This is Lucía, an incredibly lucky teacher from the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’ve been living, working and studying at WU for almost two months now, time flies fast (too fast!) when you are learning so much and having fun in the process. This is a long overdue introductory post, I promise to be a more active blogger in the weeks to come.
Hitchhiking across Patagonia
So yes, I’m from Argentina, but there are a couple of disclaimers I’d like to make:
- I don’t know the first thing about soccer (though it is always fun to take part in the temporary increase in the rate of national pride that takes place during the World Cup)
- I don’t quite like the taste of mate. However, I’ve brought with me all the necessary accessories ‘cause, who knows, I might get nostalgic and start drinking mate in this foreign land. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, so much the better! Mate culture deserves a whole separate post, but for now you should check out this video, where mate makes a stellar appearance on Conan’s special in New York.
- Yes, our beef is great, but I’ve never been a fan of cow’s intestines and blood sausages. Also, we don’t live under a “beef dictatorship”. Geography has also been helpful in providing us with fresh and delicious fruits and vegetables and vegetarianism / veganism are definitely on the rise.
There are, however, other ways in which I could be considered to be typically Argentinian / Porteña (=hailing from the city of Buenos Aires).
- The most evident is my use of “rioplatense” Spanish, which is a variety not usually present in instructional manuals and textbooks. Its most prominent features are the use of the pronoun “vos” (which replaces “tú” and has its own set of conjugations), a “sh” sound when pronouncing <LL> or <Y> (so lluvia becomes “shuvia”, and so on) and particular words and phrases that are directly related to tango culture and, most importantly, the influx of European immigrants (Italians, mostly) that arrived in Buenos Aires at the beginning of the 20th century.
- Argentinians are known for being lenient in their understanding of personal space boundaries. This in turn affects the way we say hello and goodbye to family, friends, acquaintances and complete strangers. Our greeting of choice: a kiss on the cheek. The following is not the best of academic sources on the subject, but it gives is pretty comprehensive overview of “kissing options” in most of Argentina (I won’t risk saying that this is true for the whole country). One more thing: my brain does not always remember the culture-bound nature of greetings, so I apologise in advance and retroactively to anyone who finds / has found themselves at the receiving end of an unrequested hug and kiss on the cheek.
What is my role at Willamette University? This academic year I will be assisting professors and students in the Spanish Department through tutoring, Spanish Table and the organisation of events together with the Spanish Club. In addition to this, I get to take part in the American higher education experience by taking classes and participating in some of the extracurricular activities offered on campus. Having spent my college years in a public institution (i.e.= no tuition fees) which is academically highly regarded but always struggling with lack of funds, I can’t help but to get mesmerised by the number (and the quality) of resources and educational opportunities available at WU. I understand, however, that no system is perfect.
The fact that I’m here at Willamette University working as a language assistant is the result of a series of fortunate events, starting with a sleepless night back in November last year when I decided to put together my Fulbright application at the very last minute. I’m not advocating for poor organizational skills, but I’m sure that there’s someone out there who has juggled school and work at the same time and understands the rush of getting things done under pressure. I was working at three different schools at the time and at some point the number of students I was teaching was close to 250, an interesting mix of young learners, lovely teenagers (oxymoron intended) and adults. As the application deadline loomed closer, there was always a new pile of homework to correct or a well-deserved nap to be taken that kept me from sitting down to write that dreaded personal statement. I considered giving it all up way too many times, but as I write these words sitting in one of the couches in Ford Hall, I’m ridiculously glad I didn’t.
So yes, I teach English. I’m an “agent of imperialism”, as some have been kind enough to point out. There was a period when I actually took those words to heart and seriously considered taking a different career path. In all honesty, it is not unreasonable to get that kind of reaction in a country that has not always been on the best of terms with other English-speaking countries. However, it was at the beginning of 2014 that I participated in a teacher-exchange program in Wichita, Kansas. Apart from being a great personal experience, my days in the “American heartland” were equally eye-opening from an academic and professional point of view. I was fortunate enough to visit a school district that is very interesting in terms of its demographics: more than half of school – age children attending public schools are of Hispanic origin and speak Spanish as their first or second language. Sitting in on lessons and assisting teachers, I saw inclusive language instruction in action and I returned to Argentina with a renewed faith in teaching in general, and bilingual education in particular.
Have all the studying, teaching and Youtube-watching made me a thoroughly competent and confident language user? Not really. I still have trouble making small talk (what is one expected to say when asked “What’s good?” There are some many good things in this world!) and I’ve stopped counting the times I’ve made some Italian-inspired gesture that makes absolutely no sense in English. I used to get upset about things like these (after all, I’m a teacher, I should know better!), but I guess that’s part of the beauty of learning a foreign language. You can never get too comfortable, there’s always a new word or word usage waiting to be found and explored. I do hope that during my stay at WU I will be able to spark some curiosity and help you through the ever-changing Spanish language landscape.
See you around!
WU Language Assistants Team!