I made it! Despite delayed flights, missed flights, and unscheduled layovers in random cities, I finally arrived in Buenos Aires for orientation. I met my “referente” Sandra, or who I like to call my mentor. She is the main teacher that I’ll be working with at the university in Parana. I’m so excited about working with her! I’ll be helping with some grammar classes as well as with higher level conversation classes.
Besides teaching, I’ll be volunteering. Right now I don’t know exactly which organization I’ll be working with, but Sandra has been very supportive and helpful in giving me ideas. I’m hoping to find a place where I can not only do hands-on service but also help in organizing service projects. After working with the Kernodle Center at Elon, I’ve learned a lot about organizing service opportunities. But I’m up for anything!
The language barrier is a little scary. I’m definitely one of the lower proficiency Spanish speakers among the other Fulbrighters in Argentina. Many of them have been working/living in Spanish speaking countries for some time. But I know that I’m here to learn and grow in many ways, and I’m not afraid to make mistakes (good thing since I make so many!). I have to keep reminding myself that understanding takes time…easier said than done ;)
Strangely, the most eye-opening moment for me occurred in the car on the way to the movie theater. One of the teachers that I’ll be working with offered to take me to the movies. We were discussing various things (thankfully in English) during the ride, and she mentioned the tragic events of 2001. Basically, the economy in Argentina was suffering greatly throughout the 1990s, and it completely collapsed in 2001. The whole country was bankrupt, and no other countries or world banks would loan it any money. I had read about this, but hearing my friend describe it first hand was unforgettable. This woman and her family are so much like mine: middle class, hard working, honest, committed. But when the government declared bankruptcy, all money was held in the banks. She and her family lost everything. As a teacher, she was only paid by the government every 3 months during that year, and even then it was half as much as she should have earned. A single mother raising 2 children and working every single day could barely put food on the table because of matters completely out of her control. I sat in the car and tried to imagine if it was me. I have worked hard for my money, and I keep it all in the bank. I would have lost everything. I don’t know how I would have lived. I cannot imagine the strength of mind and will it takes to overcome that kind of devastation. Yet she spoke of it like it was no great feat – just something she had to do.
Too often I have thought about those “less fortunate” than I am, but I could never really put myself in their shoes. Sitting in the car last night, I felt it. And I’m so thankful to my friend for helping me see exactly what it is I mean when I say that I want to HELP people – not just with money or time, but with sincerity and understanding.
So, with that in my heart and lots of random new Spanish phrases running through my brain, I’m ready to get in the classroom…