It’s Divine Providence

Providence |ˈprävədəns|

noun

  1. The foresight and guidance of God; a manifestation of divine direction
  2. The capital city of Rhode Island that this Minnesota-girl is proud to call a second home
  3. The name of an amazing college which has taught me so much (Go Friars!)
  4. The name of a school in Tucumán, Argentina which has opened my mind and my heart to a completely different side of education

We have had the incredible opportunity to experience Dominican education by teaching mostly at the Santa Rosa schools and at Santa Catalina: all of which are very good schools  that place extra emphasis on their English curriculum. Because we have taught almost every day in these schools, I had become accustomed to this type of top-quality education. I was quick to assume that education must be fairly similar in many other schools in Tucumán. This assumption was quickly proven false when we received the opportunity to teach in Los Posits, a poor neighborhood within the city. I had no idea what to expect from this new school; we weren’t even told the name of the school before we arrived.

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View of the inner courtyard

We walked into our first class and we were greeted by surprised stares and hushed whispers from our students. Just like at Santa Rosa and Santa Catalina, the students thought we were famous because we speak like “movie stars.” At any school we go to, the younger students ask us how many famous people we know: my answer is disappointingly always 0.

We began with a very basic English lesson because we were told that the students have had very little English instruction. However, before we even finished introducing the topic, the teacher approached us: we were cautioned that some students (10-11 years old) could barely write their own names in Spanish…which absolutely shocked me. Here I was, expecting to teach a full lesson like I usually do at Santa Rosa, and then realizing that I would need to start from almost complete square one with my students. I knew that there would at least be a different style of education at this school, but I was completely unprepared for how wide the educational gap would be between the top-tier private schools and the public schools in the poorer neighborhoods. This was a HUGE reality check for me as I realized how oblivious I was to educational disparities here in Argentina (but quite often these disparities can be just as prominent in the US).

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Making our way through our first lesson…

The first lesson began well, but soon a very chaotic classroom environment erupted: it was clear that the students controlled the classroom and not the teachers. Some students began to yell, others refused to speak at all, and although we tried to teach this lesson in several different ways, I could’t help but feel like a failure when the students didn’t want to listen or participate. A teacher mentioned that this was normal because some students, especially those that attend school in the afternoon, are sent to school sometimes for the sole reason of staying safe. The neighborhood they live in can be very violent, so school isn’t always treated as an educational opportunity, but rather an escape from a dangerous situation.

After learning this, I realized how completely ignorant I was of the students’ situations, and I had no idea how to adjust my lesson in order to better teach them. As I began to lose almost all hope in our lesson plans and in the teaching skills I thought I had developed over the past weeks, the teacher mentioned the name of the school: Divina Providencia, Divine Providence.

These two words eliminated all self-doubt as I realized that this similarity was more than just a coincidence, but rather, providence. I was reminded that there was a purpose for my visit, even if I couldn’t yet determine that purpose. I was able to end the day with an open mind, and after class, two students handed me a note which read:

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“I hope that they return soon”

This simple act touched me because although they couldn’t understand much English, they were able to work together to tell me how much they had enjoyed the day. Although I had thought I was failing them, they thought differently. They gave me a quick hug and then rushed off to recess after we reassured them that we would be back the next week.

A week later, we were able to return to teach more lessons, and the difference was incredible: we were much more productive and the students wanted to listen to us. With a new mindset, I enjoyed my time so much more than before. I am so grateful for the new perspectives I learned from this opportunity and for the students who taught me so much in such a short time. We were crushed that we couldn’t return to say our goodbyes, but these students and this school will never be forgotten because of this providential connection made possible by not one, but two schools named Providence.

 

Chao for now,

Annie

 

 

 

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Just Smile and Nod

After our week on the mountain, it took a few days to readjust to life here in the busy city. My first day  back at the Santa Rosa schools came to be quite a shock: I was greeted by an energetic class of about 40 students, which was quite different from my quiet class of 6 in Chasquivil! These past two weeks have absolutely flown by because each day is filled with classes and unexpected adventures.

A “typical” day usually begins at the Yerba Buena campus, about a 30 minute ride from the convent, with 2-3 classes for grades between the ages of 6-15. We then take a short break for a siesta at the convent, and then walk for 30 minutes to the city center school to teach 2 more classes for kids ages 6-17. I put typical in quotes because typical rarely exists: each day, the ages are different. I could begin the day with 15-year-olds, followed by a class of 8-year-olds and then a class of 12-year-olds, and then have a class of 10-year-olds and finish with a kindergarten class at 7:10pm. As you can imagine, each age has a completely different level of English, so the depth of the topics ranges. I could be discussing climate, cultural comparisons, and university life with my older students, and then completely switch gears ten minutes later and be singing the ABC’s with the kindergarteners at the top of my lungs. When we see a typical day on the schedule, Gaby and I usually ask each other if we’re ready to begin a “normal” day. This is usually followed by a smile and a nod while we sip our coffee in the morning, which is followed shortly by quiet laughter. I think I’ve forgotten what normal means.

One thing that has become normal is my new name: Miss Annie (the students say Ahhhnee). Before coming to Tucumán, I had never taught a class in my life, but I am happy to say that I love teaching and I am thankful for everything that it has taught me in such a short time. I like to think that I have conquered my fear of public speaking (I spend about 6-7 hours a day in front of a class) and I also think I’ve become immune to embarrassment (dancing to the hokey pokey in front of 40 students will do that to you). Most importantly, I’ve learned how to explain topics in many different ways in order to overcome the language barrier.

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Class with my 9’s

Additionally, I’ve learned that it’s nearly impossible to plan ahead for all of the unknowns in the weekly class schedule, so I take it day-by-day and sometimes hour-by-hour as necessary. Schedules and plans are constantly changing, but I am thankful for each and every surprise because I am learning how to release control, remain present, and enjoy each moment instead of constantly planning for the future. For each and every plot twist, I just smile and nod and hope that I can fully embrace the new opportunity.

I’ve said yes to as many new opportunities as possible in order to learn as much as I can in my time here. In these past few weeks, we’ve been able to see plays, have dinner with new friends and families we’ve met, travel to beautiful places, eat dinner in the dark, and travel to the mountains three times (and jump off once!). Most times, I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into, but I just smile and nod and (sometimes quite literally) jump right in. Here is a little bit more about some of my favorite things that we’ve done:

 

  • Dinner with new friends! Gaby and I met Cande, a past student of Sister Cynthia, and she had us over to meet her family and have lunch. She then took us on an adventure to the Santuario: a beautiful chapel outside the city of Tucumán.
  • Cena por Ciegos (Dinner for the Blind). Pilar, Sister Cynthia’s niece, took us to a dinner to raise money for a foundation for the blind. This event was in total darkness: we were led into a completely dark room in order to simulate what day-to-day life is like for the blind. Gaby and I sat and talked with strangers in Spanish and ate some new foods that we couldn’t see. This night was honestly one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had because it challenged all modes of communication and it encouraged me to rethink how I live my daily life.

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    Finally meeting the friends I couldn’t see for the past few hours…

  • Weekend trips to San Javier and Loma Bola. Sister Cynthia has been quite the tour guide on the weekends. Our hosts have been so generous with their time and they have taken us to many different places so that we can know Tucumán as they know it. My favorite part of every excursion has been the view. The pictures I have cannot possibly recreate the beautiful views of the city from the top of the mountain, nor can they recreate the feelings of absolute awe as you stand in the shadows of the higher Andes Mountains. We were even able to spot Chasquivil from San Javier!
  • Paragliding. Not only have we been to the mountains, but we’ve jumped off of them too. We celebrated Gaby’s 21st birthday by leaping off the mountain with instructors who knew very little English…and it was amazing!

I can’t believe that this series of adventures will come to a close in just 9 short days, but until then, I will continue to appreciate this new “normal” of teaching, learning, and living life to its absolute fullest.

More to come soon,

Annie

Chasqui Chasquivil

I don’t even know how to begin…how can anyone ever fully express the impact of a truly incredible experience? Folks, you are in for a long one…

This past week in Chasquivil has made me smile more than I thought was humanly possible. Chasquivil is a small community perched alone in the lower Andes Mountains. There are no roads, only small trails which cross rivers and wind through the valleys until they eventually zig-zag to the top of the mountains. Because of this, it is only possible to get to Chasquivil via horseback.

We began our journey in Raco, the closest town at the base of the mountains, to collect our mounts for the week. This is the part where I get really excited: if you’ve known me for a long time, you know that I LOVE horses. When I heard that we got to ride for eight plus hours, I was absolutely thrilled. Meet Geronimo (he was nameless before the trip, but I figured “Geronimo” was fitting for the coming adventure).

I think you can tell by the first picture that I was much more thrilled about our mountain climb than he was. And let me tell you, the view from the top of a horse is absolutely incredible during a trek through the Andes.

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Valley Views

We only made it four hours into our trip before we were in desperate need of a break (by this time I had lost all feeling in my feet). We stopped to stretch and don our ponchos for the chilly ascent (Argentina is in the Southern Hemisphere, so winter is fast approaching).

As we began to wind our way up the mountain for the final four hours, clouds set in. The mountainside simply disappeared into the thick fog.

We finally made it to the top as dusk was setting in and arrived at our home for the next few days, the Chasquivil school. Because of its rural location, a.) it is powered completely by the mountain sunshine, and b.) kids come from up to 4 hours away (on horseback) to get an education. For these extra-long distance students, there are bunk rooms in the school where they can stay for the school week before they go home for the weekends.

Our school week began with the students who were able to leave home for the day; the families in the Chasquivil community are primarily pastoral families: they care for many animals over a vast expanse of land, which often requires the help of the entire family. For this reason, education is a “come when you can” kind of thing, and because of this, schooling is unfortunately inconsistent.

Gaby and I split the kids who came into age and ability groups: I taught the younger students, ranging from ages 5-7. There is one major difference that we both noticed between the students at the Santa Rosa schools and the students at Chasquivil: the students at Chasquivil are much quieter and very well behaved (although I still love my Santa Rosa students, I promise).

English is a national requirement of Argentine schools, but the most rural of schools don’t have access to English teachers. My young students had never heard English spoken aloud before, so we focused primarily on our ABC’s, the colors, and on the names of the animals they work with on a daily basis.

Gabby and I brought coloring books and some other art supplies with us from Tucumán, and let me tell you: the coloring books were a hit. By Wednesday, the students were able to describe their farm animal pictures and the colors that they used completely in English. I loved having this small group because I had the opportunity to get to know each student: from timid to some mild trouble-makers, these students filled the days with laughter and an eagerness to learn. Also, cue what I said in my previous post about Spanglish…the Spanish dialect on the mountain is much different from Tucumana Spanish, so communication was an entirely new ballgame. I think a Maya Angelou quote here is quite fitting:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

If I learned one thing on the mountain tops, it is that our actual “teaching” would make a microscopic impact on these students lives. Half a week’s worth of lessons would be forgotten within another week’s time, and nothing we would say would be completely understood. However, the silly games we played brought out so many giggles from my students, and it was an opportunity to make the usual school day a bit different. I cannot tell you how incredible it is to have your students, who have never spoken a word of English before, to run up to you during recess to say, “Hello, how are you?” Their smiles, their kindness, and their quick, yet thoughtful answers to any question will always be one of my favorite memories.

In addition to teaching, we were able to take part in an old rural Argentine tradition: a procession to honor the Holy Virgin. The people of Chasquivil are Catholic, and because mass is a rare occurrence (only 3-4 times per year) because there is not a permanent priest in the area, the locals ask for the intercession of the saints. We walked to go wait for the procession in the fog, and we took a siesta on the side of a hill while we waited.

Waking up sometime later, the procession was not in sight. I am addicted to my busy lifestyle as a student, and it was a difficult, yet much needed lesson on patience. In Spanish we say Qué pasará, pasará: what will happen, will happen (at its own time and pace). As we waited, the sun came out for the first time to melt away the fog, unveiling an incredible view.

We had NO idea that there were bigger mountains that had been covered by the fog for the last few days: simply breathtaking (P.S. these pictures do not NEARLY do it justice). It was a perfect metaphor for my mentality. I was unsure of what I was doing and of the purpose of this journey, and as the clouds melted away, so did my anxieties. The immensity of the previously concealed mountains is a lot like God’s plan for us: it isn’t ever completely clear, but it is always incredibly beautiful if you open your mind and heart to it. We sat and listened to the silence until it was broken by the sound of the approaching procession drums.

The community of Chasquivil welcomed us to participate in this prayerful walk complete with songs, drums, and many Argentine flags.

Sister Cynthia has been traveling to Chasquivil for over 30 years, over which time she has established a strong relationship with the community. I was absolutely awed when she greeted nearly everyone by name as we walked, while I, the shy American, was only able to say “Hola” and “Mucho gusto” as I was introduced to everyone she knew.

The procession finally came to a stop at the home(s) of a large extended family who kindly offered the entire procession a hot empanada. (If you haven’t already, please do yourself a favor and try an empanada: they have changed my life!) We sat and visited with the entire procession until it was nearly dark.

In one of the houses, a few kids were playing with a violin. A quick fun fact about me: I played violin for 7 years, but I have barely touched my violin since I graduated from high school. I had briefly mentioned this to sister, so as soon as she saw the violin, she asked me to play for everyone. All I could think was oh, please no. I honestly believe that all of the time I spent practicing culminated in that one moment on the mountaintops. As it was difficult to understand each other verbally, music helped me to connect with these three girls pictured below. They even came to join my class the next day!

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Desperately trying to remember seven years’ worth of lessons…

Mom and Dad, thank you for your patience and for your investment into my limited musical capabilities. I loved this moment so much.

The rest of our time at Chasquivil was spent doing home visits with sister. The families I was able to meet are incredibly welcoming. One of these families had students in our classes! Together, we sipped yerba matte around the fire as they talked about life and faith on the mountains. Life on the mountains is quite different: if there is electricity, it comes from solar panels; animals wander where they please; kids play different games (like lasso the bull skull!); everything is cooked over the fire; time doesn’t exist; and the houses are made from handmade clay bricks.

Although it was an incredibly different experience from the noisy city-life of Tucumán, I cannot express how grateful I am have learned to live life differently, even for just a short time. I already miss my students and our mountain home, and I cannot help but hope that someday I will find my way back.

Chao Chasquivil.

Sorpresa, Spanglish, y Solidez

 

What a day, what a life, and what a city: Tucumán te amo (I love you, Tucumán). It may be hard to believe, but all of the cramming I did for finals just a short time ago cannot compare to the number of things I have learned here in this first week. Three words can describe these events, struggles, and lessons almost perfectly: sorpresa, spanglish, and soldiez.

Sorpresea is Spanish for surprise. When we first arrived, we were greeted by a few familiar faces: Fr. David Orique and Dr. Nuria Alonso García, both PC faculty, were able to greet us and ease our transition (they are planning a future trip to Tucumán for PC Global Studies students). We also finally got to meet the smiling face of Sister Cynthia, our contact and hostess. Little did we know, Sister Cynthia had planned a welcome dinner for us: we were greeted by all of the sisters (6 total), a handful of university students, and several English teachers from the Santa Rosa campuses. Needless to say, we were welcomed whole-heartedly into the community within hours of landing.

Sorpresa: we would begin teaching right away the next day. As a science major, unprepared cannot begin to describe how I felt the night before my first class. I have never taught anything to any grade before in my life, but here I was, 5,352 miles away from home, teaching and translating for classes ranging from kindergarten to high school. Cue mental breakdown.

Sorpresa: I love teaching. Every minute of it. Maybe I should reconsider my career choices…

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My first classes! Too many kids to count…

Sorpresa: the following day would be the 25° de Mayo, a national holiday to commemorate the successful revolution which overcame Spanish rule and established Argentine independence. To celebrate, the school had an assembly complete with traditional Argentine dances.

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The little ones demonstrating a traditional dance.

Another word that describes these past few days is Spanglish: a mishmash of Spanish and English used in the desperate hope that someone will understand me. I was fairly confident with my Spanish skills upon takeoff, but when it finally sunk in that the only other person that understood English fluently was my travel buddy Gabby, the world suddenly felt extremely small. I’ve resorted to charade-like gestures and exaggerated facial expressions in order to say what I don’t have the words to express, and I’m proud to say that it has worked so far. Every day gets easier and I can understand more and more, but I end every day mentally exhausted from trying to translate every conversation. I’m excited to see how much I’ve improved by the end of our time here.

The last word I will use to describe the last few days is the Spanish word solidez: strength. In conversation with Sister Cynthia, she comments on the strength and vitality of the Catholic church in Argentina and how the faith is incorporated into everyday life. Modernity has not weakened the church of Argentina as much as other cultures over the years; rather, masses are lively and people of all ages fill the church. Gabby and I had the opportunity to go on a “mini retreat” with many of the Santa Rosa students who volunteer within the greater Tucumán community: they could not have been more passionate about what they were doing.

Solidez: I am finding new sources of strength every day, most of which comes from the generosity of the sisters and all that they do to make their convent feel like home. I am finding the strength to continue speaking Spanish even though I may not be fully understood, and the perfectionist in me is learning to embrace all of the mistakes I make. Each day begins with many unknowns ahead, and it requires strength to say yes to each and every unknown with a smile.

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Impromptu holiday adventures.

For the next few days, we are leaving Tucumán to teach and learn in Chasquivil, a tiny village that can only be reached by an 8+ hour horseback ride up into the Andes Mountains.

Stay tuned for these sky-high stories,

Annie

Travels to Tucumán

Hello all!

Let me start off by introducing myself: my name is Annie and I’m from Duluth, MN, and I am a Biology major and Spanish minor. I just completed my sophomore year at Providence College, a Catholic Dominican college, and this marks the beginning of an incredible opportunity. I am one of nine PC students who received the Fr. Smith Fellowship, which grants students the opportunity to travel to a Dominican community anywhere in the world for 6 weeks in order to learn more about the Dominican identity through the eyes of another culture. I am blessed to begin my fellowship in San Miguel de Tucumán, Argentina, with my travel buddy Gabby Sanchez.

230-san-miguel-de-tucuman-locator-mapWe are staying with the Dominican Sisters of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, and we will be learning about the faith, education, and culture of the Tucumán community. While in Tucumán, we will spend our days teaching kids ages 3-17 alongside the sisters and faculty of several area schools. Myself and all the other fellowship recipients will be keeping blogs in order to share our experiences, struggles, laughs, and the things we’ve learned along the way as we come to understand cultures that are different, yet beautifully unique from our own.

This is an incredible learning opportunity for all of us: we will receive much more than we could ever hope to give. A big thank you to the donors who continue to make this fellowship possible: your contributions and commitment to student growth and faith through service-learning will change the way I view the world and how I live my life as a PC student. To the sisters, thank you for opening your doors to a couple of complete strangers; I cannot wait to learn more the Tucumán community from you. To Father Pivarnik, Father Robb, and Father Orique; thank you for all of your work and time in helping make this possible.

I am beyond excited to begin this adventure, but I have to admit that I am a bit nervous about the unknowns ahead. As a science major, I have never taught in a classroom before. My Spanish skills are also a bit rusty, but with time and practice hopefully I’ll improve and not embarrass myself too badly. Additionally, our travels have not been the smoothest: our first flight was delayed, which resulted in a complete cancellation and rebooking of the trip for the following day. Glad to announce we have arrived and just completed our first day (more on these first few days to come).

Aside from the nerves and the complications, I am excited to make friends, share experiences, and broaden my horizons while in Tucumán: I am excited for the change and the challenges it will bring and the things I will learn along the way. I am excited to embrace a new mindset as I learn more about myself and as I grow closer to God and to others.

More to come,

Annie