Why you should choose South America over Spain for your year abroad
Michael Yeates is doing Hispanic Studies at the University of Liverpool and spent 6 months of his year abroad teaching English in Argentina with a company called Colonias de Inmersión al Idioma and a further 6 months studying at PUC Rio in Brazil, where he blogged about his adventures. Travel opportunities, host families, cost of living... here's why you should choose South America over Spain for your year abroad.
"It is very dangerous". "It is so expensive". "It is so far away from home". These are just some of the concerns that people have when you mention South America as a possible Year Abroad destination. While I will stop short of completely dismissing these concerns, my aim will be to provide an accurate representation of what it is really like to spend just over a year in South America.
The idea that South America is highly dangerous is very much a myth. Our parents grew up with Military Juntas and drug lords running riot across the continent and this image remains fixed in their minds. People get mugged in Rio de Janeiro but people also get mugged in London. Once in a while someone will go into a local shop with a gun and demand that the cashier empty its contents... I have seen this on the news in Buenos Aires but I have also read about it happening on my estate in Milton Keynes. The point that I am making is that crimes can take place anywhere in the world so do not live your life in fear of what may or may not happen.
There were times when I felt a little uncomfortable but in a foreign environment this is perfectly natural. As well as living in Argentina and Brazil I visited many other countries throughout the year and I always felt very welcome. My advice would be to talk to people who have actually experienced living or being in South America before you dismiss it as an option for your Year Abroad.
For an easyJet flight to Spain you can pay about £30 if you get a cracking deal. The cheapest flight you will get to Buenos Aires will not be much below £400. So immediately, you are thinking of all the Sangria that you can drink with the £370 differential. By the time you have paid six months rent in Madrid that Sangria filled hot tub looks more like an egg cup. Add to that European prices for food and drink, and the prospect of 50p Steaks (of high quality I might add) in Rio's supermarkets looks very appealing.
By staying with families in Argentina I did not pay a penny of rent or food money during the first six months of my Year Abroad. This meant that I had a lot of money to travel and therefore enhanced my overall experience. The cost of living is so much cheaper throughout South America, that the difference in flight price will be swallowed up in no time. meaning that going to South America is actually far cheaper than anywhere in Europe.
Wherever you choose to spend your Year Abroad, (be it Porto, Berlin, Nice, Valencia or Lima) I cannot recommend living with a family strongly enough. It not only does wonders for your bank account, but also your language skills, so it is definitely something to consider.
South America is a long way from home. That is a fact. You can't just pop home for the weekend, and I spent over 13 months without seeing my Grandparents or tasting proper milk. But Skype is a wonderful thing and I learned to tolerate a downgrade in cereal quality.
I am close to my family but the thing about your Year Abroad is that it is an opportunity for you to live by yourself, to explore the world, to be truly independent. There are times that you miss things from home but you also learn to appreciate them more on your return. If you want to go home every other weekend then perhaps a Year Abroad is not for you, but if you only have slight reservations about the distance then my advice would be to take the plunge and just go for it.
Life is short and by spending a year in South America I learnt more than I had in the previous 20 combined. The Year will whizz past at astronomical speed and you will be left with memories, friendships and experiences that will define your future. Wherever you end up you will have a wonderful year... but go to South America, because it will be the best decision of your life.