What does it mean to participate in the IBO? Story 3.

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Lei Sun went to IBO 2006 in Argentina from Sweden and won a silver. Below she shares her story.

I went to Argentina in 2006. The overall arrangement was so bad that it was still brought up many years later. Then again one can say it set a good example of cautionary tale so it’s unlikely to be as bad ever again. Anyway here’s my story for your comical relief.

Our entire trip got wrong before it even started. The competition was held in Rio Cuarto, an Argentinian city near Cordoba. But to travel there we had to first fly from Stockholm to Paris, then to Buenos Aires, changing flight to Santiago in Chile before flying back again to Cordoba in Argentina. We had to take such detour since we couldn’t find flight to Cordoba from the same airport where we landed and we didn’t want to travel through the city.

Once we arrived it turned out our hotel reservation got messed up. We were given keys to an already occupied room. After this was fixed we stayed for one night until the buses picked us up and took us to Rio Cuarto. The supervisors checked in at various hotels in downtown Rio Cuarto while students were placed in a building in a very remote area next to a lake. The closest civilization was a village that took us 30 min to walk to. And this building, some of us students joked about how much it looked like a mental asylum. By dinner time we were served some pasta with the famous Argentinian beef. The only problem was, the food wasn’t enough. Quite a few of us had to sleep on half-full stomach. The portion size eventually improved but was still barely enough for most.

Another huge problem we faced was time management. For a person used to Nordic punctuality it was a huge shock. The opening ceremony was scheduled to begin at 10am but really started at 1pm. Lunch was scheduled to be at 12pm after the ceremony. By the time we got food it was 3pm in the afternoon. I dunno about the others but when I sat at the ceremony waiting for it to finish I felt starved, jet-lagged and very miserable. Dinner was similarly postponed until very late in the evening, occasionally almost midnight. It was strange because the delay was definitely not due to too many scheduled activities: the organizers didn’t seem to know how to deal with us (Rio Cuarto is not known for being touristy) so they simply put us on buses and had them drive in circles before arriving at every destination. Back then I was a teenager who’d easily get stressed. All these inconveniences made me sleep very badly and many students including me got sick in the Argentinian winter.

After the exams were written we finally met our team supervisors. They had it better than us but totally understood our situation. They told us a teacher from another team even joked about the 5-star hotel he got placed at should have a minus sign in front of the 5. Needless to say the biggest relief for us was when the IBO was officially over and we could find hotels to sleep properly and eat enough at restaurants we choose.

The return trip was another mess. We had to fly back the same way we came. Due to bad weather between Cordoba and Santiago we missed our flight from Buenos Aires to Paris. The airline suggested that we wait for one week in the city. We decided to fly to Santiago first and figure it out from there. This is when I hit a bamboo ceiling: since I was still using a Chinese passport, I was allowed a very limited time in transit at Santiago airport (24 hours or something). This means I couldn’t fly together with the others since I risk overstaying my transit. One of the teachers stayed behind to fly with me in the evening while everyone else left with a morning flight. And did I tell you being on the receiving end of the discriminatory policy totally sucks and make you feel unworthy as a human being? In Santiago we decided to fly next morning to Bogota in Columbia and then Paris, before finally getting back to Stockholm. So there goes my first night spent at the airport! In Bogota I was almost questioned by a fully armed police in camouflage uniform before my Swedish teacher said I’m with them (white privilege much?). By the time I arrived home to my parents I lost 5 kg and spent 1 week to recover from the cold.

This was a crazy trip that looked like something from a dark comedy film. I’m glad I survived and I don’t regret it. I enjoyed being in the company of so many other bright students and the trip gave me many stories to tell. I met my old team supervisors again in 2013 when they came to Switzerland for IBO. They told me the whole organization was still making jokes about Argentina!