I decided to take a gap year as I planned to study health science at university, and I didn't want to go straight from school into a massive degree. Also my older sister took a gap year to England doing a similar job as what I am doing now and she really pushed me to do it, for it her it was the most worthwhile experience of her life thus far and for me it looks like its shaping up to be the same! Something that has always stuck with me about taking a Gap year is: (1.) Life experience and learning from experiences is a lot more precious than what you could ever learn in the classroom. Someone may teach you something, but unless you have experienced it yourself and seen the results of it, you do not have as much of an appreciation for it. (2.) For most student heading off into their chosen field of study at university, right now will be the richest you will be for at least the next 5-10 years of your life. You are debt free and are now ready to take on the responsibilities of being a new adult in an independent world. Taking a year for yourself is also a great way to learn money management!!! Being responsible for what you do and don't buy is a great learning tool.
I always knew I wanted to come somewhere Spanish speaking as I studied Spanish at school and my main goal for the year is to become fluent! I had already been to Spain and so the other options were Argentina and Ecuador, from there it was really a decision between which one I was more interested in. Argentina for me was larger so had more travel opportunities for weekends and holidays as well as a vast spread of culture from the cities into the more rural towns.
For anyone planning on taking a placement in Argentina but afraid of the culture shock or nervous for all the things that will be different from what you are used to: Climate wise Argentina is pretty similar to NZ, mountain ranges and also beaches, same season timings and similar weather patterns, the key difference is that here it is on a much larger scale.
Can you describe your placement in detail?
My specific placement in Buenos Aires is at Northlands school. It is a bilingual school meaning that depending on the year group, mornings are taught in English and afternoons in Spanish or vice versa. This takes place from year 1, and means that the student’s English is very developed, making them almost fluent by the time they reach year 6. Northlands has 2 campuses, Olivos (closer to the city) and Nordelta. I am placed at the Nordelta campus working with year 6 classes in the mornings and year 4 in the afternoons. My campus is a 45 minute bus ride from my house and has incredible open spaces, massive fields, art rooms, science labs; anything you could wish for, which pays tribute to the prestige that comes with the Northlands name.
Northlands has high standards of teaching and gave us workshops on their IB curriculum, as well as how to mentor the children so they can come up with answers on their own. In the English sessions Spanish is prohibited, so at all times it is compulsary for us to speak English, despite the children's best interrogation efforts to get us to say things such as "hola" and "me llamo Georgi". The work environment is great, we are given quite a lot of freedom to decide how to focus our time, and are given tasks such as reading to the children in library, creating resources for reading comprehension, making wall displays, working one-on-one with groups in workshops and much more. The children are very different than in New Zealand and the whole classroom vibe takes some getting used to, they are all very passionate and loving: running up to you and hugging you or giving you a kiss at the end of the day are not uncommon practices. In their learning they are almost too eager at times and can end up climbing over their desks wanting to give you the answer to a question. Overall though, it's great, the children give you a sense of belonging at the school, calling out to you in the playground daily and the differences in culture make every day interesting.
Can you describe your accommodation?
I live with a host mum and another volunteer. Erica is my room mate and we also work at Northlands. We have gotten on amazingly and I could not wish for better living conditions: 8 blocks from the Main Street, 45 minute bus from the centre city and plenty to do where I live so it's amazing. The environment is very safe, almost one step away from a gated community, guard boxes on every few street corners, not that they are needed but it does make you feel very safe, especially at night. My mother’s name is Nora and she has 3 children of her own who have all grown up and now have their own kids, meaning there are always people around, for dinners, lunches, or just to say hi. The grandchildren are great for practicing your Spanish on as they do not understand that you can't speak Spanish and so continuously talk at you as well as using simple and easy to understand language because of their age. I live in a house rather than apartment and share a room with Erica, we have 2 bathrooms, a living room and dining room, outside areas and even a small pool. Nora makes us feel so at home, that I have had no problems adjusting to the new lifestyle.
How did you cope with the big differences between Argentina and home?
The most difficult part is the language, and feeling like a bit of an outsider when you can't understand what people are saying. However in the city where I am, most people are very accommodating and if they don't speak English they will find someone who does to translate or work with you to figure out what you want to say. In terms of home sickness, I haven't really experienced much. The key is to keep yourself busy, exercise, read, go and explore the city, learn Spanish, and it can be as simple as making a meal for your family to take your mind off home.
My favourite aspect of being here is definitely the company. With a total of 9 volunteers in Argentina, despite being in different places we have travelled together and enjoyed orientation week together, becoming very close very quickly! They provide a network around Argentina to visit each other, as well as share experiences, and travel with. Visits to each placement are definitely in order and when homesickness or work is getting you down having travel to look forward to with the Lattitude "fam" can really help get you through. Secondly, I would have to say when I could form my first Spanish sentence without having to check conjugations or verbs was a milestone, and being able to have a conversation with a native speaker without having to ask "what?" a hundred times was definitely a gleaming moment.
I have definitely grown more independent as well as considerate of other people around me, especially the ones I live with. Contributing with washing laundry, cooking, and making an effort to become a member of my new family rather than simply a visitor has given me an appreciation for what I have at home.
I plan to study health science at Otago university in Dunedin and definitely think the year off has given me time to miss learning and yearn to use my brain in an academic way. This will help me take on every opportunity and duly take advantage of them as well as adapt me to working with different people from different background and environments, being able to appreciate theirs while maintaining my beliefs in a respectful way.
Lastly, I would like to encourage everyone to just take the plunge! Wherever you go you will have an amazing time, but take advantage of every weekend and every spare moment to plan, explore or do literally anything because before you know it your time will be up. Nerves and apprehension are natural before you depart, and I had my fair share too!! But be brave enough to take on the challenge and independence because you never know, you might surprise yourself.