Volunteer Review: Lydia G., General Journalism Projects in Argentina
You are looking out of your window the day before you leave and everything around you looks impossibly English. How do you feel? Nervous? Excited? Intolerably and ridiculously terrified? I went through all of these on an almost daily basis on the run up to my stay in Argentina. I had lived there before but as a young child. I remembered ponies and empanadas, not the real Argentina.
Arriving in Argentina
Having taken a look at the Lonely Planet’s guide to Argentina, I was very much under the impression that they were all hot-blooded Latino sorts, big on tango and explosive love affairs, beef, Evita and football. So I was positively relieved to find myself in the Cordoba bus terminal in what looked to be a relatively normal, working city. Inés, one of the Projects Abroad staff members, picked me up and took me to my host families house, where I was immediately welcomed.
I showered, ate lunch, chatted a wee bit on the way to the supermarket to pick up some essentials (you might be relieved to know it is possible to find peanut butter, I was!), and then found myself on the way to the festival of Jesús Maria, where gaucho’s attempt to tame wild horses, folk music pulses through the fibres of everybody’s beer filled stomachs and a jolly good time is had by all. Sadly, I was not quite on the argentine time schedule yet, so after 12 hours of pure Spanish, asados (argentine barbeques), mate and trawling round the stalls of a great many leather merchants, our 4am return hit me a little hard. Still, if I had been looking for something more uniquely Argentine, this was it.
A few days later, having recovered from my night of frolicking in the countryside, Inés took me out for my Induction day with some of the other volunteers. We saw the sights, she helpfully pointed out all the useful bus stops, and we had a very good pizza. Sadly it was the pizza and the sights that stuck in my mind, not the bus stops, but I have a tendency to forget all information that might be considered useful, so I am not surprised.
My journalism placement
On first arrival at my placement, I was understandably nervous. The office seemed to be in the factory quarter, with no sign on the door and dirty cloths over the window. It wasn’t what I had been expecting. But as soon as I stepped into the office, and my new colleagues rushed over to say hi, introducing themselves with names which seemed invariably to begin with “M”, I knew things were going to be fine. The office was indeed above a factory, but this was more for convenience, since the company also owned a fashion label, and the clothes were being made on site.
In the end, my placement as a journalist turned out to be everything I could possibly have hoped for, and very much more. The staff at Johnny B Good were not only friendly and welcoming, but were prepared to put a fair degree of trust in me and let me do my thing, albeit in my second language. They showed me the ropes, not only for the magazine “The Good News!” but also how their clothes were made, how they marketed their restaurant, and initiated me into the weird and wonderful world of Argentine pop music.
At lunch time, everyone would decamp to the restaurant for a free meal, and we would exchange stories, cultural oddities and language lessons until our bellies were suitably rounded and our brains suitably saturated with coffee to contemplate a move back to the office. To anyone passing, the sound of me repeating “otorinonaringologo” (the Spanish for an ENT specialist, and the most impressive word they could think of) and then, with my most eloquent TEFL voice, sounding out “anti-dis-establishment-arianism” for a chorus of sophisticated Argentines to stumble over, would have been quite something! I stumbled my way through cultural faux-pas and language muck-ups day after day, and before I knew it I was beginning to sound like a regular cordobesa.
If I went to Argentina to learn about Journalism, I came back with a knowledge of restaurant management, fashion design, journalism and magazine design as well as a significantly enhanced sense of what a really good ice cream tastes like (they also own an ice cream parlour – jammy or what!). I even managed to get a couple of things published. I have a huge amount to be grateful to the team for, and will be relating the story of “my time as a journalist in Argentina” to friends and family for a good many years to come.
My host family
As for my host family, I could not have hoped for anything more. Dorita and Ceci welcomed me into their quiet house in the suburbs of Cordoba, as if I were a long lost sister. Rather that being in it for the money, they seemed to have a genuine interest in becoming my friend, and before long we were drinking mate late into the night, plaiting each others hair (mine, frizzy and hopelessly unruly, theirs sleek and glossy black – I know who had the harder job there!) and listening to Dorita nag playfully, and sometimes less playfully, about the state of my bedroom. I learned to make Empanadas, and even to enjoy a glass of Fernet, the local medicinal-flavoured liqueur which everyone drinks incessantly. I never could have imagined that, far from just feeling comfortable in Argentina, I would actually find a second home there.
My free time in Argentina
Cordoba itself has plenty to keep you occupied for months. There are little alleyways where well-fed Argentine Abuelas offer you empanadas for next to nothing in their tiny wine-cellar restaurants; try the Empanada Arabe, it’s the best! Then there is the feria selling absolutely everything homemade and gorgeously irresistible. If you are on a budget, just don’t go; I nearly spent my bus ticket home on many an occasion! Then there are the lakes and mountains nearby, the festivals, the carnivals and the raging night life of the city itself and nearby Carlos Paz. I also took Salsa lessons locally, and gave that traditional hankie-flicking dance a try, although I cannot say these are natural talents of mine. And if all that isn’t enough you can pretty much guarantee wall to wall sunshine, so lazy Sundays in the sun are an equally tempting option! If you do ever manage to get bored, and I defy you to do so, then Buenos Aires and Salta are only a night away on a bus that serves coffee on tap!
Experiences change us and help to make us into the people we become. This one shaped me in ways I will never forget. It had its tough moments, sure, but its happy moments, its moments of utter elation, its moments spent doubled over in silent, weeping laughter will be the ones that stick with me. The trials and anxieties of leaving home turned out to be nothing compared to my despair at having to say goodbye to the new friends I had made abroad. I wouldn’t say I never missed home, but now that I am back, I would say I miss Argentina considerably more. If you go out there and give it everything you have got, I assure you, you will be rewarded with double. And you will go home with a little corner of Argentina wedged somewhere in your heart, to bore people with stories beginning “when I was in Argentina….” for many, many years to come!
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.