Landing in Argentina
After 36 hours of travel and 2 layovers, I was ready to settle into my new life in Córdoba, Argentina. Going through La Aduana seemed like a mindless routine, but I was too excited to be anything less than energetic. ‘I AM IN ARGENTINA,’ I repeatedly shouted in my mind.
Rushing through the customs process, I saw the glowing red sign that read “Salida.” As I ran through the door and met up with Florencia, my Projects Abroad coordinator, I realised one thing: I had forgot to collect my bags before exiting. Then came the panicking, in my rusty Spanish I frantically asked her, “Qué hacemos? NO TENGO MIS MALETAS!”
Florencia, surely surprised (as these were our first words), replied in a calm voice and told me that she would take care of it, that it would be okay. At that moment, I knew that I would never feel alone on this trip, one of my many fears pre-departure. Florencia spoke to a customs officer and patiently waited for me to retrieve my bags. She was nothing but understanding and for that, I was grateful. After my luggage situation was taken care of, Florencia and I hopped in a taxi and headed towards my new home. Needless to say, I was exhausted.
My Host Family
Upon arrival to my new home, I was greeted by my host family with warm hugs and gentle kisses on the cheek. Although it was 3am, my host sisters stood in line in their pyjamas ready to welcome me. Each was eager to show me around the house and introduce themselves.
My Italian roommate, Federica, gave me a quick hug and then retreated to her bed. I then followed her to the room, ready to do the same. Despite my exhaustion, falling asleep on that first night was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I wanted to get to know my housemates. I wanted to speak Spanish with my new host family and I wanted to begin my new adventure in Argentina!
When I woke up, I still seemed to be smiling from the night before. I felt like my dreams were coming true. That morning, Maria Julia, our host mum prepared breakfast for us as we got to know each other. I knew that I would be the last volunteer to arrive because of my late departure from the US.
Given this situation, I also knew that I would have missed out on the formal introduction by the time I got to Argentina. This was a major concern for me. What if I wouldn’t make friends? What if I missed important information? Over mate - the typical Argentine tea - the girls reassured me that I would be filled in on everything.
Thankfully, they were right and that day, Florencia showed us a little bit of Córdoba and took us to the Projects Abroad office for an additional introduction. There, I was able to exchange my money and receive a schedule of events. I could not have been more relieved.
Following the office visit, our group headed back to our host for lunch. Maria Julia had prepared an entire feast for us to devour. There was an endless supply of soup, salad, pasta, pizza, bread, vegetables, casseroles, and everything else you can imagine. I thought I was in heaven!
Just when we all thought we were going to go into a food coma, Florencia rang the doorbell. We were off to our Spanish lessons!
Spanish Lessons in Argentina
At the Spanish lessons, I was given my placement test in order to see what level of Spanish I had. A couple of the teachers asked me questions in Spanish, and I was to reply as fluently as I could. I was not intimidated at all! In about five minutes, I was told to go to the intermediate room. With this, I was happy.
As I entered the room with all the other students, we all got to talking and getting to know each other. Between laughter and conversation, I soon came to realise that I was surrounded by people from all over the world. I made friends with volunteers from California, Poland, England, Italy, Chicago, and just about every place you can think of.
Over the course of two weeks, my classmates and I formed a close friendship. In our lessons, we both bettered our Spanish education and had a blast at the same time. Our teacher did a wonderful job at integrating the two. One day, we even had class at the local ice cream shop! Let me tell you, Argentine helado is much better than American helado. All in all, the experience would have not been the same without my Spanish classes.
My Volunteer Placement
After taking a bus and walking for a couple of minutes, the girls and I, led by Florencia, arrived at our placement. From the outside it looked like a standard white building, only if you looked closer could you make out the colourful writing on the walls that stated the name of the kindergarten, Los Boulevares.
Once inside, we played with the kids and did whatever we could to help out. Some activities included painting, baking, colouring, and cleaning. One day, we even threw a party for “Dia de los Amigos” or “Friend’s Day”.
Aside from all the fun, it was obvious that these kids were underprivileged. It broke my heart to see the kind of conditions they have to live with every day. However, it was extremely satisfying to know that I was helping make a difference, no matter how big that difference was. I left Los Boulevares every day feeling thankful and grateful for the life that I have. Although I went on this trip to change the lives of the children, the children ended up changing me. That is an experience that I will always keep dear to me. The bond that I grew to have with the children became something very personal.
My Final Thoughts
To describe my trip in two words, it would be: too short. I remember boarding the aeroplane to return to the US and just crying, crying, because I didn’t want to leave and because I had had the best two weeks of my entire life.
Memories of taking day trips to the mountains, touring Che Guevara’s home, and eating lomitos at midnight with my friends flooded through my mind. Looking back, I never would have expected to meet so many great people on this trip. I never expected my outlook on life to be so drastically altered from this trip.
So, I guess I have one last thing to say. You, yes you! If you have the opportunity to travel to Argentina with Projects Abroad, do it. Take the risk. Take the risk, because, my experience was everything I could have asked for and more. My experience in Argentina changed my life forever.