Postcard from Argentina

| March 2, 2009
Katie Silver

Combining work and play is a shortcut to getting  under the skin of another culture.

When I arrived in Argentina to begin my AFS community service exchange, after only three weeks of Spanish classes, I even couldn’t even spell much less pronounce the name of my host family or hometown.

Oh dear!

But nobody held it against me and living with the Nachtriebs of Gualeguaychu has been nothing short of delightful.

Living with a family, studying and volunteering has meant that rather than just being a tourist, I’ve developed real relationships within the community. 

My volunteer work is comprised of mornings spent in the jardin (kindergarten).  My role is basically that of a pre-school teacher. We provide lunch (sometimes their only meal of the day), sing songs, play outside, do craft activities, wash their hands and clean their noses.  Many of the stories I’ve heard here are heartbreaking. Prostitution, 13-year-old mums, 35-year-old grandmothers and hungry children are all outside my normal sphere of experience. 

The children are so adorable that I miss them on the weekends.

I take classes three times a week in Spanish grammar with a wonderful jubilada (retired teacher) and also, classes in Tango. Afternoons I go to aerobics classes and enjoy my status as the token extranjero (foreigner).  All this dancing and exercise is in preparation for performing at Gualeguaychu’s famous summer  carnavale.  An experience for which I currently harbour some apprehension but hey, you’re only in Argentina once.

In the evenings I go the university where I see my friends and take history classes. I am often called upon to provide another perspective on topics such as human rights and theology. Cultural perspectives and differences of opinion are really epitomised in a situation such as this, which I think is beneficial for both groups. Topics we’ve covered include the difference in the stability of the economic system in both our nations, and how this in turn affect our lives, expectations, studies and own sense of personal security.  We’ve discussed the differing roles of bureaucracy, the government, and politicians, the role of the church, religion, marriage and how views on moral topics such as abortion and homosexuality differ.  

Katie SilverInteracting with fellow students has given me an outlet to ask the questions that my experience in the kindergarten evokes.  It’s helped my process what I’ve witnessed: a microcosm of the difficulties and challenges faced by people in this country; as well as the triumphs inherent within this society.

At home, I’ve developed such a strong bond with my chiquitita hermanitas (little little sisters) that I worry how I am going to cope when it’s time to go. The youngest follows me around the house calling me "Tatie" (Katie), and I relish subjecting three-year old Chiara to my attempts to read her bedtime stories in Spanish.

Pepi (Mama) and I enjoy a ritual of morning exercises together as well as long discussions about psychology. The  men of the house, Alberto (Papa) and Bruno (11yrs old), and I get together over Mate (a local type of tea) to take turns practicing English and Spanish.

On the weekends, I often have an asado (Argentinean barbeque) with my family or go to the boliche (club) or to the park with my friends to play futbol (soccer) or have an ice-cream. Otherwise we engage in the thoroughly Argentinean, at first peculiar, habit of circling the park in a car, braving bottleneck traffic, with music pumping and family in tow, in order to "people watch".

My host- family has made a huge effort to show me around, such as visiting the chacra (small farm) where Alberto works picking fruit and vegetables for the family. We’ve also had a family holiday on an island and I’ve even been to meet the cousins in Buenos Aires.

I have made some really special enduring friends here and am having such a wonderful time.

Alberto shared with me that many years ago he spent six years living in New York where he became great friends with an American couple who had helped him.  Sadly, over the years they had lost touch. With Alberto’s limited spoken English and inability to read or write in English he had been unable to reconnect with them. I was able to call them on an old number and re-establish contact through email and photos. This surprise has been a source of great joy for both families, and a special highlight of the trip for me!

Every day I’m here I feel myself growing and changing at a pace that almost frightens  me.  I’m learning lots; about Spanish, about myself and about the world. I feel so full of life. I honestly cannot express upon you how grateful I am for this experience.  Muchas, muchas, muchas Gracias!

Katie Silver, AFS Intercultural Programs, Community Service Program to Argentina

More information is available at

Katie Silver is a fifth year student of  psychology, finance and international business. Her interests include travel, food, family, friends, dancing and sport. Katie has spent the past  14 months having a wonderful time on university exchange in Canada, backpacking and studying in Europe and then spending a wicked 7 months in Latin America, mostly in Argentina. Katie is planning  a career in international development and aid allocation, which will hopefully allow her to return to Latin America.




  1. suchy226

    March 3, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    Hey! Great Blog!

    Wow! What a wonderful blog!!! It sounds like such a life changing experience:) I'm 16, and leaving for my year abroad to Argentina July 28th!! I'm sooooooo excited!!! If theirs any pointers you have, or advice that would be great!!! Thanks so much for sharing!

    -Rachel Suchy 🙂

  2. suchy226

    March 3, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    Oh! and my e-mail is!!!

  3. cjrm

    March 9, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    AFS, Argentina
    I am the mother of a high school senior and we are interested in exploring the possibilities of a gap year experience.  The idea of submersion in a spanish speaking culture, most likely in the Americas is of interest.  Also of interest is an experience that includes work or community service, as well as education.  It sounds like AFS can offer these things, but I'm curious and concerned about the financial expenses and looking for a program that is reasonable.  In addition to her interest in the Spanish language, my daughter is interested in marine and environmental science.  Does anyone have ieas?  Katie experience sounds really great. Thanks, cjrm

  4. Sheenal Singh

    March 13, 2009 at 8:40 am


    Hi cjrm!

    Going overseas can be inordinately expensive, but AFS Intercultural Programs offer a wide range of partial and full scholarships for students looking to take a gap year/community service.  Just go to for regular updates on scholarship launch dates, or you can email if you want to know about specific language and community service programs. 

    Hope this helps!