Friday, April 2, 2010


This week we had our final class, I went to the travel clinic, and I finished my volunteer hours. It was a pretty productive week and things seem to finally be coming together, I just need to hand in a couple of things on Monday and then I should be done the course!

So for our final class we did what we do best, which is eat. We had lunch and we had guests come wish us “bon voyage”; however it didn’t feel like the end. This process has been going on for so long now that I’m still in “I’ll be going eventually” mode. I don’t think this will set in until I start packing. I love to pack and packing is when you have to picture exactly what you’ll be doing because you need to pack accordingly for those activities. I also just like organizing, so I can’t wait for the challenge of packing my travel backpack that I got for Christmas so that everything is as accessible as it needs to be and I fit everything I need in it. Just talking about packing is getting me excited for Argentina right now! I’m such a nerd. I think another reason as to why it hasn’t set in yet is because I don’t yet have a departure date. I think once the ticket is booked and I can mark on my calendar an actual date then I’ll start getting nervous and excited.

Also, this week I went to the travel clinic. It was the best visit to the clinic ever because I didn’t have to get ANY needles! Absolutely none at all! The one that nurse said I would need to get had the option of being taken orally, so of course I opted for that. I just can’t forget to take the four pills next week. I also learned some things to look out for. Such as, avoid rabid animals (and just all animals in general), don’t get bitten by bugs (I should take bug repellant with 20-30 percent DEET), look out for traffic, make sure I only consume safe food and water, and how to combat traveler’s diarrhea (take prescription drugs). It was a very informative session and I brushed up on my negotiating skills. One may wonder how you improve your negotiating skills at a clinic so I will tell you. When the nurse suggested things that needed needles but weren’t necessary for the area I was going I told her I would stay away from all areas that carried the disease as long as I didn’t have to get the needle. Or if there were shots that she recommended just in general I told her I would get them when I came back or if I was ever traveling anywhere in the future that required them. I just really wanted to avoid needles. So it was a successful trip to the clinic, I even got some swag (free stuff) like booklets and papers on things to look out for in Argentina and just traveling in general.

While at the travel clinic the nurse gave me tips for what to eat and drink. Unfortunately raw food is a no go, this means no sushi. I wasn’t expecting sushi in Quilino per se, but in the larger cities such as Cordóba and Buenos Aires there is international cuisine. Some other things to keep in mind is when eating fruit and vegetables they either have to be cooked (so that all of the germs are gone) or have a skin that can be peeled off. This is unfortunate for me because I love fruits and vegetables and there are a lot of vegetables that can’t be peeled and taste delicious raw. Also, if it isn’t obviously safe to drink the water it is always best to opt for alcohol! Well the nurse mentioned juice and pop too, but she also suggested beer and wine.

On Wednesday I finished my volunteer hours. It was most definitely a sigh of relief to get those done. I also just really like St. John’s kitchen so it was a good Wednesday. Now that the pressure is off to get 20 hours though, I am still planning on going there for a couple of hours here and there when procrastinating for exams. At dinner on Wednesday I was talking to a couple of friends about my work at the soup kitchen and I think one of them are interested in going sometime so I might bring a friend next time I volunteer. It felt a bit like in the movie “Pay it Forward”.

So that’s it. I think this is our last mandatory blog until departure time – so adios amigos! I will gladly be gone from the blogosphere for awhile.
Nos vamos!

Friday, March 26, 2010


So I haven’t written for awhile (for my blog at least, I’ve definitely been writing a lot) and things are in full swing now!
I received multiple emails from Hugo and my supervisor Juan Pablo. They have been in Spanish, so it’s been a bit difficult to understand entirely because I’m always afraid I’ve missed something. I met with Joanne yesterday to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, and she quelled some of my concerns in that regard. I am definitely living in Quilino, and I will be working in Quilino and Dean Funés with el Centro Cultural Quilindo. I will be working with the local artists, which include my host family.

Some more exciting news is that I will be taking 36 hours of class while I am down there and I will get 3 Spanish language credits! I’m extremely stoked about this because by the end of the summer I will have completed half of the requirements for my minor. So as frustrating as it will be to be speaking Spanish constantly, it will be even more worth my frustrations now.

Also, I FINALLY began my volunteer work! Last week, procrastinators united and Raquel and I motivated each other to start our shifts at St. John’s Kitchen! It was the absolute best experience. I went twice last week, and I was hoping to go again this week but a gazillion papers stopped me. I’m hoping to go back sometime next week. I love it there, everyone is really great to work with and talk to. It was also a good precursor to the type of situation I will be in this summer. When we first got there we didn’t really know what to do. One of the things that first threw me off was first thing in the morning. Raquel had a coffee but couldn’t take it into the Kitchen area so Gretchen asked her to drink it just outside in the eating area. I then followed Gretchen into the kitchen because I had thought she would want some work to get done. However, I got into “trouble” because I didn’t stay outside and keep my friend company. I thought that it was so unheard of! In any other jobs I’ve worked in if you chose socializing with friends over work then you made a bad decision. From speakers that have come to my classes that have worked in volunteer positions abroad and others I have learned that it is common to catch up on each other’s social and family life before you start the day. Also, the more relaxed environment was something I am anticipating this summer. If you weren’t comfortable or even didn’t want to do one of the jobs that Gretchen suggested she would let you take a break or do something more attuned to your needs and wants. My favourite part is serving lunch, because I get to say “Hi” to everyone who comes through. I also liked on our first day when we took lunch. Raquel and I sat with two older gentlemen and learned a lot lessons (I suppose they could be called). It was really amusing. I love it there and I plan on going as a procrastination tool during exam period even after my hours are done.
One of the other aspects about my volunteer experience thus far is how welcoming and kind everyone was even though I was only there because “I had to be”. One of my biggest fears all term, which kept getting worse as I tried to avoid it even longer, was being stigmatized for only being there because it was a requirement of the program. I really did want to be there and learn but I wish it had been on my own terms so that I didn’t feel so guilty. I didn’t receive any such stigmatism at all though, and that made me love St. John’s even more. They don’t judge against anyone and I think that’s very admirable.

I did my placement presentation on Monday which means over the last couple of weeks I was doing a lot of research about Argentina and my placement. It was really interesting. One thing that I have been craving information on is the state terrorism in the 1970’s. Being a political science student and having such a desire to learn about cultures, I find it fascinating that Argentina was on the same track as Canada and Australia in terms of development in the early 1900’s but because of the shift in its political system changed completely and is considered a developing country. I am reading a book called, God’s Assassins about the political systems in Argentina that led to the approximately 30 000 Argentines that “disappeared” during a military dictatorship in the 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Well that’s all I can think of for now,

¡Nos vamos!

PS Check out some of the cool artwork my host mum did! This is one of Joanne's photos from her trip there this December (just to make sure credit is given where due)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I am in the very epicentre of a mental breakdown. I came home this afternoon to go my physical tomorrow that is needed for this trip. So after spending the night with my family I go to bed and just wait for sleep. However, for some unknown reason, all I keep thinking of is everything I need to get done in such a short amount of time, all of the time I’ve probably wasted, and everything that I’ve failed at so far. And throughout all of this stress the only other thing I can think of is that I really don’t have anyone to talk to about it all. For at least the last week, although it’s likely been longer, I’ve just wanted to talk about some of the things that were stressing me out right then and there but I couldn’t. There are some people that I know have announced themselves as being there if needed but I just can’t take them up on that offer because I never know where to start when they ask and I never believe that they will understand what I’m frustrated about unless they know the whole story. I’m so emotionally and mentally exhausted that I’m starting to just want this whole experience to be over so that I can come back and just focus on the things I need to, which is a healthy balance between school and my personal relationships without anything else in the way. I want to just feel as though I can have a fresh start where all of the assignments and commitments of this term will be gone.

I think this would make more sense if I talk about the things I’m stressed about, “wasting time” and my failures. I don’t mean more sense for you, the reader, but for me. Tonight (while cursing this blog) after I started writing this I have finally realized what Joanne has said about using this to vent and that it becomes a good way to get through this experience and analyze how I’m feeling. I have just discovered that this blog is the one person I can “talk” to at any time of the day and I don’t need to start at the beginning because it won’t ask any questions or give me any confused looks.

Why is there so much to do & who thought up this kind of society?

This is the section where I will discuss the main things on my To-Do List that are going to make my brain explode. Blogging! Having to write this thing and being almost two weeks behind in my posts. This is the bane of my existence. I have very high expectations of myself, and meeting deadlines really isn’t that high of an expectation (that’s not what I’m referring to), but when I don’t make one I come down extremely hard on myself. So one would think, that if I am hard on myself for not making a deadline then why wasn’t this blog written two Saturdays ago? This is because, when I miss a deadline and I know I have to face my iron-fisted self I make up excuses. By making up excuses to tell myself then it seems legitimate for missing the date...and then prolonging my procrastination. And then, to make it worse, I tell myself that other people miss deadlines all of the time so missing one or two when I am so prompt every other time isn’t a big deal. However, then I think that because I missed one that I “deserve” the break of missing another one after all of my hard work before annnndd this is what happens: I become behind (which stresses me out), then I panic because I know I need to get it done (more stress), then I reach the stage I am in currently where I have a breakdown and think of how stupid I’ve been for procrastinating so long and make lists that are multiple feet long in my head of everything else I have to do and how impossible it will be to get them all done (peak of stress), and then I finally start tackling something on that list and I realize I have been ridiculous all along because they really aren’t scary monsters and I could have handled them all along with the stress (this is the stage I am currently transitioning to while writing this blog. The second thing on my list is volunteer hours. In 3 weeks I need to complete 20 hours of volunteer work. This would be fine if I didn’t have at least 4 major assignments also due within these 3 weeks – which I do. I have made efforts but nothing is coming to fruition, partially because of my fault and partially not. The third thing on my list is the minimum of 4 assignments due that I have coming up and need to start so that I’m not procrastinating and begin the vicious cycle stated above. The fourth thing is fundraising and just money in general! After producing the first payment, with a little over $1000 and becoming so relieved I have found myself still living in the glory days of reaching that first goal and forgetting that I still need to get $826. I am so scared of not making this goal because I hardly even have enough money to go away this summer (and that is the honest truth, I’m not just saying it like some people do who actually have a couple of thousand dollars in their bank account). This leads to point numero cinco, fundraising events. Our band night at the Bomber is coming up on Saturday and then we are planning a yard sale for the weekend after (which everyone should come to!!! – especially if they want me, and probably the rest of the group also, to stay sane). These are added time suckers, they are taking away time from all of the other things that I already mentioned. And they have the added frustration that once they get done, they may not be a success and therefore not eliminating the previous stress. Fundraising initiatives are not the same as an assignment (such as a blog, paper, presentation, or volunteer work) once that is completed (whether it is good or not) it can be crossed off the list, but if a fundraiser fails then really it just adds even more stress than before. The sixth thing on the list is other extra-curricular activity responsibilities. And the final thing (that I can think of at 2:30AM in the morning) is maintaining personal relationships. This would include my friends at res, my friends from high school, my Beyond Borders group, my four younger siblings, my divorced parents, grandparents and other extended family, and my boyfriend or partner whatever is politically correct these days. I will talk more about this in the next section, but it is still a part of my list. In short: I’m freaking out! Which leads me to the second half of the proposed question/subtitle of this section, “who thought up this kind of society”. HONESTLY, WHO?!?! Who in their right mind would think that these kinds of expectations would bring happiness – which should really be the only goal in life? Why, would I want to pay to come to university or college after I have been forced to go to school for at least 13 years already (especially when those 13 years really didn’t prepare me for anything in the school I now need to pay for)? Why would I then want to get a type of job that EVERYONE says is bogus but still wakes up and goes to work every morning and conforms to? Finally, WHY would I want to do all of this schooling to get that job that will last me 40-50 years so that the only time that I have to relax and enjoy life without distractions is when my body will not physically work properly, and most of my family except for those younger than me, and possibly some friends will be dead? And then the killer question: if this is what our life is subjected to, and the majority of people agree with me, why do we continue to do it?

Is procrastination inevitable?

As I mentioned above, on my To-Do List is personal relationships. It really frustrates me that this is viewed as a waste of time. For example, Q: “why were you hanging out with your friends when you had a paper due?”, A: “because friends, family, whoever, are actually more important than the paper”. Is it because seeing the people we love, need and depend on is enjoyable? Is that why it isn’t viewed as work? I personally think that is my hardest job. Here is an example using one set of personal relationships, maybe if I don't have anything to write for Friday I will inform you on the other ones I mentioned. Since my first term here at university the following scenario takes place:

a)In the 2-3 weeks prior to the end of summer break or the 2-3 days prior to the end of Christmas holidays I spend as much time as possible with my 6 best friends from high school. We discuss how we are going to stay in touch and “actually” text each other all of the time this term.
b)Two-three months into the term I realize I haven’t talked to one of them once. Then I begin to miss them and the texting gradually increases as our reconnection after exams draws near.
c)During our reunification we discuss how “funny” it is that even though we didn’t really talk throughout the term we can still come back from our different experiences and nothing has changed.

I’m worried about when the time comes that our reconnection isn’t enough to keep us together. But the demands placed on us, from schools especially, certainly do not encourage us to remember to call your friend out in Halifax. I just don’t understand how we (human beings), social creatures by nature, have created a lifestyle with the emphasis most certainly not on social relations. The focus shouldn’t be on things such as schools and jobs, those things are there forever; personal relationships are the most temporary things we have and the things we are most careless about. So yeah, I didn’t get my blog or paper done on time, but is that because I “procrastinated” or because I was dealing with something more important on my list. I don’t think that any time is ever “wasted”, how exactly do you “waste” time? We are always doing something, and we shouldn’t be sorry or feel guilty if our priority list doesn’t match up with someone else’s.

Failure stresses me out.

The main thing that I am referring to here is not getting the position of Don that I applied for. I found out a week and a half ago that I was rejected (also coincides with my lack of blogs in case you didn’t notice). Although in the end it works out better and I am really happy about the things that I can do now that I don’t have that responsibility next year, I still failed to achieve something that I put a lot of effort and emotion into. I usually don’t try for things unless I know I can do them and have a good feeling about getting (my pride is too big I suppose) so when I don’t achieve those things I take the general idea of being rejected to heart – even if it works out in the end. So to relate this back to 1700 words ago, this failure has been stressing out. And this failure then makes me think about the other times I have been rejected or failed at something that had a similar sting to it, which stresses me out even more because then I start thinking that all of the things on my To-Do List are going to be failures as well.

It is because of all of these things that my mental breakdown occurred tonight. And as I mentioned 40 minutes ago, this blog and I just became best friends and has become the person I can talk to about my problems (so thanks for listening :) ). It is still a love/hate relationship – as in, I still hate this blog but I am beginning to love it. And I think it’s amusing that a couple of blogs ago I wrote how admitting something usually seems to make it better: after reading our requirements for the credit this summer where we need to write 1 000 000 blogs (I rounded up a little bit), if we want to get an 80%, I did multiple groans and decided to go for a 60%; but now I think I can handle those 1 000 000 blogs. This is way over 1500 words so I hope it can count as my last two blogs mushed together (...please Joanne). Sorry for the disappearance from blog world, I will try not to do it again.

Oh some other things to add to my list that I hadn't thought of before are:
1) Having to get needles at the travel clinic
2) I am trying to set myself a personal goal to give blood at the end of March at the blood donor clinic at SJ but... I do not like blood or needles
3) Not really knowing anything about my placement even though I keep asking people and I keep trying to make connections with people who will know
4) Saying I had 2 volunteer placements last blog and neither have worked so far
5) Ugh.

Nos vamos.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Estoy una voluntaria!

Welcome regular readers and newcomers! The only introduction I have is that reading week went by much too fast. Now let’s jump right into it:

Local Volunteer Placement

I will start this topic by stating that when it rains it pours! That is certainly what happened within the last 24 hours. I went from having no volunteer placement to having 2 placements! As I mentioned in my last blog I had an “interview” this morning with the individual in charge of organizing the one-on-one tutoring at the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre (MCC). So I ventured out into the blizzard we are having, which is not a likely characteristic of the spring-time weather we have been having even if it is a characteristic of a Canadian February, and made my way to downtown Kitchener (another one of my bus adventures). The weather was so bad that as I was walking past a parking lot (wide open space) I was being blown off of the sidewalk and onto the road! I had to walk sideways! I think this demonstrates the fact that I need to go back to the gym and build up some muscle. When I got to the MCC I was going to tell my now supervisor that I should probably hold off on being a tutor until September because at this point I will only be in Canada for 2 more months, but she had already paired me up with a student! I still explained my situation to her and she said it was fine, so I am tutoring someone from Brazil who already knows a good chunk of English and I think I’m pretty much just giving her an opportunity to practice her conversation skills. I’m really excited to meet her and get started. So, as you may have noticed, she is from Brazil and therefore speaks Portuguese and not Spanish. My supervisor told me that she doesn’t usually pair up people with the same language just to make sure they don’t resort back to it out of familiarity and comfort. After all of the concerns I voiced in my last blog I didn’t even need to worry about them for this project. Now, the second placement I landed is at St. John’s Kitchen with the Working Centre. In lieu of my realization that I probably wouldn’t be able to be a one-on-one tutor I emailed St. John’s Kitchen to see if I could start working there and I received an email this morning saying that I could stop by on Friday to start! I’m not sure if I am allowed to count both jobs in my hours to count towards my credit but if not I’m still excited to start both.

Contact Has Been Made

This afternoon I sent an email to Hugo, the founder of Fundación iDeas. It was in Spanish and is a bit amusing because I don’t know the future tense yet. Pretend you are a native Spanish speaker, this is what my email would look like to you:

Hello Hugo,
How are you? Sorry my Spanish is new. I have questions. Where I work and stay, at Quilino or Deán Fúnes? What I bring for the fundación? (I don’t know the future tense yet). I am very happy because I come to Argentina this summer.

Amusing? I thought so. Laughing at myself is going to have to be something I can do while I’m down there though otherwise I will be extremely frustrated.

Argentina tid-bit

I’ve started doing more research both for my own benefit and for my presentation in a couple of weeks. One thing I found really interesting is the story behind the Argentinean flag. The three bands (2 light blue and 1 white) represent the clear skies and snow of the Andes Mountains while the sun in the middle is known as the Sun of May. This sun embodies both the cultural and political history of Argentina. It commemorates emergence of the sun on May 25, 1810 during the first mass demonstration in favour of independence. And the face inside of the sun is made to mimic the Incan god of the sun, Inti (this is a picture of a statue of Inti). I read this story on the following website if anyone would like more information

On Friday I will finally have a volunteer position to talk about! Maybe even two if we’re lucky. Until then, have a wonderful four days.

Mucho amor!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Hola, my llamo Olivia y no tengo unos sujetos para mí BLOG...

I actually have quite a lot to mention this week – so brace yourselves! As I mentioned last week, there were some things that I meant to mention but the length of my blog was pushing a readable limit so I’ll make up for it here. Some things that require an honourable mention but likely aren’t deep enough for a blog discussion are:

1.I received a call from the Multicultural Centre! So I have an interview(ish) set up for the week after reading week to speak with the individual in charge of the one-on-one tutoring program. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I have a volunteer placement so I still may have to resort to plan B but I love when you’ve finally given in that something may not happen and then once you admit it, everything works out. (I wonder if that is where they get the logic for self help groups, when admitting that you have a problem is the first step, “Hi my name is Olivia, and I don’t have a volunteer placement” BAM phone call, or “Hi my name is Olivia, and I don’t have anything to write about in my blog” BAM Krista gives me great ideas but I haven’t even had to use them yet because BAM my life gets interesting and relates to Beyond Borders)

2.I asked Joanne during our class on Monday about my placement and I am most definitely working with the local artisan groups and then will likely do a bit with youth too! So in lieu of this enlightenment I have been going through an artsy phase, actually it began this past weekend before class but that doesn’t matter. On Saturday night I helped my friend make a pair of moccasins, then came back to my room and painted picture frames until 4 in the morning, then on Wednesday night I stayed up until 3 painting a tray and then making a glass mosaic in it (it still needs to be glazed though), and then I’ve just been making multiple bracelets.
Probably nowhere near as good as the artists’ work that I will be working with this summer but I try. Anyways, I should be getting some contact info soon so that I can open up some communication links with my hosts and supervisors.

3.I’ve also had some wonderful friends start asking what they could donate that wasn’t just money. I was so proud of their initiative! So for anyone reading who was thinking that or realized just now reading this that it would be a good idea here is what I have for ideas so far: ART SUPPLIES (duh! I should have thought of this myself considering my placement, but I didn’t), gently used clothing, and Canadian paraphernalia that I can hand out to people (this can include pins, stickers, badges etc.). Thank you for the support!

Now something a little deeper, hopefully, regarding feeling prepared and actually being prepared for something like this. I came to a slightly stressful realization starting Monday. When I was asking Joanne about my placement she said that there is a possibility that I may just be directly taken to my placement and forego the two weeks of Spanish training. This would be awesome and all I can hope is that my Spanish skills by the end of April will be able to handle that. The end of April is still two and half months away so I can feel confident that I’ll be prepared for being immersed into a Spanish speaking culture. However, on Thursday I received a call from the Multicultural Centre about having an informal interview and I started freaking out. Now I don’t know how fluent one needs to be in a second language in order to get a position like this – hopefully not extremely fluent is all I can say. My Spanish skills are not going to amazingly flourish within a week, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed on not having to know a second language well. Then I became even more stressed about my situation! I reminded Joanne, not even 20 minutes ago, to start a line of communication with the founder of iDeas and the email I received with the founder CC’ed to the email was in Spanish! So now, not only do I not have two months to polish and then show off my Spanish skills, or even two weeks, this “test” could start tomorrow! So it made me realize that no matter how much I think I am prepared or will be prepared, when I actually arrive in Argentina that first week of May, I am going to feel as nervous (likely more) as I am about my upcoming Spanish encounters. I’m looking forward to it though because, like my upcoming Spanish speaking trials, they are opportunities for me to improve my skills. So even though I at first freaked out, I am now calm. Bring it on Spanish-speaking world I’m ready for you (at a beginner/intermediate level)! From this small chain of events I have realized that no matter how many DepartSmart tests I do, books I read, Spanish classes I take, I won’t know what the real thing is like until I get out there. I knew this indirectly the entire time (so I wasn’t completely naive about this trip), but a real life experience always helps to completely engrain it into your brain and critical thinking.


Friday, February 5, 2010

La mejor presentación!

On Monday, in my PSCI 252 Global South class, we had a student guest speaker. He is a PhD candidate here at the University of Waterloo in the Global Governance program. He discussed international development and the different ways for people to get involved, the pros and cons of each type of work and some of his own experiences in the different fields. The different ways that one can get involved in international development are as follows: grassroots organizations, international organizations, relief work, teaching, and politics. The first three are pretty obvious, the fourth slightly, but I had never thought of getting involved in politics (this is a bit ironic since I am a political science major). Before he mentioned it, I just viewed the government as something that was broken and couldn’t be fixed, especially through my own influence. I would like to be involved in the Canadian diplomatic field at one point, but I had viewed it as a learning experience rather than making a difference. Getting involved in Canada’s political system would give one influence on the foreign policy decisions that our government makes towards other countries. This could be related to the support of the first four options, such as, creating awareness of effective grassroots organizations in countries that we are closely tied to and in our own; changing our attitude towards international organizations, for example, not having another embarrassing incident like our lack of commitment in Copenhagen; influencing the courses of action taken when natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti and tsunami in Thailand hit; and becoming a professor of international relations and development to promote the topic and do research. He talked about his experiences in grassroots organizations and highlighted some key things to be aware of especially when travelling on an international-learning experience (like we are in Beyond Borders). Some of the main points that stuck out for me were about research, what to expect and language skills. It is always good to be aware of the history and characteristics of the country in which you are volunteering; it is easier to connect with people on a personal level. He is from Brazil and said that if someone were to engage in conversation with him and knew a few different areas of Brazil and the main features of them and that in Brazil the main language is Portuguese and not Spanish that he would be much more appreciative of that individual. In our current Beyond Borders class, RS 383, we need to complete a 10-15 minute presentation about the country and foundation of our placement, so hopefully we will all go into our placements with even the slightest bit of background knowledge. The second point that he discussed is about the general setup of grassroots organizations in developing countries. They are run much differently than a job one would hold here in Canada. It can be much more disorganized than what we are used to, for example handling multiple different projects at once rather than finishing one at a time. He also talked about how sometimes people go into placements such as this with the idea that they are going to change the world and make an enormous difference in the lives of the people you are going to “help”, however, you may not even be needed there and it is possible to feel like you are more of a burden then help. So a word of advice that he gave is that you just need to understand that you are likely getting more out of the experience than the people you are going to “help”, you are going to go and put your few months work in, but the organization was there before you came and will carry on afterwards too. Although this may sound depressing to those of us going, it is important to remember going into so that we aren’t disappointed we get there and then miserable for the three months we will be living there. The final thing that he stressed (because it is one of his pet peeves) is having zero language ability in the community you are trying to “help”. He said (multiple times), “do not go to a volunteer placement to learn a language, go on a language exchange program – that’s what they’re there for”. As I mentioned just above, we aren’t going to make a huge difference and be as much help as we would like, so how do we expect to be of the slightest assistance if we can’t even talk to our coordinators/supervisors/people in general? He told us that having higher-end basic to intermediate skills then it is acceptable to go and prepare to expand on them (with made me wipe my brow with relief), but going completely illiterate is – for lack of a better word – dumb.

I was extremely freaked out about the appropriate timing for a presentation like this when in just three speedy months I will be jetting off to Argentina on my own development adventure! I was almost flabbergasted. It made me realize just how perfect the program(s) I picked for what I want to do. It was a most inspiring day. Now I wasn’t planning on taking up my entire blog with just this presentation so hopefully next week I can touch on my new world map and Lara’s decision. Lara – I didn’t forget about you! I’m upset that I’m losing a travel buddy! Also, I have yet to hear back from the Multicultural Centre about a volunteer placement so I may have to move onto a plan B for that and get my hours done!

That’s all for this week!
Hasta la proxima semana amigos!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Está viendo a pasado..

EXCITING NEWS! I made the first fundraising payment! I don’t have to put a personal contribution forth! Thank you to everyone who helped through making donations, purchasing bracelets and participating in all of our fundraising efforts so far! I feel as though I am accepting an academy award – and unfortunately I may even start crying.

Good Global Citizenship Think Tank

Last Friday, January 22, I was part of the Good Global Citizenship Think Tank this was an event put on by Joanne, our director of the Beyond Borders Program, and Michel, the chair of the Global Studies department at Wilfrid Laurier University. They hosted scholars from universities across Canada. This was a very unique Think Tank because the people involved were from different positions (such as professors, international service-learning program directors, academic advisors, deans, students, the director of Intercordia, and coordinators of all sorts), different faculties (such as religious studies, global studies, education, political science, nursing and social work) and different parts of Canada (Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick, British Columbia and Saskatchewan). So as you can see we came from all different walks of life and created a very diverse, experienced and knowledgeable group on international programs.

At the Think Tank, Joanne had asked me to talk about my experience in Guatemala. However, due to time constraints I didn’t end up presenting. This was beneficial because I didn’t want to have to get up and speak in front of the group again. I would like to share my experience though, and this is a great way to do it because if my face happens to go red no one will see.

Olivia’s Guatemala Experience

Two years ago this March I travelled with a group of eight other students and two high school teachers to Panajachel, Guatemala. We were there for 10 days and after accounting for travelling time, orientation and a bit of tourist action we spent five days building two houses. We split up into two groups while we were working but other than that did everything together.

We didn’t receive very much preparation. Reasons for this are likely because the trip was roughly a week long and it was the first time any of us students and the teachers had participated in something like this. We did some team building activities which were especially helpful for me because I was from a different high school than the rest of the participants. We also organized some fundraising initiatives together which created bonding time. From Habitat for Humanity we received a handbook before our departure which discussed the liabilities and type of work we would be participating in, and what we should pack. Upon arrival we met up with a leader that was organized and supplied by Habitat for Humanity. He had gone on these missions a few times before, but was a volunteer like us.

There were challenges and/or weaknesses to this experience, but the main one was the language barrier. We received zero language preparation. At first we were told that we would be getting a couple of basic lessons from the Spanish teacher of the high school but they fell through. We had a translator for the week who came everywhere with us and made the experience that much easier. However, when we split up into our two different groups to build the house, our translator could only go one way. I was in the group that did not have a translator and it became very difficult because the people we were working with didn’t know any English and the family only knew a small amount. It was challenging to try and communicate with our foreman and sometimes felt like I was more of a burden then help because it would take so long to delegate tasks to us. One incident that I found the language barrier extremely difficult was during one of the days that we were at the site. I was working on creating the rebar (reinforcing bar) formation that helped reinforce the concrete and make the house less vulnerable to earthquakes. For the last couple of hours I had seen a young boy, maybe nine or ten years old, standing off to the side and clearly interested in helping and taking part. I wanted to ask him if he would like to help me as it was a menial and easy task where he couldn’t get hurt but I didn’t know how to speak. I was asking the group if anyone knew how to say “help” and other words so that I could convey my meaning to him. We finally managed to understand each other through demonstration and hand movements and I adopted a side kick. While we silently stood side by side working there were so many questions running through my mind that I wanted to ask him, “what was his name?”, “what did he like to do?”, “where he was from?”, but unfortunately I couldn’t express any of them. I felt very ignorant for not knowing any Spanish while down there. It is because of this experience that I decided to learn Spanish. I wish to one day return and go see our family again and be able to speak to them properly.

It was rewarding though for the following reasons:
•I was building a house for people who had worked for this opportunity. Habitat for Humanity makes sure that the families meet a level income that is necessary to keep up the house and pay bills and won’t take the service for granted. This made the families very appreciative to have our help and they themselves helped with the construction also.
•We worked with local construction workers and builders. So profit was going back into the community by paying the workers.
•We got to interact with the families we were building the houses for. It made it much more personal and genuine. It was amazing to be able to play with the children and talk/play charades with the parents. I never expected to become attached to the family and the experience and I surprised myself by balling my eyes out during the goodbye ceremony.

So that is the presentation that I would have given on Friday, but it likely sounds much better being read than being dictated. I hope you enjoyed it.

That is all I have to share this week. Hopefully next week I will be able to indulge you readers on more information about my upcoming trip. Thank you for tuning in!