I wanted to travel but I didn't want to do the tourist attractions route. I wanted to meet the people beyond the general 'hi, how are you where are you from’, etc. I also wanted to use the skills I have to give something back to the country I was visiting. I knew I wanted to make friends and find a new family so that I would have a reason to go back!
Why did you choose International Volunteer HQ?
I chose my specific program because they seemed very legit. The work they put into developing their website, and maintaining contact and input from past volunteers, made me feel more secure that I would have a great experience. I chose Argentina because, honestly, it was the first one on the list. Don't judge!
What was your favorite part about Argentina?
My favorite part about my host country was the children. They were so connected to what was going on in their country politically, culturally and socially. They seemed very mature to me and they were only fourteen to sixteen years old. During our conversation class they didn't ask me questions like "What is your favorite color?" but questions like "What do you think about the current political candidates in the U.S.?" "My mom is Catholic and my dad is atheist and I'm agnostic. What's your religion and why?" It was truly a memorable experience.
What made your experience abroad unique?
The connections I made with the students and teachers I met made my experience unique. We were able to bond over the challenges that come with teaching in a public school system. To see their commitment and drive to give their all on a daily basis was truly inspiring.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The local staff did their best to make me feel like I was cared for as an individual among a group of other volunteers. They did not treat us all as one, and diversified their attention to us based on our personalities and needs. It was a perfect balance of 'motherly/fatherly' care yet independence to be free and explore.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wasted the first weekend recovering from jet lag when I should have explored somewhere close by, like Che Guevara's home. I am kicking myself over that one, but just another reason to go back!
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
A typical day involved eating breakfast and heading off to my volunteer program. I worked with kids teaching them English language skills. Lunchtime was always a scavenger hunt. It’s very exciting, especially when you find a local restaurant actually open during siesta time. You will know what winning the lottery feels like when you do! In the evenings, I explored the town or chilled out at the volunteer house until dinner time. After dinner some days we had salsa and bachata dance lessons, and once a week we had a bonfire, with marshmallows, graham crackers, and delicious dulce de leche for Argentinian s'mores.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time on the weekends I would travel to see the many landscapes Argentina had to offer. I went to the south to see the icy blue glaciers at the National Glacier Park, then north to the cascading Iguazu Falls. I also went to Buenos Aires and caught a parade held by the indigenous Argentinians, it was absolutely captivating to see the diversity of the various tribes.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
My accommodation was at a volunteer house, however I paid a little extra for a private room and bath. That was definitely the best thing about my stay at the house.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
A piece of advice I would give to someone going on my program is to not go with the intention of changing what they have already going on. What I mean by that is you will encounter a community's way of doing something that is different from your own. I think it is best to remember that different is not inferior or less efficient, but that different is just that, different. I think it would be best to remember that we are only in these programs for a short period of time and that we should focus on how we can best support the program while there. My advice would be to ask yourself "What can I learn from this experience?" versus "What can I show them how to do in a
‘better’ way?" I think with this approach, even if you end up doing something differently, it keeps the doors open to one seeing the difference and then being more motivated to inquire about the new technique or strategy. Bonus advice: travel solo as much as you can (even if you make friends at the volunteer house) and invest in a selfie stick. Trust me, it's super fun!
Now that you're home, how has volunteering abroad impacted your life?
I've been positively impacted in my life by this experience because it showed me that public school education is a struggle everywhere. It reinforced the fact that teachers can do almost anything when they have close to nothing to work with, while staying positive and committed to the children they serve.
Would you recommend IVHQ to others? Why?
I would recommend this program and IVHQ because they take care of you and make sure you have a positive experience. I was in my program for four weeks, and at no point was I homesick or extremely miserable. I was too engaged with my volunteer projects and just felt safe and secure.
Nilaja Taylor is from St. Croix, Virgin Islands. She has a master’s in educational administration, and works as an educational consultant at the district and school-based levels, to reinforce positive school climates to shape teaching and learning communities that positively impact student learning. Before volunteering abroad her last travel abroad experience was back in 1998, so it was definitely a time for an adventure.