Karen Keiser - General Care Projects in Argentina
Going to Argentina was hands down the best experience that I have had in my life up to date. It exceeded not only my expectations but also taught me so many things about myself, both who I am as a person but also what I want out of life, all while giving back and helping a community that was in need - a truly amazing journey.
My trip to Argentina was the first time that I had ever been out of the country, let alone the fact that I was a 17-year-old fresh out of high school (literally 36 hours after my last exam) who didn’t speak a word of Spanish! Nonetheless, I was absolutely thrilled and excited beyond imagination that I was actually undertaking this journey.
Arriving in Argentina
Touching down in Cordoba airport was unreal. Even when I was met by a member of the Projects Abroad Argentina office, I still found it hard to believe that I was on the other side of the world, surrounded by people and a culture that I had always dreamed of visiting. The staff member drove me to my host mother’s house and introduced me to her. I was immediately welcomed with the famous, very accommodating Argentinean culture. After the staff member left, it only then hit me that I was in Argentina, finally living out my dream.
My host family and other volunteers
My host mum was absolutely amazing. Even though she spoke no English, she always made me feel so comfortable, like I was her own daughter. Towards the end of my trip, we became really close due to my increased Spanish vocabulary. Some of my best memories of her include the days that we relaxed and chatted by the pool as well as her amazing cooking skills!
The Projects Abroad office in Argentina provided me with a great support! After my induction day, I left feeling a lot more confident about getting around and living my life in Cordoba. Projects Abroad also organises weekly socials, which allow you to meet and mingle with other volunteers. This is where I met some of the people that explained why my trip was so fantastic. We went out together, travelled together, some of us even lived together!
Travelling together with other volunteers made us so much closer because we were all from different parts of the globe in the same position and experiencing a journey at the same time. I now have a global network of friends that I will never forget and will always visit when I am in those parts of the world.
My care placement
My placement was at a care centre, where children between the ages of 5-13 would live for 5 days a week. On the weekends, they would go home with their parents. I had a fantastic time working in the care centre. Forming relationships with the children, seeing their different personalities and entertaining them were among my favourite things to do. During the time that I was there, we painted, made bracelets and other crafts, listened and danced to music and played football – all of which the kids absolutely loved. The girls in particular, loved braiding my hair and painting my nails.
One piece of advice that I would give a care volunteer is to just go with the flow and don’t over think things. Come prepared with activities, but just let the children decide what they want to do. Spontaneity is where the real fun happens! I remember this one time in my final weeks, where I bought my camera in to take a few pictures of the kids while they were doing some crafts. The kids loved it and became more interested in my camera than the actual craft they were doing! They started posing and making faces…it was hours of entertainment with something that I found ordinary.
Other activities that I would help with were distributing the children’s meals as well as simple things like helping them brush their teeth or making their beds. The most challenging thing I would say about my placement was definitely the language barrier. I wouldn’t say that it’s absolutely mandatory that a volunteer must know Spanish before they come to Cordoba, but it’s definitely a good idea to at least learn some because it allows you to communicate with the staff and children efficiently which in turn enables you to provide them with what they need whether it be a colouring pencil, glass of water etc.
However, in saying that, I barely knew any Spanish in my first month, yet I still seemed to manage, as well as learn some Spanish along the way and play with the kids.
Travelling in Argentina
I was in Argentina for two months. I completed a care placement for 6 weeks and then travelled for the last 2 and a half weeks – something that I would highly recommend doing because Argentina is such a diverse country. In Argentina, you can pretty much get anywhere by buses. During my stay, I was very lucky to go to Buenos Aires for Christmas and Iguazu Falls just after New Years. I highly recommend going to those places at the very least - each of them so different to Cordoba and beautiful in their own different ways.
Buenos Aires was cleaner and more spaced out, (not to mention more touristy!) and Iguazu falls was breathtakingly beautiful and powerful. I travelled to them with the other volunteers that I met from the socials. Cordoba is in middle of the Sierras – which are essentially a set of mountains housing different towns. They were great for weekend or day trips when you want to relax or see/experience something different. I would recommend going to La Cumbrecita and go horse riding in the Sierras – one of the best feelings in the world. Other great places to go are Mendoza – for wine tasting, Salta and Hui Hui for different cultures and even Uruguay!
My final piece of advice for future volunteers are just to give Argentina a go. Sometimes you truly surprise yourself with the people that you meet overseas and the culture you experience. Be open to embracing the culture – it’s a fantastic one. Try not to have any great expectations of Argentina, just see where your adventure takes you – that’s where the real memories are made - and finally learn a little bit of Spanish before you go, it ensures that your transition is a little bit smoother. Most of all, never take time for granted – it’s amazing how it flies when you’re having fun.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.