Fulbrighters in Argentina

Fulbrighters in Argentina

Monday, April 28, 2008

SO Much!

There really is no other way to put it except that there’s just SO MUCH of everything in my life right now…so many new experiences, new friendships, new lessons. But I’ll try to make my thoughts relatively organized.

Hernandarias (Fri. 4/25)
On Friday I traveled to Hernandarias, a town about 1.5 hours away from Parana. One of the students at the university teaches English part time at her old high school there, and she had asked me if I would come visit her students and share a little about the US. I brought along with me 2 Spanish/English dictionaries to donate to the students (who by the way have almost no English resources and would very much appreciate any donations!) as well as a CD of popular music and photos of my family, pets, friends, fun places like Disney World, etc.

I cannot even begin to describe how wonderful my experience was at the school. These students had never met someone from the US before, and they were so excited to try out their English and ask me questions about everyday life in the states. There were signs around the school saying “Welcome Jen!” and every single class bought or made me a gift! I was so moved by their kindness. The sincerity and good will of all the people that I’ve met here just astounds me. No matter how little they have, they give from their heart – and that matters so much more than the monetary value of the gift.

I spent some of the time speaking in English so that the students could practice, but I spent most of the time speaking in Spanish since they only know very basic English. I made sure to tell them that I was still learning Spanish, and I asked them to correct me a few times. I wanted them to realize that just because I spoke English didn’t mean that I was perfect. I felt a little guilty that they thought so highly of me without even meeting me simply because of my language and nationality. So I wanted to give as much as I could to them as they were giving to me in terms of sharing my culture and experiences. We talked about how hard it is to learn another language and what kinds of things they liked and didn’t like about English. They were also very interested in the kinds of foods that I like in the US, and I made sure to ask them about their favorite foods in Argentina as well. Food is an incredible topic. I dare you to try to find a person who would have nothing to say about food. Good food is something that’s shared across all languages and cultures ;)

Overall, I had a fabulous time talking with the students and teachers. I’m so incredibly grateful for being placed in Parana because it’s given me the opportunity to see how average people live in Argentina. Just like foreigners often have misconceptions about Americans based on movies and books, so many foreigners to Argentina think that the country IS Buenos Aires, but there’s so much more to appreciate than just that one city. And this trip to the tiny town of Hernandarias was just one of those experiences.

An Argentine Wedding (Sat. 4/26)
About 2 weeks ago I joined the friendliest and most enthusiastic gospel choir that I could ever have imagined. On Saturday, we sang at a wedding here in Parana. It was my first experience at an Argentine wedding. The first difference I noticed from weddings that I’m familiar with in the states is that it took place at night (around 10pm). I found out that this is traditional for weddings here. Also, all the guests waited outside the church until the bride and groom arrived separately. Then they went inside to be seated. I like this because it’s like they’re greeting the couple and showing their support before the ceremony even begins. Another thing I noticed is that the ceremony was short and sweet. The couple met at the alter; the priest talked about the importance of marriage as a sacrament; the bride and groom said “I do;” the priest pronounced them married; they kissed; and last but not least, they exchanged rings. Then it was over! It couldn’t have been more than half an hour.

I know I’m completely jumping the gun here, but every single girl can agree with me that you can’t go to a wedding without thinking about your own “future” wedding (hypothetically speaking of course, Mom). And this one was EXACTLY how I would like mine to be someday. The simple but beautiful bows on the church pews and the short ceremony that focuses on the commitment of the couple is just what I’d love. It just seemed perfectly simple and beautiful to me. Ok, I’ll stop gushing now. But the main point is that once again I saw how much you can appreciate something by just keeping it simple. I think we’ve lost a little bit of that sense of “simplicity” in the states…but maybe that’s just me.

Well, there’s so much more to tell, but it’s getting late. More soon!
Jen ;)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Things are finally starting to settle into some sort of pattern. I'm really enjoying working with the students in all the different classes. My biggest role teaching-wise is in the grammar classes where I'm responsible for handling all the practice exercises (the profesor teaches the theory). It's interesting but difficult because there are so many differences between British (which is taught here) and American English. I won't bore the non-grammar nerds with details, but basically many of the terms that I learned mean something different or don't mean anything at all in British English grammar. I don't want to confuse the students, so I'm trying to learn things British style ;)

Although I like working with university students, I honestly miss my high schoolers. I was absolutely astounded the first time I got up in front of a class here because all of the students were a) seated, b) paying attention, c) had their own materials, and d) didn't yell, fight, curse, or attempt to slip out of the room unnoticed. Even though it's a wonderful feeling being able to turn my back to write on the board without worrying that someone will misbehave, I feel like teaching at the university level just isn't the same kind of "teaching" as at the high school level. As a high school teacher, I'm a teacher, a referee, a cheerleader, and an entertainer all in one. Students at the university level aren't as much fun - they don't joke around or yell out strang comments. So even though I like the material and the good behavior, I kind of think I'd like to stick with high schoolers. I feel like this is going to come back to bite me later on, but oh well....

Last weekend I went to Concordia, a town about 2.5 hours away from Parana. One of my students invited me to stay with her family there. It was a fantastic experience! I loved it because I got to do what a normal Argentine does on the weekends. We went to a gorgeous park where there's a botanical garden and a historic (yet demolished) castle. We explored the city and shopped among the artisans' kiosks. I even made gnocchi with the family for lunch! For dinner, we had milanesa, a traditional Argentine dish that's similar to fried chicken and beef (but better than you imagine) with home-made french fries. On Sunday, we went to a traditional asado, or BBQ, in the countryside outside of the city. It was so much fun to practice my Spanish and meet so many new people.

This week, I was invited to speak with some classes at a private English teacher-training institute here in Parana. I really enjoyed it! It was basically 2 hours of discussing politics, education, life in the US, my experiences here in Argentina, idioms, etc. The director of the institute wants me to come back again to speak with some other students specifically about teaching. Also, next week I'll be visiting a high school to speak with the students. The chica who's putting it all together told me that most of the students have never met a native English speaker, and they're freaking out with excitement lol! They're planning a picnic, working on translating questions that they want to ask me, and are even making traditional food for me to try. I told her that all that wasn't necessary, but she said that the students really want to do it. I'm so excited to go talk to them and exchange information about our cultures. And I get to be around high schoolers again (for better or for worse lol).

So it looks like I don't have to worry about finding volunteer opportunities anymore...they're finding me!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


I know people now!!! Classes started a week ago, and it has been wonderful actually meeting people (ice cream vendors not included). Have you ever had one of those days when you are absolutely certain that you're doing exactly what you want to do? THAT was my day today.

A little bit about the classes...
I'm assisting in Grammar I, Grammar II, Language II, and Nivel I (for students that know very minimal English). Being a grammar nerd, I find the grammar classes to be very interesting. There's so much that is taught to non-native speakers that is overlooked or assumed to be known by native speakers. And there are different terms for some grammar concepts that I've learned. It's amazing to see how intricately these students are required to analyze the English language. Obviously, they need to be familiar with it in order to teach it as a second language, but I still consider it very impressive. I absolutely love the Language II class because it's all about communicating orally. And, since I'm a native speaker and completely new to Argentina, I get to play a big part in this class. My referente (advisor) Sandra teaches the class, and she is wonderful about getting the students engaged. For example, today we ended up talking about all kinds of topics: food, family origins, our names, etc. The students asked me questions, and I asked them questions in return about life in Argentina. It was really fun and helped me learn a lot more about Argentine culture. For example, did you know that a greatly-celebrated holiday here is Friend Day? Isn't that great??? The even have a special tradition like secret santa to give gifts to their friends on Friend Day: it's called amigos invisibles. I love it!

And the students...
I have to say that I'm very glad that I'm working at a university because I've been able to meet a lot of people close to my age. Unlike teaching high school, it's ok for me to hang out with my students here. Everyone is so nice, and they're very patient with my lack of Spanish speaking skills. Today, the grammar teacher was called out of class for a meeting. While she was gone, a whole group of students and I chatted about random things like what kinds of foods I should try, what my home is like in the US, what places I should visit in Argentina, etc. And we talked completely in Spanish!!! I was so thrilled to get a chance to talk in Spanish and practice the language. Boy was I bad lol! But I was very glad that the students corrected me and helped me figure out verb tenses and vocabulary. I WANT them to correct me!

Also, one of the students teaches/tutors at a high school part time. She asked me if I would be willing to come speak to the high school students and let them practice their (basic) English skills. I'm so excited! I love meeting people, and it will be a great opportunity for me to see how high schools here are managed. I've heard a lot about the schools, but I'd like to see them first hand as well. AND Sandra and Jean, the head of the English department at the university, have asked if I'd be willing to give a lecture on topics related to education in the US, English as a second language, etc. Part of me is honored that these people think so highly of me as to want me to give presentations and speeches; another part of me is concerned that I'll let them down by not being quite the "American" (think choirs of angels singing the word) that they imagine.

Anyway, I'm so excited that things are finally getting started. In only a week I've not only begun teaching and observing, but I've also been invited on a weekend trip to Concordia (where there are some incredible thermal spas) and asked to join a gospel choir!

It's official. I love Argentina.