Pia Von Beren - Program Coordinator
Originally from northern Germany, Pia became interested in other cultures as a teenager, following a high school exchange in Stockholm. She went on to study social science and business at Hamburg University, intern for an educational NGO in the Philippines, and travel extensively. A few years after graduating, she discovered Buenos Aires and decided to stay, travel, and look for a job. She started working as a program coordinator for Mente Argentina one and a half years ago.
You are originally from Germany. What compelled you to live in Buenos Aires?
I first came to Buenos Aires as a volunteer myself in 2012, accompanying a group of high school students on their way to their exchange adventure in Argentina. I immediately felt that Buenos Aires is a place where I could stay longer because of its interesting mix of European and Latin American culture, and the warm-hearted, sometimes crazy people I got to know. After finishing my bachelor’s and working for a few months, I decided to come back and try my luck. Successfully, so far!
Describe your role at Mente Argentina. What does a typical day of work look like for you?
In Argentina, things do usually start a bit later than in other places and so does the working day at Mente. As a program coordinator, I am responsible for the communication with our participants in Buenos Aires, and making sure all programs work smoothly and everybody is having a good time. I organize check-ins and check-outs, events and activities, help people to settle in the city and spend a lot of time communicating with participants and partners. My days usually consist of many e-mails, meet ups with Mente students, and a whole bunch of different projects and tasks which differ from day to day. Every day at Mente is different!
How do you use your own experience as an international student and intern in both Sweden and the Philippines in your current role?
My own experience abroad definitely helps me to understand the participant’s needs and enables me to put myself in their position. It also makes it easier to be aware of different cultural backgrounds and customs, and help the participants understand Argentine culture. Being a foreigner in Argentina myself, I also know perfectly how it feels to be new in the city and have to learn how to get around!
In your opinion, why is studying a second language important in today’s world?
Learning other languages gives you an incredible opportunity to communicate with people from other parts of the world, and changes the way we perceive things.
While it is definitely enriching for your CV and gives you better job opportunities, especially in the international field, for me personally the most important part is to get to know other cultures and ways of thinking, and be able to learn about other countries and people.
What makes Argentina such a great place to study abroad?
Argentina is the gateway of South America and offers an incredibly interesting mix of European and Latin American culture, great nature, and amazing people! The country offers stunning landscapes (the impressive Iguazu Falls, the dry and extremely pretty North, the rough and wild Patagonia, and the highest mountains in the Andes!), a very rich cultural life and the best education in South America. Buenos Aires is a very pretty, modern, and cosmopolitan city with historic charm, and it is very easy to get around. Plus that there is a variety of things to do in the city.
Buenos AIres is the perfect mix of great lifestyle, endless travel opportunities, and the best options to study and learn.
What makes Mente Argentina stand out from other volunteer and study abroad program providers?
Mente Argentina offers very personalized immersion programs and a high quality service, working very closely with participants. Our programs are tailor made, and adapted to the participant’s needs so that they fit all interests, lifestyles, and backgrounds. We also offer a huge amount of programs and program combinations, plus different social activities and events which make the experience very social and fun. We are based on site in Buenos Aires and always there to help if needed.
What is your best piece of advice to anyone wanting to make the most out of their program abroad?
Going abroad can be very exciting, enriching, and challenging! Not everything works as expected: you are constantly meeting new people and experiencing unknown situations. My personal advice is to be open minded, try to go with the flow, ask a lot of questions in order to learn and understand, and let others know when you need assistance.
You can make new friends and learn so much more than back home if you dare to jump in the deep end, smile, and say yes to new adventures!
How do you prepare participants for potential culture shock? How do you help participants adapt to life in Argentina?
Mente Argentina meets the needs of every participant individually and keeps in touch with all future participants by e-mail, phone, and in person. In our welcome orientation we go through all program and practical information, and discuss how to get around in Buenos Aires, and what is important to have in mind. The participant also receives a welcome guide, with a complete introduction to life in Buenos Aires, and the contacts of all coordinators. In case they need support, we are always there, and we also catch up with everybody regularly, to make sure they are fine and see if they need anything. The Mente Argentina events where students get to know each other and learn about Buenos Aires and Argentina are also an important part of their cultural immersion.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I really enjoy being able to help our participants discover Buenos Aires, learn about local culture and customs, share tips and advice, and see how they slowly adapt to the Argentine lifestyle and become more confident! Seeing how a program abroad can make people learn and change is a very nice experience. Besides being able to help others, I also love that my job constantly teaches me about other people and their cultures and makes me grow personally. Lifelong learning is something I highly value and Mente Argentina gives me the option to be part of it.