Eleonore Van Wonterghem - Teaching, Teaching English and Other Subjects in Argentina
I remember being on that plane to Cordoba, my head a bewildering mix of thoughts about what was waiting ahead of me. The idea I had of Argentina wasn't much clearer than a cloudy day, all I knew was that the Latinos were festive; their economy was tricky and they were known for their steak.
But it didn't take long for me to be welcomed by La Familia Valero with mate (a national drink) and criollos and discover the Argentinean culture for myself. From day one I was known as 'Leo' and became the big sister of the three children. 'Esta casa mi hijita es tu casa' are the first words I remember understanding despite the language barrier. Argentinean Spanish is unique - a lot of slang and they drop letters and speak quickly with a distinct accent making it a real challenge for newcomers, but it was soon overcome with the help of my family. I lived in Mendiolaza golf, a quiet neighborhood a few km outside of Villa Allende. I have to say I was blessed with the fact that I had a pool at home - which meant my house soon became a reunion central for the other volunteers.
My second day in Argentina, eager to start working, I went to my school to meet the kids and the environment I was going to teach in. I was the first volunteer to work in that school, so a tall blonde strolling from one classroom to another was an unusual sight for all those Argentinean kids. By break time I had kids hanging from every side of me, their eyes sparkling with curiosity and with a smile to their ears. I had never felt so welcome. Maryland school is a bilingual school for kids from kinder garden to 16 year olds. I taught the older ones, which made my job much easier considering that their level of English was already quite advanced.
I worked there every afternoon from 1.00 pm to 4.30 pm, giving conversation classes and helping out with English exams. It was great because through teaching them English I was also able to give them a little taste of European culture, as there was a lot of standing in front of the classroom talking about my country and myself required from my part.
I also worked in the local school of Villa Allende in the morning, which was a totally different experience. There the kids where younger, came from much more deprived backgrounds, and the resources in the classroom were scarce. The level of English I taught was basic because it was the first time English was introduced in the school. It was great to be able to open the kids' eyes to the world outside their community. I worked there from 8 am to 12 am, and usually after meeting my host mum for a quick lunch in town, we would rush to Maryland school together. In developing the patience, determination, and diligence required to work with these children, I found myself growing and my perspective on life changing.
In between all this working I still had a lot of time to myself; this is where my story about the other volunteers comes in. My stay in Argentina has strongly been affected by the people I met along my journey. I was there for five months, so was able to see many faces come and go, meeting some of the most extraordinary people I know. Together we went out a lot in the streets of Cordoba city- endlessly exploring its hidden gems, side streets, tucked away cafes and restaurants while meeting the locals who showed us how to party the Argentinean way.
Towards the end of my stay, when I became much more comfortable with my Spanish and with the fact that I now lived in Argentina, I spent a lot of my time with my Argentinean friends. In between asados, tennis matches, trips to Carlos Paz and enjoying the sun by the pool, I began to get a real insight to the Argentinean culture. And then, after trips to Iguazu, Tucuman, Mendoza, Bariloche and Patagonia it was hard not to be infected by love for the place. Cordoba is a great base to travel from because of its perfect location, right in the middle of the country. This meant a lot of week end trips had to be done. The bus soon became our new best friend, and often we spent more time on it than our actual destination. But those 'cama' beds that are fully inclinable are not uncomfortable.
Traveling in Argentina will surprise you at every turn - the diversity of the climate and terrain, the cities and the landscapes, and the people you meet all give Argentina its unique personality. A personality that made my stay in Argentina an unforgettable experience. But never had I imagined the extent to which this experience would have on my life. Leaving the country in February was a hard time for me. It was like leaving home all over again. I had created my own little world there with the help of my host family and new friends. A little world that taught me a lot about myself and my life. I left full of hope for the community, a passion for traveling and dreams for my future, with finally a clear goal of where I was going. But also with the most wonderful memories of five months abroad in my head.