2018-07-05

Yena's Volunteer Experience in Buenos Aires

Written by Yena Jo
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Volunteers enjoying Caminito! Volunteers enjoying Caminito! Voluntario Global

Get to know more about Yena's experience in Buenos Aires as a communication volunteer!

When I first arrived here, I was excited but disappointed at the same time. I was excited since I’ve never been to South America and I came to a place where I completely don’t understand the language. On the other hand, I was quite disappointed because I felt that Buenos Aires seems to be Paris of South America but I came to realize that Buenos Aires is a unique place where you can experience blending of cultures- such as the European style of architecture and coexistence with people from other Latin American countries. Buenos Aires seems like Paris because of the symmetrical lined buildings, or like Italy due to the accent or Italian heritage remained in here.

I was inspired by the fact that they support and connect with each other under the similar culture Latin Americans share. Especially, when it comes to soccer, people are supporting the Latin American teams even though the team is not from their own countries. I think that soccer is almost like a religion here. It was so interesting to see that everything paused when the Argentine team starts to play soccer during the World Cup. One day when Argentina played against Nigeria, I saw people stop at a random pizza place to watch the match on TV and cheer for Argentina on the street. When the Argentine team scored the goal, people on the street shouted and honked the horn of a car. I could see how much people are passionate about soccer. It was a lot of fun when my friends and I went to see another game at the San Martin Plaza where there were full of cheers and spirits. Moreover, there is always Messi in a lot of advertisements at stores or on TV. Mostaza (a hamburger chain restaurant) is a fast food restaurant where you can easily find out how much people are into Messi and soccer.

Not only are they passionate about soccer, but Argentinians are also enthusiastic when they participate in the demonstration. There are several themes of manifestations like abortion, women’s right, or workers’ right. Participating in marching and shouting what they want to achieve was one of my favorite moments in Buenos Aires. I was so inspired by the fact that people raise their voice in a peaceful way and actively engage in the demonstrations when the government does something against what citizens want. The government is also willing to listen to them and implement fairer laws. This whole process of creating the better community by communicating with each other was so powerful and memorable to me. Especially, at the demonstration of women’s right and abortion, I was surprised that there were plenty of men as well as women. Though machismo and patriarchy have been deeply rooted in Argentina, it was impressive that the younger generation tried to eradicate injustice regardless of the gender. Since I minor in Gender Studies, I really enjoyed the feminist movements and I was glad to support them.

Above all, the reason why I could experience lots of things on weekdays is that the communication team’s schedule is so flexible. As a part of the team, I usually go to the volunteering projects, take pictures, and upload them on the social media. We interviewed coordinators and volunteers and made videos per each project. Something that I like the most about working in this team is we are in the middle between the organization and volunteers. We “communicate” with both sides and develop the vision of Voluntario Global by showing how we work in our own creative ways. I learned that volunteer is not a one-way relationship; people who get help from volunteers also influence volunteers in various ways, leading to help each other to grow. I respect how Voluntario Global thinks of the meaning of volunteer. Its vision -growing as a community by empowering people- also empowered me in a way that I learned how to accept and respect the difference.

However, the most difficult part was Spanish to me. When the communication team interviews coordinators or plays with children after getting our work done at the project, it was so hard for me to communicate with people because I didn’t even know some basic words. It was definitely not limited to the project. At first, I complained that people don’t speak English when I struggled to understand what they said. Over time, I realized how selfish and disrespectful I was. I’m the one who tried to experience and learn about Argentina where people speak Spanish. So, this is why I started to take a Spanish class and tried to speak Spanish as much as I could.

Lastly, I’d like to mention that when you see racist or sexist people here (not necessarily Argentinians), speak out loud that this is racist or sexist. As an Asian woman, I recommend keeping in mind that there are an extremely small amount of Asians in Buenos Aires. But I’ve got so much valuable experience that makes me forget the little bother. Overall, I appreciate the opportunity to influence the community positively, and vice versa. I would say Buenos Aires is a place where you will see both sides of the city; you will see plenty of homeless people or a huge gap between the rich and the poor; but you will also see countless people who would help you when you get lost and who are willing to share Latin American culture with you. And don’t forget to try as much Argentine food as you can!

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