A Passion for Service
by Andrea Simon
Emory Scholar and Gilman Scholarship Recipient
¿Don't cry for me Argentina. The truth is I never left you.¿ ~ (Evita 1996)
My dream of studying abroad in South America was just that: a dream. As a young woman who was extremely interested in serving underprivileged youth struggling in our education system, learning Spanish would be an invaluable tool in helping me to connect with members of the growing Spanish-speaking population here in the U.S. Also, riveted by the depth of culture and history buried in the roots of the language and people, I was drawn to the language both from a professional standpoint and a personal one. However, since I only started learning Spanish here at Emory as a freshman in Fall 2011, my goal to be able to speak the language at a level of proficiency by the time I graduated would have been nearly impossible without a study abroad experience. Also, opportunities to study the language intensively after graduation would be drastically diminished.
It was with this frantic realization that I first contacted the CIPA Study Abroad office. The CIPA office assisted me in a multitude of ways and guided me towards selecting the right program and seeking out financial resources. This included exploring financial aid availability, grant offerings, and scholarships both internal (within the Emory community) and external (such as the National Gilman Study Abroad Scholarship). Clinging to hope and excitement, I raced to meet deadlines and waited (quite impatiently) for decisions to be made. Finally, in April (just weeks before I was scheduled to depart for my program) I received the final word that I was a Gilman scholarship recipient and excitedly bought my ticket! BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA HERE I COME! It was then that I realized I was about to be dropped in the middle of the capital of Argentina with an at most limited working knowledge of Spanish. Would I sink into the ominous abyss of my growing fears about getting lost on the subway, or would I rise to this challenge and pursue my goal of learning Spanish?
I approached my time in Argentina petrified but open-minded and with the fierce determination typical of an Emory student. The academic organization of the program made my success in this ¿whole new world¿ easier by familiarizing the students with all aspects of Argentine culture-- from colloquial Argentine slang and Tango classes to the rise of Peronism and the tragedy of ¿Los desaparecidos.¿
A typical day began with two classes in the morning. Spanish 309: ¿Buenos Aires, Past and Present¿ was particularly useful because it focused on the different ways in which language has shaped the Argentine lifestyle by exposing us to all types of cultural artifacts that inform the local language and highlight the massive intersection of culture and history that Buenos Aires has come to represent. After this class, I had Spanish 212, a course that was oriented towards Argentine language, culture, and society as well, but which focused on the development of advanced language, reading, conversation, and writing skills through discussion of these topics. After a two hour lunch break during which we sought out the best empanadas in all of Buenos Aires, the day closed with an afternoon session led by two graduate students who organized an array of activities and excursions throughout the city and beyond that complemented the morning classes by giving them real-world dimensions.
One of my most memorable afternoon excursions was to the Eva Peron Museum which serves as a symbol of both the political influence Evita exerted on the future of Argentina as well as a surviving monument to the Eva Peron Foundation and the social services Evita for which strived. In 1948, the Fundación opened three Hogares de Tránsito, temporary homes for people who needed a place to live until their problems could be solved (housing, employment, medical attention). Preference was given to women with children. The Eva Peron Museum has been constructed out of one of these ¿Hogares de Transito¿ and guides you through her controversial life and even more controversial death.
The museum touched me specifically because of her role as a strong woman fighting for social rights of women and children and learning about her life has given my own goals for helping Latino children in America a slightly new shape and direction. So, while I went to Argentina with the goal of using Spanish to help children in our education system, I have now been inspired to take a more active role in the success of these children by using Spanish in the context of social work aimed at young Latina women and children. I hope to use the Spanish that I have learned to communicate with these families and help guide them to getting their lives back.
Studying Abroad in Buenos Aires has truly been an experience that continues to change me, and with each day that passes since my return, I am reminded again and again of the enlightening experiences the program gave me. I like to think that I did rise to the challenge and that I did so by conquering my fears with the zest and enthusiasm that I have for helping others. Back at Emory for my junior year, each day continues to shed new light on an updated set of dreams. My drive for success and my passion for service is only getting stronger, and it is fed by a fire that is still burning at the heart of Buenos Aires, Argentina.