As I prepared to study abroad, I was warned about the many difficult transitions that I might face. I knew to expect culture shock, homesickness and difficulties caused by the language barrier so I made efforts to prepare myself mentally to face these challenges. However, for me, one of the most difficult adjustments that I’ve had make living in Buenos Aires had nothing to do with culture or language or distance from loved ones. But rather, that for the first time in my life I am living in a large metropolitan city and therefore have to figure out the craziness of public transportation.
I have never lived in a city with a big enough population to support a substantial bus system, much less a metro. The subte (metro) here in Buenos Aires is fairly easy to navigate, but it was still extremely intimidating to me at first — especially during high traffic times when we manage to fit more people in one subte car than I would have ever imagined possible. However, due to its more simplistic layout, I quickly learned to embrace the chaos and it was a huge confidence-builder when I began to be able to navigate it easily and use it regularly without fear and with confidence that I knew exactly where I was going.
The buses, by comparison, can be extremely confusing, as there are over 200 different routes and you have to know the city well enough to know when you want to get off or the bus will just keep on going. For my first month of living here in Buenos Aires, I let my fear of the bus system prevent me from going to events or places that were not accessible by other means of transportation. But eventually I got tired of letting my fear make me miss out on amazing opportunities and took my first solo bus ride to an event on the other side of the city.
Buenos Aires is a huge city and it is impossible to know every route, so the city has an app called “Cómo Llego” that works similarly to a GPS to tell you what bus to take, where to find it, and where to get off. However, you still have to know when you want to get off and there is no system announcing where you are. Therefore, I learned that I could follow myself on my downloaded Google Maps and know exactly when I need to get off. The bus system is still intimidating for me, but I am slowing learning more and more routes and, after getting over my initial fear, I have found that it is much easier than I originally thought.
The train is the last mode of public transportation that I have yet to completely figure out, but I took my first train ride last week. Now that I understand the system I look forward to the new places I can reach by taking the train!
The city is also filled with taxis, which are always my fall back if I’m not sure how to get some place and don’t have the time to figure out the public transportation — or if I don’t feel safe taking public transportation for some reason. But as taxis are significantly more expensive it has forced me to step outside of my comfort zone and fully embrace city life with all of the glories of public transportation.
Despite all of these amazing options for public transportation, I have found that one of my favorite things about living in Buenos Aires is its walkability! Now that spring is coming here (Pro tip: the seasons are the opposite of the United States) and it’s getting warmer, I have found myself skipping on public transportation when I’m going to relatively close locations and just walking instead. This has given me the opportunity to know the city better, window shop and discover lots of new restaurants and parks near my homestay.
After living here for almost 3 months now, I have come to view public transportation in Buenos Aires as a perk rather than a drawback. There are routes all over the city, it has forced me to step outside of my comfort zone, embrace the Buenos Aires lifestyle, and get to know this beautiful city even more!
This post was contributed by Megan Rodgers, who is studying abroad with AIFS in Buenos Aires, Argentina.