As I sat on the plane at the start of the 13-hour flight, I thought about what the trip might bring. I was excited yet nervous, not knowing quite what to expect from an unknown country and culture.
As I arrived, however, all sense of anxiety completely disappeared. We were greeted warmly by our host partners and taken to their homes. I was welcomed quite literally with open arms by my host parents, and thus commenced my stay. After arriving, we spent the day with our host families. This included having lunch at a local boat club and taking in the beautiful views of the River Paraná. It took me a while to get used to their routine – trying to wait until 11pm to have dinner!
We went on a boat trip down the river and visited some landmarks, like the city’s famous Cathedral and the National Flag Memorial. The following day, we were given an insight into Argentinian education. But it wasn’t quite what we expected – we were shown how students make jam or perfume in a Chemistry class to then sell and raise funds for charity. In the afternoon, Salopian boys played a football match against their Argentinian counterparts. We were also very lucky to visit an animal sanctuary, which cared for animals that had been kept as illegal pets. We were fortunate enough to see a variety of animals, from different species of monkey to a baby puma.
After a couple of days of lessons and cultural tours, we were able to relax at an Argentinian estancia (a type of ranch). We were driven up a long winding track until we reached a beautiful home. The countryside stretched as far as the eye could see. Here we enjoyed the beautiful Argentinian weather and sampled a traditional asado of beef, along with empanadas for starter. We stayed here for the afternoon and many people enjoyed sunbathing or horse riding. There were lots of complaints when it was time to leave!
We spent our last two days in Rosario with the host families, enjoying a stroll around the parks and then another large asado in the evening. I enjoyed spending this time with my host family and really getting to know them. Staying with a host family was a wonderful experience, as it allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of the culture and to really improve my Spanish skills. We ended up talking about all manner of topics at the dinner table, from religion to how to brew the perfect cup of mate (a traditional Argentinian drink.) For me, being able to talk in Spanish and share our two cultures really allowed us to connect with each other.
The trip offered many opportunities to try something new – from a tango class with our host partners to sampling the traditional cuisine. There were times to get stuck in and really take advantage of what was on offer, such as reading to playschool children or taking a cooking lesson.
A significant part of the trip for me was our visit to the Desafío Foundation, a charity which runs sports activities and workshops for disadvantaged children (and partly funded by selling the jam and perfume made in the chemistry lessons!). Although we were only able to spend a couple of hours there, Salopians and Rosarinos alike realised that perhaps we had more in common than we had originally thought. Despite stark cultural and social differences, everyone connected on some level – whether this was just talking about football or music. When asked to describe themselves in one word, many children simply said alegre (happy).
The happiness of the Argentinian people was something that struck me during the trip. To me it seemed that this happiness was a lot simpler than expected – enjoying time spent with friends and family, something that is at the heart of Argentinian values. I formed a strong bond with my host family and made many new friends. It was very emotional to say goodbye at the end of our stay, and many of us were welcomed back.
Once in Buenos Aires, we took in the main tourist attractions, including the main square where the government building and the Cathedral are located. We expanded our knowledge of Argentina’s rich history by visiting the grave of Eva Perón and watching a traditional tango show. We also visited the area of La Boca, a colourful myriad of tango dancing in the street and artisan stalls.
When Mr Wright asked me what the highlight of the trip was for me, I didn’t choose an activity, but rather the people themselves. The kindness, warmth and generosity of the Argentinian people is something I will always remember. One part I really loved about the trip was being able to communicate in a different language – whether this was talking to my host family to starting a conversation with artisans in the market.
Thank you so much to Mr & Mrs Wright for making the trip possible and also to Matron Debra King for accompanying us and injecting some laughter into the trip. It was an unforgettable experience, and I look forward to returning as soon as I can!