Saturday, March 18, 2017

Bienvenidos a Argentina!

Well, I made it to Argentina in one piece! These first two weeks have flown by and I am slowly getting accustomed to my new life in San Luis. I started my first week in Buenos Aires for orientations at the Fulbright Commission and Ministry of Education, giving me a chance to meet all my fellow Fulbrighters who will be living in various parts of the country. It was a great time getting to know them and learn about what we can expect life to be like in Argentina along with what we will be doing in our ETA positions. Since most of our time was spent in orientations, I did not have a chance to see much of the city besides the area our hotel was located and the city tour we had as a group. Hopefully, I will be able to visit Buenos Aires in the next few weeks to see all the amazing sites and maybe take the boat ferry to Uruguay for the day!

I started work at the Instituto de Formación Docente Continua (IFDC) in San Luis last week. It is an institute where students study to become teachers, so basically a teacher college. I am working in the Department of Foreign Languages with the professors who teach the students training to be English teachers. For the first month, I will be assisting in a Culture, Language, and Literature class as well as taking a Portuguese class. I am very excited to be working in a Culture class since this is my favorite subject by far. I sat in on the first class last week to get an idea about what the class will be discussing and this week I will get to teach a section of the lesson. I also started the Language class which encompasses all parts of English language - speaking, listening, writing, reading. The students were very interested in getting to know me and were very excited to share information about Argentina and San Luis. One thing I am extremely excited for in this class is that they will be doing an English play! I love theater so I'm looking forward to putting my past acting experience to use with my students. I have not started the Literature class since the professor is on leave, but I am sure I will love it as well! I decided to take the Portuguese class because it I have been wanting to learn Portuguese for the past 4 years. As of now I am just taking a comprehension course, but hopefully I will be able to take a Portuguese conversation course in the future while I am here.

Instituto de Formación Docente Continua

First Impressions

My first few weeks in Argentina has opened my eyes to some key differences between life in the USA and Argentina. Some of these cultural difference I was expecting whereas others I was somewhat surprised to find.

Siesta: Yes, siesta does exist here. I have experienced this phenomena before in my other travels, so I was expecting to encounter it here. Siesta happens everyday between 1pm-5pm depending on what city/region you live in. It is a time in the afternoon where people take a long lunch, relax at home with their families, and even nap. Most stores, banks, and businesses close during this time, making the city seem almost vacant in the streets at times. It is a cultural practice very different to that of the USA where most typically work from 7:30am-5pm with only an hour break in the middle. The institute that I work is still open during this time, but if I need to go to the store or do anything that day, I have to plan to do it before or after this time. It is a small inconvenience if you only have free time during the afternoon to run errands, however, it is a welcome change to the fast paced life I am used to in the US.

Food: Argentineans are very passionate about their food! You don't see people eating on the go because they prefer to converse and enjoy their food at their pleasure. They also have a very different meal schedule than the U.S., eating lunch as late as 3 p.m. and dinner usually after 9 p.m. I am doing my best to adjust my eating schedule to coincide with this, but I must admit that sometimes waiting past noon to eat lunch is a struggle for me! Asados and mate are a key part of Argentine life. Asados are amazing feasts of Argentine barbecue with beef, sausage, bread, chimichurri, vegetables, and more. I have not yet been to one, however, I hope to be invited to one in the near future. Herbal mate, which is a tea-like drink, is something Argentineans drink everyday, all day. It is drank out of a device called a mate with a straw by adding the herbal mate and hot water then sugar if you like it sweet. It is common to see people passing the mate around in groups at work, parks, home, or pretty much anywhere people are gathered.


Workplace: Working at an institute of higher education in Argentina is quite different for me than it was back home. In the U.S., the university classes were always planned out in advance and where only rearranged in special circumstances. Here, however, class schedules were changing constantly the first week of the semester. It was a little chaotic for me, a person who likes to have a laid out plan, but it is all about adapting to the situation. I finally have somewhat of a set schedule for this first semester, so that helps me feel somewhat organized. In addition, using textbooks isn't really standard here. Many professors are creating their own material or use pdfs of different textbooks/literature in their classes. Whereas in the U.S. you may pay hundreds of dollars on textbooks you rarely use, here students just print out the pdfs/material at home or for a few dollars at the institute. I love this concept of using multiple resources in the classroom, combining specific pieces of different textbooks/literature along with unique activities created by the professors themselves.

Technology: Another difference at my institute here versus the university/college back home is technology. From my previous travels I knew not to expect computer labs or classrooms with brand new Apple/Microsoft computers, however, I was not prepared for how minimally technology is used here compared to the U.S. First off, there are only a few desktop computers in the shared professors' offices and they are at least from the early 2000s. Most professors have small laptops, but it is very different than walking into a college department in the U.S. Printers, copiers, fax machines, etc. are not found in the departments; there is a cafe in the building where one must go to make copies. I feel that technology in our schools, colleges, and universities is something we take for granted in the U.S. Here, students and professors make do with what they have and don't rely on technology constantly for support. I think this aspect will be a great learning experience for me because I am so used to having technology be accessible whenever/whenever I need it.

Final Thoughts 

All though these first few weeks have been tough without my family, I feel that little by little I am starting to get accustomed to my new way of life here. My coworkers and the students at the IFDC have been very welcoming and I am finding ways to get more involved with the institute. For example, I am joining the institute's Book Club that meets once a month and I hope to start an English Music Club for students and professors in the near future. As to my living situation, I think I finally found a permanent residence in the city! I think having a place to call home in San Luis will help with my homesickness and make every day life much more comfortable!

Plaza Pringles, Downtown San Luis

Monday, March 13, 2017

I'm Going on an Adventure!

Now that you know what the Fulbright Program is, I can tell you about my Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) grant and what I know so far about my upcoming stay in Argentina.

 To start off, I will give you a little background information about myself. I recently completed a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and I'm in the final stage of completing my M.S.Ed. in Educational and Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Language, Culture and Education. Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to work as a Graduate Assistant at Western Illinois University and a Campus Assistant at Spoon River College Office of Community Outreach.

Both work places have provided me with valuable experience in higher education, however, I have not yet had the opportunity to work in an university-level ESL classroom. I have tutored ESL students from WIU during my time as a grad student, which has intensified my desire to work in an adult ESL program one day.  During my master's degree program I decided that I needed to gain experience in an university-level ESL classroom in order to prepare for my future as an ESL instructor.

The Fulbright Program was one I had looked into when I was an undergrad who was always looking for a way to continue travelling/studying abroad. However, I did not consider applying to it until my study abroad adviser (who is also a Fulbright adviser) reached out to me and said she thought it would be a good program for my educational and career goals. I studied abroad multiple times as an undegraduate, so naturally I was inclined to take a closer look and see what kind of experience this  program might be able to offer.

After months of preparing my application material (essays, references, short-response questions) and having coworkers, professors, and staff review it, I submitted my Fulbright application online. I chose Argentina specifically for two reasons. 1.) ETAs in Argentina are assigned to work at Teacher Colleges with undergraduate students and 2.) I was supposed to study abroad in Argentina a few years back with a WIU group, however, the trip was cancelled due to low enrollment and I have been wanting to go there ever since. I submitted my application in October 2015 and found out I had been chosen as a Fulbright recipient in March 2016. It was a long waiting process but definitely worth following through.

 In November 2016 I finally found out where I would be living in Argentina. I have been placed in the city of San Luis, which is in the central part of the country. I will be working at the Instituto de Formación Docente Continua (IFDC) which is a school for undergrad students studying to be English Teachers. I do not know what teacher or class I will be assisting in, so I am excited/anxious to find that out when I arrive! I also do not have a for sure place to live yet...but hey, half the fun is knowing things will work out one way or another!

 As I type this, I am currently waiting for my flight to take off to Buenos Aires. I have four days of orientation and training before I head to San Luis. This will give me a chance to explore the wonders Buenos Aires has to offer, meet the other Fulbrighters, and meet up with my Chilean sister who I have not seen in three years!

 I will miss my loved ones back in the US, especially my husband and son, but I am staying positive because I know that this will be an experience of a lifetime.  

 As Bilbo Baggins so fittingly put it, "I'm going on an adventure!"

Besos y abrazos,