Wednesday, 31 March 2010

My TEFL experience in Argentina

I am Teaching English as a Foreign Language at local primary school through a volunteer agency called i-to-i. They organise your placement and accomodation, and then provide a support team in-country. I´m not sure what I was expecting when I signed up to do it, but I knew I wanted to travel for a long period of time, and it seemed a good way of giving something back at the same time. I chose TEFL because it seemed to hold the most interest for me compared to other projects such as conservation, community, or sports.

It has been an interesting experience, there have been positives and negatives. Sharing a house with other volunteers has been great, I think I prefer it to a homestay as some of the other volunteers struggle to make themselves understood with their hosts. Posadas is a really nice city and I have felt very safe walking around on my own. Travelling to different places at the weekends with the other volunteers has been really good too, as I´m not sure my Spanish is good enough to get by on my own.

On the negative side however, my teaching experience has not lived up to my expectations. To start with I was only given two days of school a week, which I discovered is not really enough for the students and teachers to get to know you, and accept you as part of their school. I have found it very difficult to connect with the kids and impact on their English lessons. I wasn´t expecting the English teachers to have such a low level of spoken English, they struggle to understand me, and we end up having a very difficult conversation, partly in English and partly in Castellano. In addition, the teachers have been striking over pay, so my two days a week has become one or not at all.... The teachers are very poorly paid here, about 1,000 pesos a month, about 166 GBP, so I understand why they are striking, it´s just bad timing on my part.

After the first week, Veronica, the i-to-i co-ordinator, did find me 2 extra days a week at a private English language school where her friend teaches. The classes are much smaller than public school, about 8 pupils instead of 20. That has been a much more enjoyable experience, as Carlina speaks fluent English, I was able to participate more in class, and she could explain games etc to the children in Spanish first. I played pictionary with the children on the whiteboard, splitting the class into two teams and giving them names of animals to draw, they really enjoyed it. The children seem to enjoy the novelty of having an English person in the classroom and at the end of lessons, a couple of the girls came over and kissed me on both cheeks, the traditional greeting and goodbye in Argentina, which was nice.
I had a breakthrough with Lorena´s class on my last day at public school, I got fully involved in the lesson, did the writing on the board, most of the speaking and even played bingo at the end. I got a note from one of the girls who wrote I love you in English, so that was great, I was finally getting somewhere but now I am leaving.

I am doing TEFL again in Peru, but will have 8 weeks there, so I expect to be able to contribute more in that time. There is another volunteer starting the project at the same time as me, so hopefully it will be a better experience. I am going to view my Argentian teaching experience as a warm-up for my Peru project.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Iguazu Falls

Patricia, Tim and I went to Iguazu falls at the weekend. Puerto Iguazu is about 4.5 hours away by bus, as expected the bus was late, by about an hour, so we arrived in Puerto Iguazu late afternoon. Our hostel was in a good location, just across the road from the bus station. We got up early Sunday morning to take the bus to the falls. Iguazu falls is really well laid out, there are 3 trails, upper, lower and devil´s throat. We took the upper circuit first, it was absolutely breathtaking, looking down on the falls was amazing. The lower trail was even better, with the best view of all of the falls. One walkway took you very close to the drop of the fall and we got absolutely soaked. The falls are so powerful that there is always a mist, so you cannot see the water hitting the river. We then took the train to the ´Devils throat´. A series of walkways span the river for about a mile, the end of which is where the water is tumbling over on 3 sides, creating loads of spray, so we got soaked again... Iguazu falls is absolutely awesome, it´s the highlight of Argentina for me. The bus was late again coming home the next day, we left about half an hour late, and then got held up twice, about an hour and a half both times, not sure the reasons why as we couldn´t understand the bus driver, possibly some sort of protest. So we spent 7 hours on the bus coming home, which was incredibly boring, however I didn´t care as we´d had such a good weekend.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Argentine Culture

The Argentines are a very friendly nation, they greet everyone with kisses on both cheeks and also say goodbye the same way. They are very sociable and love to talk. They spend alot of time sitting outside the front of their homes sipping their mate and passing the time of day with one another. Public displays of affection are very common, I have seen a lot of couples openly kissing and canoodling in the street and in parks.

The men appreciate women openly on the street by making a chchchch noise as they pass by, this has happened to me a couple of times and I just keep on unfortunatley it´s not been done by any good looking men...

Argentines are very laid back and everything is done at a much slower pace here, which is good in some respects but can get a little frustrating. Classes at school for instance, never start on time, and the pupils seem to drag out the simplest exercises they are given by chatting to each other, asking the teacher irrelevant questions and just messing around in general. The teachers don´t seem concerned about this hence very little seems to get done each lesson. Every week of school so far there had been a national holiday or a teachers strike, so I have hardly been to public school, and don´t feel I have achieved much so far.

The Argentinians are not keen on Americans, or Australians, as Jenny discovered when she went into a shop near our house. After she had bought something, the shopkeeper asked if she was American or Australian, when Jenny admitted she was Australian, he said in English ´we don´t respect you´ and told her to get out his shop.

There seems to be a carelessness too, there have been a couple of incidents at the Animal Rehabiliation centre where Jenny has been working. In her first week, a ferret type animal was put in an enclosure next to a monkey, monkeys like to put their arms through the cage bars, the money did this, and the ferret ate the flesh of both his arms, the monkey had to be put down as it was in so much pain.
Last week, there was a visitor to the centre who suddenly spotted a baby leopard outside the enclosure up a tree. The enclosure was havng work done on it and they hadn´t secured it properly the night before, and so the leopard had managed to get out. They had to dart it to make it drowsy and then push it from behind to get it out the tree and catch it in a net.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Argentinian Food

We have a home cooked meal every night at our guesthouse so I haven´t eaten out that much, however it is very cheap here, in Buenos Aires I had a pasta dish in a nice restaurant for about 4 pounds.

The Argentinian´s love their meat, if Jenny wasn´t a vegetarian, nearly every meal we have here would be meat based. We mainly have meals based around pasta, rice, and meat, with more unusual vegetable dishes, such as pickled cucumber, pickled cabbage or veg mixed with egg....all very nice. Their other passion is dulce de leche, a kind of caramel, very sweet, sticky spread, it goes with everything... on toast, bread,in pancakes, as a topping for desserts. I had an dulce de leche flavoured ice cream at the weekend which was gorgeous. There are bakery shops everywhere with a great selection of pastries and cakes, I pass a couple on the way to and from school so I have to walk past quickly otherwise I would be buying something all the time....yum yum.

Drinking Mate is very popular here, it seems to be the main past time.... Mate- pronounced ma-te is made from herby leaves from an evergreen tree, the leaves are dry roasted over a fire, coarsely ground, then left to mature in dry sheds for nine months to a year, it is drunk out of a vessel also called a mate, with a metal straw. It can be drunk hot or cold, lots of Argentinian´s go to work with their Mate and a flask of hot water. The leaves are in the bottom of the vessel which gets topped up with hot water. I tried it in the staffrooom at school, it was cold and had orange added to it, so it was quite sweet, I thought this sweet version was nice.

Monday, 22 March 2010

San Ignacio- Misiones Jesuitico Guaranies

San Ignacio is about an hours bus ride from Posadas. The long distance buses are very good, they are large double decker sleeper buses with air con and a tv. The Jesuit Guarnai Missions ruins were quite small and we were there in the heat of the day, which was very tiring. 30 settlements of Guarani Indians make up the Jesuit Missions throughout South America. We then caught a taxi to Club Del Rio, which is by the river just outside San Ignacio. Five of us crammed into an old beat up taxi, which then went down a very long, bumpy dirt road... we all knew each other alot better after that...

Club Del Rio is a large swimming pool complex with a bar and restaurant. It was great to cool off in the pool, the most enjoyable part of the day for me... The same taxi surprising turned up to collect us at 6.30pm to take us back to San Ignacio in time to see the Sound and Light show at the ruins. The show uses cutting edge technology, virtual actors, multimedia effects and images displayed on screens made up of water mists. I didn´t really enjoy the show, I think my expectations were too high, but everyone else did. We caught a bus home about 10.30pm, instead of stopping over as planned, as we had done everything there was to do in San Ignacio, it´s such a small place...

Thursday, 18 March 2010

T.S Eliot Institute

As I am only doing two days week at the public school, Veronica has a friend who teaches English at a private school in the city centre, so I am joining her English classes on a Monday and Thursday morning. It is a completely different experience to the public school, there are only 6-8 pupils in the class so the pupils get alot more of the teachers time. Caralina speaks fluent english unlike the teachers at the public school, they do not understand me when I ask simple questions like ´what are the pupils studying next week?´, so I am struggling to prepare for lessons.
I got involved with the pupils from the start of the lesson, asking questions about age, name and favourite colour so it was a good start. They thought it was funny when I called the register and couldn´t pronounce some of their names. They also think it is amusing that I can´t speak Spanish, nice to be a source of amusement...something I am having to get used to...I didn´t appreciate how difficult it would be to teach English with very little knowledge of the local language...bit naive of me perhaps... I am still taking Spanish lessons so hopefully my Spanish will improve while I am here.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The Costanera

Took a leaf out of the locals book, by walking along the Costanera Sunday afternoon. There isn´t much else to do as absolutely everywhere is shut on a Sunday.

The Rio Parana separates Argentina from Paraguay, and the Costanera is what the locals call their side of the shoreline. It looks like it has had alot money spent on it and has been done up really well. There were people fishing along it, which sounds fine, until we realised that all the waste water from the houses in Posadas runs straight into this river, as there were lots of plastic bags etc in the water. All the waste water from every house runs straight into the gulley at the side of the road, when you walk along there is an unpleasant smell and I am very careful not to step in the water...gross...

The locals pull up in their cars, get out the fold up chairs and mate, the national drink of Argentina, a bit like a herbal tea...then sit along the promenade watching the world go by. There are also joggers, cyclists and walkers, it´s the place to be seen exercising.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Power nightclub

Power is one of the largest night clubs in Argentina, it has 12 different dance floors/rooms, not sure why it is in Posadas...
We got there about 1am, after having a few drinks round ours first. Marcelo is the man, he got us all in the side entrance for free. I ordered a beer which came in a massive plastic beer jug, for only 10 pesos- about 1.60.
The Argentinian girls like to get dressed up and go all out, the lads don´t really make much effort. As Argentina is famous for the Tango we were expecting the locals to be really good dancers, but it was like any nightclub in England, people just bopping about a bit, so I felt at home....
We had a wander round each different room, it was really cool, there was a chill out room, with large squashy chairs, each room had a different feel to it. In the chill out room, there was a show where about 6 girls paraded up and down in bra and thong, we weren´t quite sure the reason why, but the boys enjoyed it...disappointed that there wasn´t a show with men in thongs but then sexism is alive and well here, so would be too much to expect.
Marcelo loves champagne,and passed it round to all of us. I had a really good night and got home at haven´t done that for a very long time...
Last Saturday was ladies night at Power, the girls get in for free after 1am, so all the girls queue up outside, while the guys pay to go in first, then at 1am, all the girls walk in and the men have took up an advantageous position to watch.
Marcelo is a party animal he goes out Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights every week, so expect will be going out quite a bit while I am here. Reminds me of my misspent youth...

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Escuela Publica no 219- 1st day

Had my first day at an Argentinian school today, it was a very different experience from English schools.
Firstly the teachers sit around in the staff room drinking mate- the local drink, which is shared around- gross.... there is no sense of urgency at all, and there is not a computer in sight. The teachers and most pupils wear white coats, as it is a public school. I met the headteacher- Graciela, and the English teacher is Lorena, she has been studying English for about 8 years, and teaching English for two years.

I joined her English class, they are 10 years old, and there are 17 pupils in total. They were quite well behaved, but as it was their first ever English class, I was glad I wasn´t taking it on my own, as it would have been a struggle with my limited knowledge of Spanish. I had to correct Lorena on her spelling of pupil and bye so that has me a bit concerned about the accuracy of the English language the students are learning, but does make me realise I can´t do any worse...
The classroom is hot and stuffy, and it´s pretty basic, with only a blackboard as a teaching tool.

At the moment I only have to go 2 days a week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Tuesday AM and Wed PM so I will have plenty of time for exploring. I think I´m going to enjoy it.

At the end of school- 11.30am- we all went and lined up in the assembly outdoor area and said some sort of thanks or prayer, then school was over for the day....can´t be bad.

Orientation day

Walked into Posadas city centre with Jenny as our orientation meeting isn´t until 4.30pm. Posadas is really nice, it has a very nice main plaza with lots of leafy trees to sit under. We went to the Paraguay market as we had been told it was a cheap place to buy shoes and clothes. Our attempts at Spanish were met with amusement by the locals but Jenny did manage to buy trainers and a t-shirt.

At the orientation, we met two other new volunteers, Lindsey, an American who will be working with Jenny at the animal rehabilitation centre, and Patricia, a fellow Englishman, who is working at the orphanage, with Mitzu. The main place of interest to visit is Iguazu falls, which I will probably visit the last weekend of March as we all have the Monday off work, so have 3 days to do it in, as it is a 6 hour bus journey....

I found out I will be working with the English teacher, and Veronica will take me on my first day, so I am not as worried as I was. It is in walking distance from my house so I will probably do that, to make sure I get some exercise while I am here.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Posadas-arrival day

As I got off the plane in Posadas, the heat hit me, it's so much hotter than Buenos Aires, it´s very humid, at times it can be 100% humidity, and about 30 degrees... wow... and it´s just coming into their autumn.
I was met at the airport by Marcelo from i-to-i, and met the other volunteers starting their projects at the same time, we were all on the same plane, although didn't know it... Jenny is from New Zealand and will be working with animals in a rehabilitation centre, Tim is from the US and will be coaching kids soccer. We are sharing a house together along with one other volunteer who has been here 6 weeks already, her name is Mitzu and she is working at an orphanage.
Marcelo is the project co-ordinator's husband, and he likes to party... More to come on that I expect... The guesthouse is in the same ground's as Veronica and Macelo´s house, and she comes in every night to cook us our dinner.

Mitzu´s parents were visiting from San Franciso and as she was planning to show them the orphanage, we all went along as well. Posadas is very different from Buenos Aires, it´s very green and leafy with wide avenues, it has a grid system which is useful for finding our way around. We caught a bus at the end of the road for 1.40 pesos- about 20 pence. The refuge is a dark cement building with an indoor and outdoor concrete yard. There is nothing on the walls and no toys for the children to play with. It was very depressing, there was water running through the back yard, which the children were using to wash clothes in.

Children from 4 months to 16 years live there, for a variety of reasons, some are orphans, but some are there because their parents can´t look after them. All the staff are volunteers, mainly locals, with a few i-to-i international volunteers as well.

It was heartbreaking seeing all these children who all wanted to be your friend. They all wanted to touch you or to be picked up, desperate for affection. I found it difficult at first as they looked so dirty and grubby, but their cheeky smiles won me over. We all took them to the park, about 15 of them for an hour, some came with no shoes on at all. It was exhausting.... They all wanted your attention, I soon learnt some basic spanish though... what was my name, where was I from etc...

I'm not sure if I could volunteer on that project as you need so much patience and energy, and I found it emotionally draining. The experience will linger with me for a long time. What an emotional first day.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Buenos Aires City Tour

The city tour started in Recoleta, through centro, to San Telmo, La Boca and Puerto Madera. My favourite part was La Boca. All the buildings are brightly painted in all sorts of colours. It is the oldest part of Buenos Aires as it is next to the old port. It was full of open air cafes and restaurants with tango dancers in nearly every one. Arts and crafts stalls line the narrow streets. I really loved it and would have liked to sit in one of the cafes enjoying a drink and the tango dancing, but we only had half an hour there- joys of being on a large coach tour...

Then in stark contrast to La Boca, we drive through an area nearby where homeless people lived in rough tin houses, like a shanty town. As in any big city the divide between rich and poor is huge

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

The Argentinian Adventure- Buenos Aires

Finally arrived in Buenos Aires today. It was sad saying bye to everybody at home over the last few days but as the plane took off I was filled with great excitement at the thought of what was to come. I had a sense of freedom and adventure as I flew 10,000 miles to the other side of the world.

I am very tired as I write this blog as I have been travelling for 24 hours in total but looking forward to a full day in Buenos Aires tomorrow.
I am in a hostel in the middle of Buenos Aires, and have booked into an 8 dorm room, I have the top bunk so not looking forward to my nights sleep!

It's very warm here despite it raining as I arrived from the airport. It's a very busy city and as I wandered round this afternoon, it felt a little like London, with people from all walks of life.

Planning a city tour and Tango dinner dance evening tomorrow, before I head to Posadas on Friday, to start my project.