Ben Kalfayan - Teaching, Teaching English and Other Subjects in Argentina
How my volunteering day started
The dreaded 5:50 wakeup call, incessantly delivered by the monotones of my digital watch, just about managed to stir me as I proceeded to tiptoe through the ground floor to prepare my breakfast: an instant coffee and whatever piece of bread, cracker or biscuit that happened to be available at these early hours. Armed with my teaching satchel, I got to the bus stop before the first Intercórdoba did. Half an hour and sunrise later, the bus emptied as the rush for the 7:15 bell gathered momentum and the school assembled for the daily raising of the national flag and the obligatory prayer.
My teaching placement
My placement was the Colegio del Espíritu Santo, a semi-private, Catholic school, an hour and a half away from Córdoba city center in Rio Ceballos and the memories of my first teaching day remain as vivid as ever. On making my way to classroom 5B, a group of boys, polo shirts hanging out, were kicking a tennis ball along the corridor and then suddenly, became fascinated by the presence of two foreign volunteers.
After settling down and a brief self-presentation, I saw myself bombarded with relentless questions: Do you like cuarteto? Have you had an asado yet? Are you still angry with Maradona for his handball in 1986? Duly answering as appropriately as possible, a sense of rapport was beginning to establish itself; something that would be important for the following 3 months of my assistant teaching career.
My role, as the somewhat loosely defined, assistant teacher was primarily to be proactive in helping the various questions that the class of the often 30+ students had, as well as checking answers orally, reading passages and texts and on occasions, taking center stage to give a topic-related presentation, in my case an overview of the English school system, which had been somewhat well-rehearsed from its full circulation of the range of 13 to 17 year old Argentine schoolchildren.
All this served to encourage greater oral participation from the students with native speakers of English, elaborating what were still fairly traditional language teaching methods of conscientiously following the textbook and its contents of grammar and reading exercises . Indebted to the school’s ever supporting yet long suffering English teachers, I look back on my teaching experiences with great fondness.
My free time in Argentina
As can be testified by fellow volunteers, there certainly is no shortage of free time outside the hours of your placement. Mine started with what seemed like a well-earned lunch, accompanied by the relay-like arrivals of my host family’s six sons to the lunch table (whether they officially did or didn’t remain a part of the Tizado household establishment). This was religiously followed by a generous siesta, often known to last beyond the eighteenth hour of the day.
While weekday evenings tended to booked up with the various commitments: 5 a-side soccer or social nights, the weekends were generally filled with short day trips or with a pilgrimage to the Estadio Mario Kempes to watch our adopted soccer team, Talleres de Córdoba play in the Torneo Argentina A (that’s the third division to you and me).
A typical weekend, however, wouldn’t have been complete without the weekend’s legendary nightlife, where volunteers, university students and the locals alike ascend on the plethora of boliches to party through the early hours.
Excursions in Argentina
During my 3 month stay I had the opportunity to see Argentina beyond Córdoba province. The highlight was an Easter visit to Iguazu Falls, where after a lengthy deliberation over whether to visit the Argentinean or Brazilian side of the waterfalls first; we eagerly explored the vast national park until our camera batteries abruptly ran out.
In this very retrospective mood, I realize how traveling solo and the whole experience that goes with it can be so powerful, especially at the age of 18. My time in Argentina really was like another life; somewhere I forged special friendships and from somewhere I hold such fond memories. The experience has invaluably shaped me as a person: from utterly wrecking my previously ‘proper’ Castilian Spanish accent and my breakfast habits (I still haven’t had a bowl of cereal since I got back home) to the wider personal gains I feel I acquired and am recognizing more and more.