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!