Maria Seravalli - Care & Spanish in Argentina
Before leaving for Córdoba, I had no idea what to expect from the trip. I knew I would be working and living in Argentina, and a month before I left I knew the name of my host family as well. It was better that I hadn't formed any ideas before I left, however, because nothing I could have dreamed up would have done justice to the incredible experience awaiting me.
First impressions of Argentina
Admittedly, the first two days after my arrival did not very well predict the rest of the trip. Wary of strangers welcoming me with kisses and a bit uneasy at the idea of living with them for the next two weeks, I was less than receptive.
Now, I wish I could have those precious two days back, just to stay a bit longer in Córdoba. Not only the children at my placement, but also the Projects Abroad employees and the others in my 2 Week Special group would turn out to be some of the most vibrant people I’d ever meet.
After the initial introductions were past us my group began what we had signed up for with Spanish lessons in the morning. I have never been in a class with teachers and peers who were as ready to discuss and learn as this one. My instructor, Gabriele, was involved in our class and willing to shape the discussion around the topics that most interested us all. If I had that kind of support in my classes at home, I think I'd be thinking in Castilian by now.
My Care placement
As much as I enjoyed my classes in the morning, nothing could top Copa de Leche, my Care placement. Before going to Copa on Tuesday, my group of three had been warned in induction that we were working at the "poorest and most difficult," location. I entered the neighbourhood clutching my purse to myself to ward off juvenile muggers, but left considering these kids and teens my friends who I could trust and talk to.
Copa may not be the gentlest placement, but I quickly learned to forgo all personal space in favour of constant attention from the kids; attention which came in a myriad of ways, including hugs and kisses, awkward questions, and frequent playful insults. Working with my incredibly creative supervisor, Agustín, my group and I played different games with the kids each day. One day we even put on a mini carnival, in which he proved to me it is possible to create games with strings, pennies, and pens.
One of the things I found most remarkable about Copa was how little these kids cared that I barely knew what they were saying. The language barrier I'd imagined did exist, but made little difference in how I connected with the kids. The things they argued over and talked about weren't much different than those that fourteen year old girls in Florida might be saying. We were able to learn from each other as well; trading words, music, and dance moves. Though, honestly, any seven year old in Argentina can still beat me when it comes to Reggaeton dancing.
Agustín was always involved in anything we were doing at Copa and put supreme amounts of energy into making ours the best placement- sometimes, by being indistinguishable from the teenagers and, occasionally, by putting everything back in its right order. Each day, after Copa de Leche, my roommates and I would trek the thirty minutes back to our host house, hands covered in dulce de leche and dirt, yet entirely satisfied.
My host family
One day after working at Copa my host mother, Sarah, came into my room and found me singing to myself while my roommate and I were getting ready.
"Ella esta muy contenta, no?" she asked my roommate, pointing at me.
Sophie laughed and said to me, "You're always like this after Copa."
As for my host family, more hospitable people couldn't be found. Sarah would not even let us clear our own plates after dinner. She constantly checked to see if we had everything we needed, yet went beyond just the role of caretaker. She, her husband and son, often spent an hour talking to us after dinner or lunch. We told her about our families back home and about our day at Copa de Leche, while she talked to us about her college years and past volunteers.
Staying in Córdoba
Finally, as if I haven’t already effused enough, there was Córdoba itself. I absolutely loved being there. It was such a contrast from the usual stress of rushing to get things done, and yet I never felt idle. Everyone had something to contribute to any task or conversation. I was able to talk to the people I was with without double-checking everything I said. I felt so accepted that there was no need to impress.
The Projects Abroad staff, especially, made sure we were all propelled into Argentinean culture and left us no chance to be self-conscious. I loved every second of being with these people, including the well-travelled, diverse group that was in the same 2 Week Special programme as me.
The incredible experience this programme provided me with wasn't the result of efficiency or immaculate organisation; it truly was so much better than anything that could have been scheduled. Rather, it was just a taste of what I want the rest of my life to be like. I'd like to feel like I am always at Copa de Leche - meeting and talking with incredible people and occasionally being challenged, yet enjoying myself immensely all the while. I would love to come back for a longer stay, but for now, I've got plenty of amazing memories to keep me dreaming.
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.