MC: I set up the company in 2007 in Cordoba City in Argentina after some experiences abroad: I worked in Barcelona, in Germany and many places.
The PIE: Who did you work for?
MC: I worked for Tandem International, it was an association language schools, and before then a company called Coined in Argentina from 1999 until 2002. And then I set up the company in 2007 in Argentina. I went back to Cordoba city and I set up an agency and also as a company that we are also receiving students on incoming programmes for specialised high schools.
The PIE: So were you outsourcing the high school placement to another company or were you organising the placement as well?
MC: Yes, we were organising the placements and everything. We worked together with partners abroad, they sent us students mostly from Germany, the Nordic countries, the US, Brazil – and fortunately Argentina is a good country to develop this kind of partnership, with long-term programmes. It’s similar to the J-1 programme in the US.
The PIE: And where do they tend to come from?
MC: Mostly they come from Germany, then we have a good proportion from Scandanavian countries – Finland, Sweden, Norway and a few from Denmark, then a good portion from Brazil, too.
The PIE: And why do you think they all want to come and study in Argentina?
MC: Because they have already studied Spanish and they don’t want to go to Spain now, they would prefer to go to Spain later to study on Erasmus or on a university programme, so they try to go first to Argentina and have an experience far away from their country, it’s an adventure and a life changing experience.
The country is attractive, and the landscape and the climate. They go for one year so they’re not going to miss a year of school – they get a certificate, it’s valid. They learn Spanish very quickly at that age, that’s an advantage.
“And they’re learning for a lifetime; they never forget it because they’re so young”
And they’re learning for a lifetime; they never forget it because they’re so young. But mostly it’s the nature that attracts them; the language, Spanish; and there’s a concept that the Argentinian people are friendly, they will always do something extra for them, they have a lot of patience. Maybe a lot of other countries that are crowded by tourists, maybe already used to having many people from abroad, but in Argentina people are very open to tourists.
The PIE: Who are your partners likely to be?
MC: Some agencies – for example, in Germany, Experiment in International Living, Euro Vacances… And in Brazil we have a partnership with a scholarship programme called Ganhe o Mundo, it means ‘win the world’.
It’s a scholarship programme founded by the Pernambuco state in the North of Brazil, they send 700 high school students abroad, students who don’t have the means to do these kind of programmes which are kind of expensive for South Americans. The government has assigned 100 to Argentina and trusted us to [manage] them; we had 200 students this year.
The PIE: All were government sponsored?
MC: Yes. It’s a wonderful programme that the state of Pernambuco is doing. It was created by the governor of Pernambuco, Eduardo Campos. He was a visionary man but unfortunately he had an accident this year and died in a plane crash. He was a candidate for the Presidency, so now there is a big discussion because he was a strong candidate, and it would have been wonderful for the international education market if he became President.
If he had that would have been wonderful for language travel, because he wanted to do this for the whole of Brazil.
The PIE: Really! Do you do outbound placements too?
MC: Yes, we also do outbound. The Argentinian students are encouraged to do the same, because they see so many foreigners and now we are trying to send high schools students for language courses abroad. So we are also opening hopefully a programme with scholarships in Argentina, that’s what we want to do. It will be the opposite, but not only to Brazil.
The PIE: A government-funded scholarship scheme?
MC: In Argentina it works differently, so it will be funded more by individuals or companies who want to help young people who don’t have the means to pay.
The PIE: And that’s something you’re trying to develop?
MC: Yes. We’re trying to develop that in the whole region, the cental region of Argentina near Cordoba city. We’re almost there. This is really new so it’s not signed yet but we are hoping to send 100 Argentinian students divided into groups to different locations. Argentina’s still a small market in language travel but we’re trying to make it grow with the help of companies, the government.
“It’s a wonderful programme that the state of Pernambuco is doing”
The PIE: So at the moment most of your business is inbound?
MC: Yes, but the outbound department is growing so every year there are more students.
The PIE: How many do you send at the moment?
MC: About 60 to different countries. Our projection is we’ll have maybe 300 in two years.
The PIE: And what about inbound numbers?
MC: About 280 this year – it was a big growth, because two years ago we had only 25, 30 students.
The PIE: And that’s because of the Pernambuco scholarship?
MC: Yes, mostly. It grew a little bit from the European countries but mostly it was Brazil.
The PIE: LearnChile is promoting study in Chile and there are national brand efforts in Colombia. Are there any efforts that you’re aware of to try and brand Argentina as a study destination?
MC: No, unfortunately not. I see some language schools trying to get together, they do a congress in Buenos Aires called SEA. But they haven’t yet developed as much as in Chile and Colombia the destination of Argentina. They invite educators and agents from abroad to the congress, but it’s mostly very academic and from a marketing point of view, it’s not quite as we would wish.
But we are hoping – I was talking to a colleague yesterday about that and something we want, but for Argentina I think we need a couple of years. Chile’s more advanced than Colombia in this, not to mention Brazil.