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Global Co-op from Israel to Argentina

January 11, 2017

About Me

Laura Blumenfeld is a 4th year Civil Engineering student with a minor in Urban Studies. With a passion for exploring, traveling and learning new things, she has seized as many opportunities as possible to get out into the world by taking part of Northeastern’s Dialogues of Civilizations, research grants, study abroad and co-op abroad. She spent this past year studying abroad in Israel at the Technion and then moved on to complete her second co-op in Buenos Aires, Argentina with a bit of traveling (to Europe and within South America) in the middle. When in Boston, she is involved on campus with a variety of things including the Playground Project: INDIGO, a project that hopes to bring inclusive play to Boston’s playgrounds, Hillel and the Institute of Transportation Engineers among others. On the weekends or her free time, Laura loves getting together with friends to cook dinner, play intramural volleyball, or explore the city. 

Global Co-op from Israel to Argentina

Embarking on my journey abroad in January, I knew that I wanted to spend the year immersed in cultures that would help me grow and have a greater global perspective. While on my semester abroad in Israel, I was applying to co-ops and was trying to find an opportunity to work in a Spanish-speaking country to develop my Spanish in a professional way since it is my first language but having moved at a young age to South Florida, I only had developed the language socially. One of the places I really wanted to live and work in was Argentina, a place I consider home and where most of my family lives currently. After months of searching and applying to many opportunities, my international co-op advisor connected me to a Northeastern graduate who works at a civil engineering firm in Buenos Aires that was looking for a co-op student. It couldn’t have been a more perfect match!

AC&A is a small firm that does everything from architectural design, construction management/inspection and even urban planning that focuses on transportation projects throughout Central and South America. During my first weeks, I started an independent research project on how drones can help with inspections in construction sites of construction to track progress and as a method of showing clients the advancements in a more interactive way. The company already owns an unmanned vehicle so they wanted to investigate its potential uses and how to utilize it in a variety of projects. Apart from researching this topic, I was involved in the bidding process for a large transportation project in the city of Buenos Aires that will connect two highways with the hopes of improving traffic flow and separating heavy from light traffic in the congested downtown area. Comparable to the “Big Dig” in Boston, but in a much smaller scale, the project hopes to have light traffic on street-level and heavy traffic (mostly consisting of trucks on their way to the port) under a series of tunnels and parks, which will also unify a separated neighborhood back to the city. After lots of hard work and collaborations with a partnering Spanish company, we won the bid for a section of the project- making this one of the largest public projects that AC&A has won.

Being able to participate and experience the whole roller coaster of the process for this project made me truly understand how Argentina works politically and professionally. The processes were a bit different that I was used to from experiences in my first co-op at HDR in Boston, but there were also global similarities with presentations and the relationships with governmental organizations and transportation agencies. I learned a lot about how inspections work and the relationships between the contractors and construction management and even developed an internal site where communications can occur through technology rather than through stacks of paper in the hopes that the industry will move towards this in the near future. I feel very fortunate to have had this experience in a country I already considered home and now I feel more a part of. The amazing team that I had the chance to work with and get to know was also an added bonus. They welcomed me with open arms, sharing mate and sometimes pastries every morning between our open layout desks and eating lunch all together around the dining room table.

Outside of life in the office, I had lots of time to spend with my family that lives here which was one of the biggest reasons I wanted to work in Buenos Aires. I took advantage of every moment I had to try to meet up for meriendas usually involving some delicious café con leche and medialunas (the Argentinian take on a croissant) with my cousins or friends after work or eat dinner with my grandparents or uncles. On the weekends, the city is filled with artisans selling their creations at markets, which I love, and people taking advantage of the many parks outside with bikes or picnics on the grass which was beautiful as we approached the summertime in December (we are on the southern hemisphere after all..). I even took some weekends to travel to visit some friends in Santiago de Chile, Iguazu Falls and Bariloche which were all absolutely incredible!

My international co-op experience was in a way coming back to where I am originally from and understanding the country and the culture with a different perspective. Having been able to have a routine and responsibilities after being used to just coming back to visit was an unbeatable experience. I really appreciate that I was able to have this opportunity to live the Argentinian lifestyle that I’m used to and throughout my time here everyone welcomed me with open arms, it was definitely a great end to my year of travelling abroad!