Monday, October 7, 2013

The Perks of Being an Outsider

I’ve talked a lot about the difficulties of living in a new country, especially one with a different native language.  I cannot lie, it’s very hard at times.  However, by only sharing the difficulties, I’m also not sharing the whole truth.  You see, there are several positives about being from outside Argentina that have surprised me along the way.

From my experience, Argentines are very welcoming to visitors and are very excited to meet outsiders. Before ever being called by my name, I am first known as “la chica de los Estados Unidos”  (the girl from the United States).  This is not said in a negative way, but with excitement and curiosity.  People are interested in learning about where I am from and why I am here.  I have yet to to come across any North Americans in La Plata despite there being a university with students from other countries in attendance, so I think being from the US adds to the curiosity. 

 In reality, I’m never called by my actual name, Kristyn. Within Argentina I have transformed into “Kris”, pronounced Krees with a rolled “rrr”.  Kristyn Zollos is a bit difficult to pronounce here.  It is so amazing to me that depending on the language you speak, different sounds are so difficult to make in a new language.  I’m still struggling to roll my “r’s”.  And I mean really struggling.

Wow, I’ve gotten off topic.  So, where was I? Oh yes, Argentines are very welcoming to foreigners.  People are excited to share with me their culture and are interested in learning more about my own.  While sharing with me things like food and pop culture here, in return they want to know if things are as they are portrayed on the television programs and what foods I eat in the US.  I’m very willing to debunk a few myths that television has created with shows like the Simpsons (which plays 24 hours a day here), and I’m sad at times that I cannot.  It was a disappointing day when I had to say, "Yes, we do have child pageants with ridiculous stage moms and girls who go by names like 'Honey Boo Boo” .  Luckily, I was able to respond to the question that followed with, “No, I never participated in such pageants, my parents chose to get me involved in other things.” And for that I am eternally grateful, mom and dad!

As an newcomer from the US, I also have an automatic “in” with a lot of people, especially children, who have an interest in the English language.  Most of the children learn some English in school and many enjoy telling me every single word they know within our conversation.  I love it.  They count for me and point out the colors in english.  They are just so excited to share what they know of “my” language.  What they don’t know, they ask.  And man, once they get rolling on asking what things are in English or what things are like where I'm from, they really get rolling. 

The first thing that every child wants to know is his or her name.  Some are easy…Azule,? Well that means Blue. Abril? That’s April. Ivan? You just sound it out differently.  But then there are the tricky ones.  Ismail? Uhh…  Ticiana? Well, let me think about that…  Do I break a small child’s heart by telling them there is no English equivalent to their name or do I try to make something up on the spot in avoidance of the horrible truth?  And let me tell you if I got to making things up, kids would be walking away with some ridiculous English names.  I’m no good with improv. 

These kids that I am referring to are from a comedor, or after-school (and before-school) program as it’s referred to in the US.  I originally was supposed to be working with a particular comedor that did not work out.  I was really bummed about this at first, but a friend, who is a social work student, mentioned this particular comedor that he has worked with in the past.  A call was made to the organization and the director was really excited to have me help out and asked if I could visit the following day.  The next day I was welcomed by many of the workers and volunteers at the organization who she had asked to be there to meet me.  I also met another social work student from the university who is part of a group of students working within the community.  She invited me to come along this past week as she and other students went around the community, to the school and a home for children.  This past Friday I also participated in the student’s classes on bullying that they helping put on within the school. 

I am extremely excited about being involved not only in the comedor but in the community.  I really love the idea about truly understanding the place a whole, not just a single part of it.  The kids have already touched my heart with their joy for both learning and teaching.  Learning in this context is so beautiful for me because it is all about sharing.  I need their help and they need mine.  Actually, at this point I probably need their help more than they need mine. Sometimes I think giving them love and attention is more needed than teaching, so I like to think I'm contributing in some way.  I am excited to share with you all more of my experiences within this community as I continue to get involved.

To finish, I’d like to apologize for my lack of pictures today.  I can never remember to bring my camera and to take pictures at the right moment.  I also feel like a tourist when whipping out my camera to document an event or place.  Another confession: if you look through any of my recent photos they are all of our pup.  ALL of them.  I have probably have five or so photos on my phone of her with feathers all over herself after eating a pigeon, but I lack a single photo of my recent trips to the comedor.  I’m going to take photos tomorrow and put them up after.  I am 80% sure this will happen. 

Overall, I find myself extremely content with where I am at and what I am doing.  I am meeting amazing people constantly and building upon those relationships already formed daily. I am experiencing new things, many of which call me to take some large but necessary steps outside my comfort zone. I continue to learn and grow everyday from both my struggles and my achievements.  Looking upon all of it, I know I have so much to be thankful for, including my wonderful support system from afar. Thank you for the continue thoughts and prayers!

Much love,


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