Alumni Spotlight: Madison Purnell

Madison Purnell studied abroad with ISA in Buenos Aires, Argentina in Fall 2015 and was an ISA Global Ambassador at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Madison was so moved by her time abroad in Buenos Aires that she decided to teach English in Colombia before moving back to Argentina full-time. Madison shares how she moved back abroad and what she’s learned along the way. We reached out to Madison to learn more!

1. What was the most memorable experience from your semester in Buenos Aires?

My most memorable experience while studying abroad in Buenos Aires was going to the Brazil vs Argentina soccer game at the River Plate stadium. I learned all the soccer songs, wore my Argentina bucket hat, and had so much fun watching some of the best soccer players in the world play at a historic stadium.

2. What was it like living in a homestay? How did this impact your time abroad? 

Living in a homestay allowed me to get a deeper glimpse into real Argentine culture. I was able to practice my Spanish, eat traditional Argentine food, and learn about all sorts of museums, cultural sites, and great parts of the city that I wouldn’t have ventured to otherwise. It was so interesting to compare cultural differences when sharing experiences with my classmates. There were many occasions when someone would be telling a story about their homestay and you’d say, “Your host family does that, too?!” 

Argentina vs Brazil

3.   What inspired you to teach English abroad in Colombia? What was your favorite part about teaching abroad? 

After studying abroad, my personal goals and the trajectory I saw myself taking as an adult had completely changed. I decided that I wanted to be fluent in Spanish and to live long-term in Latin America. Because I already knew I loved Argentina, I thought it’d be a good idea to try out life in a new country, which was ultimately what led me to Colombia. I was placed on the Carribean coast in Colombia, which is wildly different from Buenos Aires. I loved the experience of learning new slang, immersing myself in a completely new culture, and getting to travel around such a beautiful country. Plus, my Spanish improved greatly working with Colombian students and faculty day in and day out.

4.    Did teaching in Colombia influence your decision to move back to Buenos Aires? 

Yes, 100%! After seeing life in Colombia and traveling around Peru and Ecuador after my semester ended, I realized that there really is no place like Buenos Aires. I’ve loved traveling and seeing new cities, but Buenos Aires just has such a special place in my heart. I returned to the U.S. for the holidays and within three months, had already booked my flight back to Buenos Aires. I had no solid plan; I found a work exchange where I cleaned toilets and showers at a hostel in exchange for a bed and was hoping to make friends, get a job, get my residency, find an apartment, and ultimately start a life in Buenos Aires. Within 5 months, I had achieved it all!


My family visited me in Colombia and got to meet one of my 9th grade classes!

5. What is your favorite part about living in Buenos Aires? What’s the most challenging? 

Buenos Aires is a vibrant, fun city filled with friendly people. In Argentina, life moves slower than it does in the U.S. and that was something I realized I needed after experiencing it during my study abroad. In the U.S., I felt overwhelmed by the constant competition and the societal pressures of overworking yourself to get ahead. In Argentina, people value their friends, family, hobbies, and free time much more than they value where you work, how much you make, or whether you’ve finished school yet. It’s an incredibly positive environment that I wouldn’t change for anything. The most challenging part of living in Buenos Aires is, of course, the economy. Argentina has been really struggling with inflation and the devaluation of the local currency for many years now and it’s something that is impossible to plan for. At the same time, it has shown me the true resilience of the Argentine people.

5.  What do you do for work? 

I work in Customer Support for a technology company based in Buenos Aires. They were able to help me gain temporary residency and have been a great source of friendships, Argentine slang, and asados.

Friends and I in Plaza de Mayo once I moved back to BA

6. What advice do you have for any students or professionals looking to work abroad? 

I recommend just buying a flight and taking the chance! In Latin America, many job opportunities will only show up once you’re already in the city. Try to connect with expat groups whenever possible, as they can help you out with immigrations paperwork, show you how to file taxes with a foreign income, let you know about jobs, and will hang out with you on Thanksgiving! Of course, meet as many locals as you can and put as much effort as possible into learning the local language. Friendships with locals is what will really help you put roots down in a city. I have so many Argentine families now that I could never leave!

Inspired by Madison’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in an abroad experience? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!

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