On being noticeably foreign, not speaking the language well, and getting lost with no means of communication

***Note: This post was meant to be published a looonngg time ago. At the moment, I only have 11 days left in Argentina but most of what is in this post is about my first days in this country.***

Day II & scattered thoughts:

Friday was my day of induction, and Roman, my project coordinator came in the morning to take me out and see some of the sights around downtown and get me acquainted with the local transportation and places where I can exchange money (cambios), buy toiletries (farmacia; I had to get a blow-dryer…there was only one left and it cost me about $157 pesos!) and in general just chatting a bit about life here. It was an amazing experience seeing how everything is and having enough of a picture of the downtown area that I could probably still manage to get by if I get lost. Everything: how to buy a bus card, how to take a bus, where to take the bus, where to buy a local SIM card etc. would have been extremely hard to learn on my own, especially with my Spanish (which although is excellent in terms of writing and reading, lacks a lot in verbal communication).

We popped into a couple of iglesias, walked by quite a few museos, and ended up having lunch at Alfonsína, where I tried empanadas for the first time! The restaurant/bar had pretty good ambiance and as we had gotten there at about 1pm, it was still early enough that there weren’t too many people there. One of the first things that I read about online and in guidebooks about Argentina is the rhythm of life here: when meals are eaten, approximately how much is eaten and so on. Breakfast is usually a light meal, just coffee/tea and a medialuna (croissant) for some people. As of yet (I’m typing this on my 12th day here), I have yet to have a medialuna for breakfast!

What I’ve been most fortunate to try however, is a criollo, a regional type of pastry found in Córdoba and nowhere else (what my host mom said). They look like this and the ones I’ve tried are actually “criollitos” because they’re smaller than traditional criollos (they’re actually the same size as the ones in the picture). Basically, they’re layered pastry squares and one can eat them plain or with jam (plum marmalade!), butter (mantequilla) or anything you prefer (I choose dulce de leche). Other days for breakfast I get tostadas, toast made from cut-up baguette sections (which I lather all over with again, dulce de leche) and merengues.

Criollitos, fresh from the bakery. I love my host mom!

But what is dulce de leche? I actually looked at the ingredients the other day and although the first ingredient listed is milk (leche), the rest of the ingredients are pretty much sugar/sugar derivatives! It is a brown colour, darker than caramel (but I call it liquid caramel) but is less sweet and consistent than regular caramel. I’m sure you can buy it in many places of the world now (President’s choice have their own kind, it came up when I googled) but that probably wouldn’t stop me from bringing some home for friends and family!

The rest of this post will be a bit more disjointed and spontaneous as I no longer have chronological memories of what happened during these days…

After my induction in the downtown with Roman, we took a bus back to the office where I was introduced in person to all the staff that are there. To be honest, I had expected something resembling more of an office building, but I think it’s rather cute how the office is in its own house-like building, gated and very, very white. The walls of the staircase are covered in the signatures of past volunteers, many of whom have drawn pictures of the flags of their countries or some other national symbol (many beavers, maple leaves!). I have no idea yet what I’m going to sign besides my name, but let’s not be too stereotypically Canadian, now, shall we?

I have (up til now) only been to the office that one time but it shouldn’t be too difficult to go back I hope. It takes about 40 minutes to get there from where I live and I think the N1 is the only bus I can take to get there from here. A trip to my placement at the equine therapy centre was next, and I got to meet Vero, the owner of the place, all the horses, and the other 5 girls who are also volunteers. 4/5 are from the Netherlands, which makes me wonder whether the organization recruits more aggressively in that country than they do in Canada, for instance.

Off to work!

My first “day” (I didn’t have to start working that day if I didn’t want to, but I did anyway) on the job and it is my first time ever in close proximity to a horse (although I will be working intensively around/with them for the next month!). I got accidentally bitten by a horse when her saddle was being put on by another volunteer. Such bad luck! After so many days (about 17), I still have a visible bruise where the horse’s teeth were and a sizeable pocket of liquid underneath my muscle that refuses to be reabsorbed by my body. If I hadn’t been wearing a long-sleeved hoodie when I was bitten, there would’ve been blood for sure. As it is, the bite hurt a hell of a lot although I was more surprised than anything else at the time. My skin was broken but there was no damage done to the hoodie, and despite the fact that it did rather hurt, I didn’t expect the extent of damage when I finally lifted my sleeve to check on it about 10-20 minutes after it happened. The only other person who knew I was bitten at the time didn’t expect it was that bad either based on my reaction right after it happened. I swear, if I didn’t say “oh, she bit me” (in a very underwhelming tone), nobody would’ve even known. Later, Roman asked me if I had screamed and I kind of just looked at him like, wouldn’t you have heard me if I had?? Guys…

Negra, the horse that bit me. She has a very, very sensitive back, but is the easiest horse to ride!

Everybody treated me like I was crippled after that (I mean this in a good way, like they were trying to take care of me), I was given an ice pack and told to sit down and everything which I did for about 5 minutes before I gave up and got up to see how I could help. I ended up spending the rest of that day scooping horse poop, learning how to brush a horse, watering the sand in the pavilion so there wasn’t so much dust in the air, learning where things are put in the stables and other things crucial to how things work at the foundation.

What terrible luck on a first day, no? But wait, it gets worse.

Keep in mind that this was my first full day in Argentina and my Spanish (in terms of speaking and listening) may have improved since then.

Taking the bus back home with the girls (Roman had left after talking to the other volunteers a bit after I was bitten), I was lucky enough that they knew the other girls who had stayed with my host mom well so they were able to tell me where I should get off the bus. The neighbourhood looked a lot different at night (I have work from 3-7pm) than it did that morning with Roman to guide me. I found my street without trouble but completely walked past my house and ended up walking up and down the street trying to find the elusive number (the numbers on the houses don’t stand out at all! I swear some people try to hide theirs on purpose..or that they had fallen off). I ended up asking a man who was walking his dog where I was and I guess he assumed I would’ve seen it if I had walked past it, because I was pretty sure he had told me that I was going in the right direction and to just keep going (which is really the opposite direction of where I should go!). In the end, I reached the part of the street where it kind of goes downhill and realize that I’ve gone too far and doubled back. What a heck of a day, no?

I don’t think I was culture-shocked so soon…it probably didn’t really hit me until the 4th day because I was bored sitting around with almost nothing to do and scared of getting lost if I decide to go out on my own. In fact, that was probably most of my first week up until I went to a weekly social the next weekend and met some people who I hang out with now on weekends. All the cultural differences, the diversity in norms, infrastructure, the climate, the layout of the city, not being able to completely express myself, were just obstacles to overcome. If you had asked me just a week ago whether I would rather stay or go home, I know in my heart that I would want to go home, but despite that, I would also stick it out because I need this. A change of scenery is good, and I really do need to grow up, to not be afraid to stand out (you can go through an entire day without seeing another Asian here, in fact, I went through about 14 days). To be noticeably foreign can be very alienating…

More to come about my experiences in Córdoba later (maybe even when I get home)! I only have about 11 days left so I’ll have to take advantage of all my non-working time to buy souvenirs for friends and family, visit more museums and churches, and hopefully do some shopping for myself!


Sign prohibiting the playing of football at Parque Sarmiento. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!



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