On Sunday the 14th of July, 8 New Zealand students traveled from all over the country to meet at Auckland International Airport to embark on a trip of a lifetime.
As we touched down at sunset in Buenos Aires, excitement filled the air. Stepping out of the airport, we instantly realized the first difference between Argentina and New Zealand. Jumping from 4 to 44 million in population, we traveled down the 9 lane highway to our beautiful hotel in the region of Palermo. As we were craving to know more about the city we were staying in, we ventured on a walk around the city, grasping our bearings. Everything was different, the smells, the vibrancy of the city and the many many restaurants and bars that filled the streets. We were starting to realise why Buenos Aires was called the city that never sleeps.
On the first day, we met the four Argentine students who would be joining us for our business challenge. They were the critical link that allowed us to fully immerse in the Argentine culture and experience. The Argentina students were so important in allowing us to have a great time in Argentina and provided such valuable insight into the Argentinean market, politics, and economy, from a perspective that we could understand.
The next few days were intense. We had the privilege of going to nine different companies, all focused on a different sector in the Argentinian market. These sectors were sustainability, consultation, tourism, and technology. Every business visit we learned something new about the Argentine economy, political climate or other challenges and opportunities present in the rollercoaster nation that is Argentina. Learning about challenges such as exponential inflation rates and high rates of corruption really was a shock for us New Zealand students, who come from a place which possesses a stable and reliable economy.
It was incredible to see how welcoming and kind the Argentine people were. Every person we met was incredibly hospitable, and even in cases where a language barrier occurred, the Argentine people tried so incredibly hard so that we could understand what they were saying. I have so much respect for these individuals and so appreciative to every business that made us feel welcome during their very busy schedules.
Culture is one of the main differences between New Zealand and Argentina and is a very important part of the business that is conducted there. Every morning we would start our day with a language and culture class. At these lessons, we learned important Spanish sentences such as how to introduce ourselves and what the weather was like. As we were in a Spanish speaking environment, we got to use the words we had learned every day. After this trip, I definitely want to continue to learn Spanish! At the end of every day, we would experience a different cultural activity. We were privileged enough to have a tango lesson and learned all about the importance of dance in the Argentine culture. Tango, like football, is seen as strongly representative of the country's national identity, and most Argentinians take pride in their country's multicultural and multi-ethnic identity. It was definitely a bonding experience too as we got to show off our terrible dance skills to each other. We also had a cooking lesson, where we made learned how to fold and create empanadas, and make our very own Argentine biscuit, an alfajor. I can definitely say my diet last week was thrown out the window after tasting these delicious treats. At the cooking class, we also got to try Mate (pronounced Mah-teh), the national drink of Argentina. Mate is a type of tea, which is shared and handed around and becomes an enjoyable social ritual. It's safe to say we will be bringing Mate to NZ in the near future!
After all our business visits and cultural experiences, it was time for us to put everything we learned onto paper. In teams of three (2 NZ students and 1 Argentine student) we produced a market entrance strategy for a YES Alumni company and pitched it to 3 judges and an audience filled with Argentine entrepreneurs. Putting all our teachings onto paper was a challenge, but it really was an incredible way to finish our week and present what we had learned.
Throughout the last week, I have been completely exposed and immersed to a new culture, new economy and basically the opposite business environment to New Zealand. Argentina can be a very challenging place to conduct business. You have to be so courageous and to run a successful business you have to be adaptable. However, even with these economic and political challenges, there is a world of opportunity that awaits.
I have been struck by the pride and patriotism that the Argentine people have for their country. Despite the challenges that they face and the harsh business environment they experience, they never give up. I did not meet one person who didn’t have hope for the future of their country and they never let these challenges damper their perspective on their environment. I really feel like this is something New Zealand could learn from Argentina.
This trip and opportunity have given me a completely fresh and unique perspective. I can truthfully say that what I have learned and the people I have met will open so many doors for me in the future, and will be lifelong friends and connections. This unique, colourful, pulsing city has had an impact on all of us, and I have nothing by gratitude for the week I was privileged to spend in Argentina.
Mucho gracias to the YES team, The Latin America Cape of Asia Pacific Excellence, and Puentes Abroad for this experience.