in a region of foothills and high plains on the eastern side of the Andes. Consequently, adventure sports such as ski and snow boarding are popular pastimes, says Lazo and she recommends ski resorts Penitentes and Valle de Las Leñas in particular. March, meanwhile, is the perfect time for budding wine connoisseurs to visit, with the city uniting to celebrate all things grape. Lazo says, “For a week, all of Mendoza is in a festive mood: everybody enjoys the end of the grape harvest and the coronation of the wine harvest Queen.” A programme combining Spanish language tuition with the secrets of wine making is also part of their academic portfolio, she adds.

On the other side of the Andes lies neighbouring Chile, an “amazingly beautiful country with diverse ecological areas,” observes Valerie Wilcox, Marketing Director at Pichilemu Institute of Language Studies in Pichilemu on the Chilean coast. Setting up the school in 2005, she relates that while the capital, Santiago, is very modern, smaller towns (like where the school is based) have much to offer in the way of local culture, not to mention a more relaxed approach to life. She adds, “The people are humble, friendly and proud of their heritage, but worldly enough to want to converse with foreigners.” Typical excursions at the school include a hiking and wine tour in nearby Colchanga Valley and warm river swimming in the summer. “We have realised the dream of creating a quality school for both locals and foreigners in a relaxed seaside setting,” enthuses Wilcox.

Meanwhile, Instituto Chileno Norteamericano de Cultura (ICHN) – founded in 1938 – is based in the country’s capital, Santiago. Following a semester-long study abroad programme in 2006, the institute’s David Margolis decided to make this buzzing city his home. “The most attractive aspect of teaching international students at ICHN has to be the unique opportunity to learn about the local culture, lifestyles and norms,” he relates. “Although the classroom environment can be challenging, the experience of sharing with international students is one I will always value,” he adds.

Half an hour from the mountains, and half an hour from the coast, Santiago forms part of Chile’s central zone – a fertile and bountiful land, complete with snaking rivers originating from the snow capped summits of the Andes, says Margolis. Unable to recommend just one area students should visit during their study vacation, Margolis gives several. He cites the Atacama Desert, Easter Island, Chiloe Island and the Chilean Patagonia – islands, canals, fjords, icebergs and glaciers combine to make this one dramatic landscape to behold.

As well as organising trips outside of the city (visiting the hot thermal springs of the Andes or trekking to the glaciers at Morado are among some of the options), Steffan Meffert from Tandem Santiago relates the onus is on what students can do locally. Hosting a handy “interchange” every Thursday evening – where students and faculty members come together to share information about local activities and events – Meffert notes that this is the perfect place to find out about popular markets, theatres, bars and places of entertainment. After the meeting, everyone heads to a bar in Bellavista – a quaint neighbourhood known for its French influences in architecture, culture and feel. In addition, “On Wednesday’s we go to an art or political museum or to a typical handicraft market,” he says. Their Tandem lunch is also very popular among students. Held at a nearby restaurant, “Students can meet with others and learn about typical Chilean dishes”.

Agent viewpoint

“We are offering cultural stays only in Latin America and because I am actually from Argentina I like to promote my home country as a destination for Swiss students. Our clients choose Argentina because it is relatively safe and affordable with spectacular and diverse attractions like the Iguazú Waterfalls, the Glaciers, the Andes regions, Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. The variety of travel destinations within the country and the good infrastructure to go to all these wonderful places [is another benefit]. Also Argentina is a good starting point to visit neighbouring countries like Chile, Bolivia and Uruguay etc.”
Nicolas Barrera, Erlebe Lateinamerika, Switzerland/Argentina

“We offer South America as a study destination for US students. We work with various partners in South America but because Pasantias Argentinas offers an attractive package, our clients choose Argentina with them! They are attracted by good prices and quality programmes. They enjoy the Cordoba way of life, living with other international students, organised activities with our helpful and friendly partner! Argentina seems the favourite destination in Southern America but we have also a high interest for Chile, Peru and Costa Rica.”
Valerie Lecamus, CICD, USA

“We are currently working with five schools in Argentina and we are quite happy with the booking numbers. The main reason why students are travelling to Argentina for study purposes is the combination of travelling and studying plus dance classes. Students are attracted to travelling across the country, to the tropical areas in the north, trekking in the west and nature in the south, plus fun and culture in the capital.”
Philippe Zbinden, SRZ SKS SprachReiseZentrale, Switzerland

”Chile has the best conditions to receive Brazilian students. Its structure, culture and tourist attractions make it the first choice for our students. Students like the fact that they can combine study and high quality tourism. They also like the structure of the country and its natural beauty. They see Chile as a country that is very well structured and with many attractions.”
Carol Kokis, World Place Intercambio & Turismo, Brazil

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