Why did you decide to take a gap year in Argentina?
I decided to volunteer so that I could take a breath and learn more about the world before moving forward in academic education. I studied Spanish in high school – and quite simply fell in love with the language. My Spanish teacher lived in Argentina for a year, and his passion for the people and the country rubbed off on me a bit, I think.
In 2016 I came to Argentina for 3 weeks as a part of a school trip, and the atmosphere of this country really sucked me in – it compelled me to figure out how I could spend more time here learning about the language, culture, history and people. It’s so different to home – it’s crazy and beautiful and a whole new eye-opening experience.
Can you describe your town, and your placement?
I live in a small city in the Northern Patagonia called Cipolletti. Here, I help with English classes in the home of our local representative. The majority of my work on placement is at this school – where I generally help with multiple different groups of kids aged 9-16. Sometimes we help with adult English classes too. It’s nice to have a wide range of ages to work with, because we get different questions, different jokes, and different experiences depending on the age of the pupils. Having such a diverse range of people to teach is a really unique experience, and I love it.
About 10km down the road, or 15min by train, is the city of Neuquén. We travel into Neuquén twice a week, where we both receive Spanish classes, and help with the English lessons at a language institute. Once a week we also attend a high school to assist the English teachers there. In reality, we help (and learn) in 3 different places.
Neuquén and Cipolletti are both reasonably small cities. They are beautiful, homely, and easy to get around in. They lie on the banks of a few rivers – which are beautiful to visit on Saturday afternoons. There are many shops, bookstores, parks, and gyms to find; and many small restaurants, bakeries and heladerías (ice cream parlours) to sample. The food in Argentina is exceptional – if you’re a foodie, this is the perfect country for you.
What are some of the duties you perform there?
I’m valued as an English tutor because I am a native speaker. Consequently, a lot of my work involves communication – asking and answering questions, conversing with the pupils etc. However, I also help with grammar, pronunciation and writing. The majority of the English activities involve working through textbooks and activities. I often help to mark answers and answer questions about vocabulary and the use of different tenses. Sometimes I think that all of the work we do is as equally beneficial for the pupils as it is for me – I’m learning so much about my own language because I’m seeing it from a completely different perspective.
Can you describe your host family/accommodation?
My host family are lovely! They don’t speak any English – so as much as it’s difficult sometimes to explain how I feel or what I mean, it’s very beneficial for my language skills. In my house there is just me and my two host parents. We also have a dog called Bolt – he’s pretty cool too. I have an abuela who sometimes stays with us, and she’s such a caring and sweet person! Despite initial awkwardness and uncertainty (as you can expect), there’s no doubt that my family here care about me as if I was one of their own, and that’s something really special to experience; another family halfway around the world.
I live in a rather large house with my two host parents. I’m walking distance from the school I work at in Cipolletti, as well as from the Centre of town. It’s very easy to get around – the train to Neuquén is only a 15 minute walk away. I have my own room/own space (bed, desk, wardrobe, drawers etc.), and we have a pool, which is pretty fun, even though it’s getting too cold to use!
How are you coping with the differences between Argentina and home?
I rolled into Argentina and this experience expecting a lot of changes and differences to home. Because I had already experienced a little bit of Argentine culture, I had some background knowledge of what I was getting myself into. Not only that, but I knew that I had a big network of people, both within Lattitude and without, that were (and are) supporting me.
I find the best way to cope with the changes and the differences is to talk them through. Whether that be with your fellow volunteers (who are likely struggling with the same things), or with your host families and local representatives. Maintain open lines of communication, be open if you’re struggling with something, and everything should go smoothly.
What’s been your favourite moment so far?
About 2 weeks ago we were helping to teach a class of 9-10 year olds. They had been studying how to tell the time in English – (“It’s quarter to one” or “It’s twenty-five past seven etc.) There were two boys who were really struggling and not really understanding how to pull the sentences together. The teacher asked us, myself and the other volunteer here, if we could take them into the other room and try to explain the time to them. Finally, after 30 minutes of confusion, distractedness and challenges that had to do with the language differences, their willingness to learn, and our patience; they were able to say the time back to us when we drew it on the board.
Seeing the look of comprehension and understanding on their faces, and the feeling of pride when they understood a really difficult concept was so rewarding, and it’s been my favourite moment by far. I helped make a difference – I helped someone to understand something and learn more. It’s wonderful when you realise that your favourite moment isn’t something personal or selfish, but something that you helped somebody else learn – it shows that giving and volunteering is so much more personally rewarding that simply receiving.
And I think that that’s what this is all about – the subtle lessons we learn, the realisations that we have about what it truly means to give; to work and help for the sake of helping, and not for the sake of money. Because instead of being paid in wealth (because we’re just volunteers), we are paid in happiness, knowledge, and laughter.
What kind of new skills/personal development have you noticed so far?
I think the majority of my personal development so far has come down to my language skills improving, which is a journey and a challenge and something that is so personal, and therefore very personally rewarding. Being able to follow conversations and what people say to me, being able to read my favourite book in another language, and being able to know and connect with more people are all wonderful things that really allow you to grow as a person. I said in my latest blog post that I still feel like me – but my heart and who I am just feels a little bit bigger. My world has expanded. The way that I see it, the way that I think about it, the way that I understand it; it’s all just a bit bigger. And I guess if you think about it, if an experience changes the way that you think about the world – that’s an extremely significant event.
I also feel a bit more independent and sure of myself, and considering that I came into this with not much confidence in who I am, I’ve really developed quite a lot. Right now, I’m content with who I am and where I am. And contentedness is something that people spend their whole lives trying to achieve.
What are your future plans, and how do you think this gap year experience may help?
Next year I’m probably going to head back home and study at University. I love the humanities, so I’ll probably go into English, History, Classics and languages. I want to be a teacher, and so volunteering here teaching English and connecting with younger people is really valuable for me. It’s showing me that I do truly love what I want to spend my life doing, if that makes sense. It’s confirming and solidifying my passions.
And regardless of what I want to do with my life career wise, the experiences that I am having here are valuable for my life in general. I’ll have a wider connection of friendships and relationships – and a greater knowledge of other cultures and places, which is valuable for whatever the future holds.
Why should others consider a gap year in Argentina?
Argentina has an intoxicating culture – it really pulls you in. It’s language and atmosphere are unlike anything else, and if you come here, it will be an experience that’ll change your own dynamic and widen your worldview. It’s different and it’s crazy but it’s also so rewarding and you’ll learn so much about people and life and the world, and those are things we all need to know about a bit more; especially if we want society to change for the better.
Another reason to come is because there’s so many diverse travel options in Argentina (and wider South America), so you’ll never be bored or sick of places to go: Iguazu Falls, Salta, Bariloche, Rio de Janiero, Machu Picchu, the Bolivian Salt Flats etc. It’s easy to get around in Argentina, with long-haul bus routes connecting you to the rest of the country. It’s so diverse here – you’ll see everything from rivers, to deserts, from big cities to small alpine towns, from the tropics up north to the glaciers down south – there is just so much to see.
The food in Argentina is incredible, and the environment is indescribable. Doing volunteer work here is so rewarding in ways that even I haven’t fully realised yet. If you’re unsure of where you are and what you want to do, I encourage you to take a year to do things for other people, experience new things and new cultures, and make connections that will last you a lifetime. Create your own adventures and forge your own memories throughout the world – it’s cliché but I promise you, you won’t regret it because it’ll change your life!