Blonds, be aware! Interview with Annika Kossack about her South-American experience. I am meeting Annika Kossack today, a long time college friend, to talk to her about her experience of going abroad for several months after high school. Although we have been friends for quite a while now, we never really got into the subject of her travels in South America. She first spend time in Argentina for a language course, and afterwards she did voluntary work for a NonGovernmental Organisation. Before starting another part of the language course she travelled for 1.5 months trough Bolivia, Chilli and Uruguay. After that she went back to Argentina to learn more Spanish and to finish her travels with voluntary work at a kindergarten in the slums of Rio De Janeiro. This interview seems like the perfect opportunity for me to hear more about this all and hopefully inspire you, our readers. What I am curious about most is how she came about the decision to go travelling. “It was a really spontaneous decision”, she tells me with a big smile on her face. “I did feel like going to university yet. There was also no special reason for going to South America, but I just signed up for a language course in Argentina”. However, the language school would be her first encounter with the Spanish language. “That created a bit of a cultural shock at first, as well as the life style, it is so different. For me it was the food in particular. I am raised as a typical German, with a hot lunch and a cold dinner, but in Argentina they had a hot lunch and a cold dinner, and dinner took place really late.” This can not have been the only difficulty you had to encounter? She nods, “In the beginning I really had to get used to the attention given to me because I am a blond, you get a lot of comments, mostly vial and cheesy ones called piropol. They use metaphors instead of the whistle we make in the West, and no matter how short the walk you would always get comments!” Now, Annika has travelled trough different countries in between the language schools and voluntary work, and she must have noticed differences. “Yes of course! While Argentina is supposedly very Western, I would disagree. It feels very South American still. However, the most South American would be Bolivia, that is really how you expect it to be. There is a very native culture and people dress traditionally. There are also very different economic standards and different infrastructure, that goes also for La Paz, a major city in Bolivia. On the other hand, Chilli was very Western in my opinion. The infrastructure is more modern than in Bolivia and people are more open towards Europeans. And although in Argentina Buenos Aries is very modern, as soon as you leave that city it turns into a very low developed country.”
Now, most young adults might just be travelling around and have some fun, Annika decided to also take up some voluntary work. How did she make that decision? “Well, I simply really wanted to. I already knew I wanted to study IR/IO, and I knew I wanted to do something what that. I felt it was time to think about others and working for the NGO was a great experience before starting my studies. Also, it was a great help for my Spanish. Working in the kindergarten really gave my Spanish a push, because as they say, children are the best teachers!” Seeing and experiencing all these cultures and new people, is there any memory that jumps out? For this question, she needed a bit more time to consider her answer. “A good memory was in La Pas, Bolivia, because it’s a different world. There was this hostel, that was known by mouth to mouth propaganda. I heard about it, and it was amazing. It was such a cheap hostel; 3 nights for 12 dollars with highest standards. You would have to share the bathroom with (only!) 5 people and there was a hairdryer which was really luxurious. There were all these things you would normally not have while travelling. And La pas is really high so you get drunk easily (laughing). Bolivia supposedly is the drugs country of South America and so a lot of Aussies and Kiwi’s come and go to these coke bars. It was like a movie, these bars where you could open weird doors. You would order a drink and he would automatically ask how much grams would you like. I don’t do drugs though but I enjoyed the whole weird/ cool experience.” For my final question I ask Annika if she would recommend her trip to anyone, and the short answer clearly shows how she looks back on her trip, “Yes, if I could, I would do again!”.