Why did you decide to volunteer with Projects Abroad in Argentina?
Emily: I chose to volunteer with Projects Abroad because they offered a wide of programs in countries all around the world. Their programs allow students to gain volunteer experience while still in high school and stay in the home a local during their trips. I had been to Europe a few times and wanted to go somewhere different, they offer programs in Africa, Asia, and South America.
I had also been studying Spanish for several years and thought this was the perfect opportunity to put my skills to the test, Projects Abroad has several offices in Spanish-speaking countries. Argentina, being South American with a program offering to teach me Spanish, seemed to be the perfect place.
What made this experience unique and special?
Emily: This experience was so fantastic because it brought people from all over the world together to volunteer to become a part of Cordoba. Everything from taking the bus on our own every day, to living with an Argentinean family, to going out for meals in the city on our own, to everything that integrated us into the culture, language, and feel of Cordoba.
By the end of two weeks, I knew how to find my way around the city, where to find a good bakery, where to buy Coca-Cola on my way home from the bus stop, and how to ride the bus from place to place and signal it for when I needed to get off. Cordoba had become my home, and the people there had become my family.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Emily: This experience has definitely influenced my future for the better. After spending time in Cordoba, I want to make it a priority to return there and stay for longer, whether it be to study or just to live and continue to experience the culture. I have made friends in the other volunteers that will last and been accepted into a family that I must return to visit one day. My Spanish has improved of course, and my trip has ignited my love of travel, someday I hope to have a career that allows me to travel the world, experiencing the cultures of many other people and finding new places to love and call home.
Morning: Each morning my roommate, Sammy, and I woke up early, around 7 AM. We would get dressed and eat a light breakfast- as is Argentinean style- which would usually consist of a hot drink like tea or hot chocolate and bread with jam or dulce de leche. We then walked two blocks from our home to the bus station on the main street. By this time of morning most people would be on their way to work or school, making the bus crowded. The ride to the Projects Abroad office took about ten minutes along the main street in town.
At the office we had our Spanish lessons from 9 until 12. Our lessons were divided into classes based on proficiency- determined on the first day by an evaluation. Each class was taught by an Argentinean teacher with whom we played games, learned colloquial grammar and vocabulary of Cordoba, even went on a field trip to a nearby cafe to practice our conversational Spanish skills.
Afternoon: Each afternoon after Spanish lessons, Sammy and I liked to walk home instead of taking the bus, it was a scenic route and a nice way to see the city, Most days we stopped along the way at an authentic Argentinean bakery, filling our bags with chocolate alfajores, sweet bread, and the best kinds of baked goods.
When we arrived back at our home, we would spend time with our little "sisters" the two daughters living in the house we stayed at, playing games with them. The maid who worked in their home would make lunch at around two in the afternoon, consistent with the late meal times of Argentina. Lunch was usually the same type of food as dinner, maybe some leftovers from the night before, pasta, soup, things like that. After lunch, Sammy and I would walk back to the bus stop, this time taking the bus to our placement, a children's orphanage. There we worked from four to eight, mostly entertaining kids as they returned home from school before it was time for dinner. None of the children really spoke any English, but it wasn't too difficult to communicate, and when it was, we had our bilingual Projects Abroad coordinator with us. Mostly though, if we threw them a ball, they knew to catch it, if they tried to take it away from us, we knew to keep it away. Things like that, pretty simple, but I really loved my time with them, and I think they did too.
Evening: After work, we rode the bus home where our family was back from work and the house was warm and loud with people all making dinner, spending time together. Some nights we helped with dinner, like folding empanadas or cutting up vegetables, other nights we set the table and made lemonade to drink. Dinner could last anywhere from two hours to five hours to all night long, and usually consisted of some sort of main dish like polenta or pasta or empanadas with a side of bread- always- and vegetables or salad.
When the meal was over, the conversation continued, those Argentina folk always have new stories to tell! They kept Sammy and I included too, by asking questions and speaking slowly when we needed it. Later on, dessert would come out, something like arroz con leche or ice cream. Finally when it was well into the night, we all headed off to bed.
Highlights: The highlight of my trip is such a hard thing to pick out, because all of it was so amazing. But one memory I have is a simple night, nothing too special, but for me it's one of the best. One night, during the first week of our trip, eight of us volunteers decided to go out for dinner in downtown together. It was out of our element for all of us, having so much independence to make the bus ride through town at night with no supervision. It happened to be Argentina's national Friend Day, a big holiday where everyone gets together with friends to show each other how much they care about one another. Unfortunately for us, this meant that all the restaurants were booked full of reservations, appalled that we that we thought we could find a place to eat that night with no reservation.
After an hour of wandering through the streets, we found a restaurant. There we sat down for our meal, devouring the food and the Spanish. We all had such a fun time together that night, and yet we hadn't really known one another before we went out, it was amazing how quickly we bonded seeming like we had known each for years not just a couple days. After dinner we took a walk along the river on our way back to the bus stop, and took the bus home.