One in three foreign students studying in Buenos Aires is Colombian, making them the largest ethnic group studying here, beating Americans into second place (14%), while the French (7%) and the Venezuelans (6%) are in third and fourth position.
As the furthest country from Argentina in South America – a seven hour plane journey from Buenos Aires to the Colombian capital, Bogotá – many Colombians make a drastic lifestyle change to live far from home.
Karen Antorveza (23) studies Industrial Design and has been living in Buenos Aires since 2008.
She originally had a six-month scholarship at a university in Colombia, but importantly, when that expired, she had to pay fees of US€3000 per semester to study.
She chose to move to the Argentinian capital and study at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), a public university where education is free.
Colombia’s third-level education system works off a credit system, where students take out loans to pay university fees and begin paying the loans back one year after completion of their studies, while their public universities have limited places and stringent exams to earn “coupons” to study there.
“I didn’t want to have debts of $30,000 when I left university”, says the 23 year-old.
After two years in Buenos Aires, she transferred to a private university, the University of Business Adminstration, where she pays 1,600 Argentinian pesos ($311) per month. She points to the greater flexibility of class times, the availability of specialised tools for her course and the more support-friendly nature of the university as reasons for her change to private education in Buenos Aires.
“For the past two years, I’ve been self-sufficient here. I work and I study. Everyone I know in Colombia is dependent on their parents and I would be too if I was still there”.
Katherine Mora (22) moved to Buenos Aires in 2010 to study Political Science and her motivations for moving were numerous.
She had a relative who lived in the Argentine capital for many years and described it as “very open, very beautiful place”, which motivated her to read further into the city and eventually make the move.
“There’s a lot of students here, it’s a very cosmopolitan city and I had the chance to meet a lot of new people”, says the 22 year-old.
Like Antorveza, she points to the costs as a factor, but also the differing styles of teaching between where she currently studies, UBA, and at private university in Bogotá.
“In Colombia, it’s a lot more structured. You have your classes chosen for you and you have to read a certain amount by a certain time. It’s different at UBA. You have a range of topics you can choose to study, while if you want to read the material, you read it. I prefer the greater liberty you have here.”
Both Antorveza and Mora point to the cultural differences between Argentina under the left-wing administration of Christina Fernández de Kirchner and Colombia, whose education system – and more broadly, culturally – is heavily influenced by the United States.
“You have a culture in Colombia of everybody choosing to take out loans to go to the best universities or even buy the best cars and things like this. You don’t have the same attitude here”, points out Antorveza.
Both are highly respectful of the university education they receive in Buenos Aires, which is at least on a par, if not better, than that they would receive at a much higher cost in Colombia, while both hail the quality of life they have in the city.
“There’s something always happening in Buenos Aires. Bogotá is more go to work, go home, go to sleep, like this”, says Mora.
Their positive opinions back up a wider study recently commissioned by the Government of foreign students in Buenos Aires, where Colombians were the most complimentative of the city.
66% of Colombian students consider the cultural and tourist activities in the city excellent, 83% think the academic education is very good or outstanding, while 62% say the city is safer than their home in Colombia.
Colombians are quick to point out their experiences in Argentina aren’t the same as that of Peruvians, Bolivians or Paraguayans, who predominantly move to Buenos Aires as poor migrants in search of work, but there is an element of questioning why they are here.
“There’s something. I wouldn’t call it discrimination, that’s too strong of a word, but people reference Colombian narco trafficking quite a bit or question why we are studying here”, says Mora.
“Colombians are a big business in Buenos Aires. Unlike Paraguayans or Bolivians, we come here with our own money and spend a lot, whether it’s on apartments or other things. We are viewed differently”, adds Antorveza.
Both still long for their homeland though. Mora points out one of the main differences of living in Buenos Aires is the level of freedom, which also means you don’t get your mother’s cooking every Sunday.
While Antorveza used to go home two times a year, but this summer was the first she stayed in Buenos Aires.
“I feel I owe something to Colombia, so I would like to go back there to live, but I’ll go where my job takes me”.
Sentiments echoed by the Political Science student. “I want to go back but I love my career a lot. I always said ‘I will study and then go home’, but I have a life here and I like it here”.