Mark Freeney - General Journalism Projects in Argentina
When I chose to volunteer in Argentina, I did so with one attitude in mind. I made a promise that would allow me to create true memories and have the travel of a lifetime and that was to be impulsive. Being impulsive was what first drew my attention to partake in this journey. I wanted to leave my comfort zone and escape the emptiness of everyday life. I needed an adventure, and an adventure was what I got.
Before this trip I had never left the continent of Europe. Argentina seemed to me like the perfect choice to begin my lifelong dream of seeing the world. A safe and friendly nation, with a culture and geographical landscape that had my mind made up once I got to the page in my Projects Abroad brochure. After a long first year in university and results I could be pleased with, I was able to sit-back and relax until August, when the adventure would begin.
Arriving in Argentina
I landed in Buenos Aires in the early hours of a Thursday morning and quickly made my way to the connecting flight to Cordoba; the final leg of my journey was finally upon me. I found it incredibly intriguing as to how I could spend almost thirty-three hours traveling with nerves, only to have them washed away as I approached the Projects Abroad volunteer coordinator, who greeted me with a friendly smile and welcome to Argentina. We got into a taxi and headed for my new home, where I would eat, sleep, relax and live for the next month of my life. The adventure had begun!
I lived in Argentina for a month exactly. To cover everything I did in a chronological order strikes me as too narrative and rather boring. I’d prefer to tell my story based on four specific aspects of my trip; family, work, culture and friendship.
My Host Family
Almost immediately I felt welcomed by my loving host family. Never could I have imagined the friendliness and kindness I would encounter. The food was exquisite and extraordinarily different to what I have experienced back home. They made me feel like a welcome member of their own family. As hospitable as they were, they never denied me the freedom to go and explore Unquillo (my local town) and Cordoba.
Often, if I were not going out, we would sit and try to have conversations, which were often entertaining as well as challenging due to their minimal English and my poor Spanish (often it turned into a game of charades!).
When you go on a trip, your place of residence is an aspect that can be very decisive in how comfortable you are and hence how much enjoyment you will get out of the time away. I can say without doubt that my host family accomplished this aspect without fail.
My Journalism Placement
Working in a local radio station in Unquillo was one of the most fascinating and diverse experiences of my life. Despite my minimal Spanish I felt I was able to fit in quite well. When my volunteer coordinator brought me down to the office on my first day, I was surprised as much as relieved in how relaxed the environment was. The people embodied the general characters of the Argentine populace: friendliness.
My work consisted of researching different topics to be discussed on air, writing pieces on those topics and with some hesitance but much encouragement, speaking in Spanish on the radio (I do not know how well listeners understood me, with limited Spanish and a thick Irish accent!). There were times when I may not have said the correct word or stumbled on a sentence, but nevertheless, I profoundly enjoyed my time at Radio Nativa.
The overall experience
Fabulous food, good wine, stylish architecture, plentiful museums and unlimited shopping, Argentine culture suited me quite well! Walking around the often-busy streets of Cordoba and taking in the vibe and beauty of the city with its rich history was always relaxing and unreal. I even found myself adoring the fact that there were hundreds of stray but friendly dogs all over the city.
The food is to this day the best I’ve ever had, whether indulging in the best beef in the world with a parilla (a combination and assortment of different meats in generous portions served like tapas), or having a creatively made and almost mouth-watering coffee could almost make a day. A special mention has to be made to Caseratto Helados, the most exceptional ice cream I have ever had the privilege to taste (and hence ate every day for the remainder of the month!).
Meeting other volunteers
Meeting so many different people was without question the most significant part to me. I feel I have made friends for life because of my journey. In my host family there was a German and a Dutch woman. I feel I was quite fortunate to live with them in the beginning of my trip, as they helped me settle in and showed me around the city. In fact, I remember the first words Annelou from Holland said to me, ‘Hi, I’m Annelou. You’re coming out with us tonight'. I was very sad to see them go as their journeys had ended before my own, and they are owed a special thank you.
A French girl named Laura worked with me in the radio station, and it was again a fortunate feeling to get to work with another volunteer, because they can relate to and share the feelings you are experiencing at each moment on your journey. A long weekend came about in the middle of my trip and I wanted to travel to Iguazu falls, so I arranged to go with two other volunteers who were also interested.
I knew them but not particularly well and we spent four days on this mini-adventure, traveling on a twenty-four hour bus journey north, visiting the most breath-taking natural wonder I have ever seen and spending nearly all my time with the two girls from Germany and France. We became team Iguazu, and the closest of friends. Even to this day I can say they are two of the best friends I have ever made, and their friendship made not only my trip, but also my year.
The power of travel allows for you to experience different people from different cultures and I soon realized we are all uniquely different and the same. I also made numerous other friends whom I have not mentioned but they still remain special to me.
So, what did I get from this trip? Was it worthwhile and did I get my money’s worth? I can say I did. I saw a part of the world more wondrous and spectacular to any I had ever seen prior. I gained so much just from a month traveling; confidence, independence and cultural integration, which I believe helps improve the character of all of us.