A gap year in Argentina - Stella and Carlos
Why did you want to volunteer in Argentina?
Stella: After traveling to South America in 2015 I found a place that I loved, a place that I knew I would someday return to. It was not so different from home but had so many subtle differences and a vibrant and exciting culture. As the memories of the trip began to fade and my eagerness to return with it I came across Lattitude and the opportunities offered to travel to so many amazing places. I remembered how much I loved those 3 weeks and longed to experience that adventure and these beautiful countries again. I also studied Spanish at school and didn’t want to waste the countless hours I put into learning the language just to forget it after I left school. The volunteering placements seemed a perfect platform for me to continue learning Spanish, revisit the country I loved and to adventure more! So long story short, and a lot of paperwork later, on the 7th of March 2018 I was off to Argentina.
Carlos: I knew I wanted to travel after leaving school, but I wanted to experience more than just the tourist sites of the country I visited. I wanted to feel immersed in the culture and get to know the people. Lattitude offered a perfect opportunity for me to do just that.
Tell us about where you are in Argentina:
Stella: Carlos and I live in a town called Lobos about 100km outside of Buenos Aires. I reckon Lobos is almost the definition of rural Argentina. Life here is relaxed. Dogs roam the streets and horses graze in the local park. Kids play football in the grass on the side of the roads and trade their world cup stickers. The boliche (night club) is an absolute highlight for the teens of Lobos where hundreds of people go to dance all night!
It’s a town of about 40,000 people but seems smaller because everyone knows everyone. Every time we go into town we see someone we know and the kids from the school always point us out to their parents, we feel like celebrities. Lobos is surrounded by countryside and many of the roads, even main ones are dirt. And yet all of this is only an hour and a half from the excitement and wonder of Buenos Aires or ‘la capital’ as it’s known here.
Lobos is very different from any town at home. All the house are made from concrete or brick and the roads are all one way. When you do your shopping you have to buy your meat from the ‘carnicería’, your chicken from the ‘pollería’, vegetables from the ‘verduría’ and the remaining things from the supermercado. The fact that almost every street is one way here also takes a bit of getting used to!
As a Lattitude volunteer, what do you do?
Stella: We work at a private school called Horizonte which has 2 campuses, one for the secondary school and one for the primary. The two couldn’t be more different. The primary school is out in the country and is the cutest little school and the secondary is in the town, inside a 3 story building. Both schools are small. The primary has about 150 kids from 6-11 years old and the Secondary only 60 kids from 12-17. We love the schools, the teachers are so friendly and honestly it feels like one big family. The little kids are always so excited to see you and I think we are about 15 different kids ‘best friends’ now. At the Primary school we always have to be prepared to be hugged by kids covered in dirt and paint, or to play a game of ‘mancha'(tag) and every time we walk into the dining hall to eat different kids call from every table for us to come sit with them. The students at the secondary are also friendly and often invite us to join them and their friends on the weekend for asados, burgers and fiestas.
The duties we perform depend very much on the teacher in charge of the class. At the Primary school we often take groups of students that are falling behind or need to catch up on their work and help them separately or work with kids that are excelling and ahead of the rest of the class. We also do a lot of crafts, helping the teachers with things they need cut out or stuck in. Sometimes we mark kids work, read stories to the class and occasionally take the lessons if the teacher needs to go somewhere. We usually have something to keep us busy at the primary. The secondary school can be a bit boring at times and sometimes it feels like you’re just another student however during extra curricular English, 3 times a week, we are often utilised more and take one group while the teacher takes the other. We have a lot of down time during the week.
We’ve also prepared and presented a number of presentations about our own country which is a lot of fun, both to the students at the secondary school as well as at a teachers college here in Lobos.
Are you living with a host family while you volunteer?
Stella: I have THE most lovely host family. With the mum, dad and 10 year old daughter. I have my own room in the house and we spend quite a lot of time together. We eat dinner together every night and play card games, they’re very patient with me learning Spanish. I’ve been so lucky as they’ve taken me to many different places around Argentina as well as a weekend trip to Uruguay.
How are you coping from being away from home?
Carlos: Just embrace it! Things are different but what do you expect? I came here to experience something different from what I was used to, so I didn’t really find it hard adjust to the differences. Don’t get me wrong though there will still be some struggles, I found the language barrier quite difficult when I first arrived and it is still one of the hardest parts of living here. Having other volunteers to talk to, who are often dealing with similar struggles to you is also very helpful.
Stella: Despite having such a lovely host family at times I do get quite homesick. The differences between here and home are inevitable, I mean you´re completely surrounded by a different language, it´s become the norm to not understand the conversations going on around you!
Getting stuck in and experiencing life here is really the best way to forget about it. Also to bring a little bit of home to your life sometimes helps, I always feel better if I go for a swim or a run because I’ve been doing that all my life! Carlos and I often talk about the things from home and what we miss, with a feeling of nostalgia but there are always amazing things to do and discover here too. I’ve had so many amazing moments and have built so many memories and relationships across the world!
What are your favorite moments as a volunteer in Argentina?
Carlos: There have been many memorable moments so far, many of which I might not have had if I had traveled in a more traditional fashion. Something that stands out was being gifted a mate cup (pronounced mar-te) and a River Plate shirt (one of two popular football teams from Buenos Aires) from local friends I have made here. It has also been a lot of fun sharing our own slang with Argentinian people, and I’ve discovered that a lot of words I thought to be standard english are in fact only used in at home.
Stella: It’s hard to determine a single best moment for me. So I’ll make a little list.
In the first week at the primary school one of the teachers asked me to come up the front and help with the lesson, when I walked up the front one kid(about 7 years old) came up and hugged me, then another joined in and another and before too long I had the entire 2nd year class all hugging me in a big group hug and I was backed up against the blackboard!
The other volunteers, Carlos and I visited Mar del Plata on Easter weekend and we brought the rugby ball. We decided to have a game of touch on the beach as the tide came in and we end up playing pretty much in the water as the sun set. It was so amazing to bring a little piece of home to Argentina.
I absolutely love meeting new people and making friends, one of my favorite moments was after we had burgers with some of my friends they brought out guitars and we had a little jam session.
Tell us about your personal development as a volunteer:
Carlos: I would say my biggest development so far has been how quickly I have been progressing with learning Spanish. If you want to learn a new language or improve on a language you studied at school, there is no better way to learn than by surrounding yourself with native speakers. I think I have also developed in other ways which I think is to be expected when you take on a challenge like this and take yourself out of your comfort zone.
What are you plans after your time as a Lattitude Volunteer?
Carlos: I am still considering options upon my return home, but I think that the things I’ve learned in my time volunteering here will help me with whatever I decide to do. It definitely sets me apart as it’s a more valuable and credible addition to my resume than if I were to travel solo.
Stella: I hope to study international relations at university and my volunteering experience will definitely help a lot with this. However who knows, I think what I’ve learnt so far is it’s very hard to plan your future so I’ll just take things one step at a time, because it’s better to have a flexible mindset- you never know what something is like until you try it. Whatever I do in the future I just know that I have to follow my passions because being happy is so important to me.
Why do you think other young Australians should volunteer with Lattitude on their gap year?
Stella: Lattitude placements offer an opportunity to discover the world without having to be all alone in doing so or too far out of your comfort zone. With the other volunteers you have a group of friends to travel with and being based in a county such as Argentina allows you to travel to other places in South America. There is always a new experience to be had and the best things in my opinion are that you get a true taste for life in a country, you meet some amazingly kind people and make so many friendships!
Carlos: Argentina is a beautiful country filled with amazing people and many incredible places to visit and explore. Lattitude gives you an opportunity to live within a community for an extended period of time and if that’s what you want to do then Lattitude is a great choice for you.
Stella: I’d like to pass on some advice. Don’t leave your laptop charger at home, it’s hard to charge your laptop without it, impossible really. And always kiss people on the cheek to the right, to avoid any awkward situations such a having a near miss with kissing the principal on the lips…