¡Buenos días a todos (long post alert)!
Over one week ago we landed in Jujuy, at the northern corner of Argentina and at the foot of the Andes mountains.
The group had a mix of feelings as we approached our host community, San Pedro de Jujuy, between anxiety about not being able to communicate with families or not getting along with siblings, to excitement to try new foods, practice castellano (Spanish), and make new friends.
We were greeted at the T.S. Elliot language school by the host families holding up paper signs welcoming their new children, with each of the students peeking out the bus window to see which was their family. They were each warmly greeted with big hugs and then had the first afternoon off to bond with their families.
Our first day in San Pedro, July 9, also happened to be el Día de la Independencia and we were given a formal greeting by the mayor in front of many community spectators, followed by a performance by the local police band. The group felt like a bunch of celebrities as local radio and TV stations approached us to ask questions and community members came to take pictures with the norteamericanos.
Later that evening was our welcome dinner with the families, where the students got to introduce themselves (some in Spanish) and perform a folkloric dance they had practiced with some of their siblings that afternoon. The lively dance took up with entire restaurant!
The following day the group met in the town’s central plaza for the first Spanish class of the week where they were tasked with interviewing locals walking around the plaza. We were then invited to la Municipalidad (city hall) for a welcome message from government officials and a snack break prior to visiting a local middle school. There, we were invited into a class of 12 year-old students and we exchanged a bunch of random and fun questions in English. They were very excited to meet the norteamericanos.
The next two days we were at the language school for Spanish class where the groups would sing songs and share the tongue-twisters they found. Here are just a few of them:
Pepe pide pipas y Pepe pide papas, pudo Pepe pelar pipas, pero no pudo Pepe pelar papas, porque las papas de pepe no eran papas, ¡eran pepinos!, metió la pata.
Pablito clavó un clavito en la calva de un calcio
Tres tristes tigres comieron trigo en un trigal
Most afternoons we spent with our families, enjoying the wonderful siesta, typically followed by gathering to enjoy a mate break, and discovering the typical northern Argentine tradition of big lunches and late (and by late, we mean 11 pm to midnight) dinners. One of the host brothers even organized a series of evening dance classes the students got to take advantage of by learning hip hop, jazz, and some folkloric dance moves.
Then comes one of our trip’s main themes, the community service project picked by the local community. For three days we went to the local police station to help give the facade a “facelift” by sanding the walls, cleaning debris, and painting a fresh coat on the bricks and fences. Locals would pass by intrigued by the group of young students, and some would even come by to warmly pay gratitude for their time and work. The days of work passed by quickly as students would chat with some host siblings who joined to help chat and play with friendly dogs that would frequent the station. At the end of the project, the chief of police thanked us for all for our work and had a local police band perform for us!
Over the weekend, we went on a day trip to the Salina Grande, a salt flat at 3,500 meters of altitude. On the drive over, we went up the winding mountain roads and got to see the changing vegetation and occasional llamas and vicuñas munching on shrubs. For some of us, it was the first time we got to experience the sudden change in altitude and feel its unpleasant effects! Despite this, we were all fascinated by the salty white landscape and got to learn about some local folklore and salt mining techniques. Not to mention taking some fun perspective shots! On the way back we passed by a small mountain town called Purmamarca, which in Aymara means “desert town”. The students got to wander the picturesque town and buy some artisanal goods from street vendors and see the variously colored surrounding hills.
The final day was heavy-hearted for the group and families alike. At the farewell dinner, students got to stand and share their gratitude (mostly in Spanish!) for their homestay experience, and when it was the families’ turn, emotions ran very high and many gathered for group hugs. All of us were so surprised by how 10 days with our families resulted in such incredible bonds and heartwarming experiences. They made us feel like their own children!
As we move on to the next segment of our journey, the students reflect on the last two weeks and how close they’ve come together, and the impression the homestay experience has had on them. Despite the tears from leaving our new Argentine families, we are all so excited for the upcoming cavalgata and outdoor adventure!
More student-written experiences to come.