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Posted by: Jason Fragola - 02 October 2018 - Travel Scholarship

Being a seventeen year old in England is completely different to being a teenager in Kazakhstan. In England, you learn that the opportunities available to people are endless. I heard a lot of stories about volunteering abroad, something which is especially popular in UK.

Fate intervened to give me a sign that I needed to volunteer somewhere. I was scrolling throgh Instagram, when I saw an advertisement for Projects Abroad. I immediately started reading through their website. They had offices and projects all around the world. The most appealing to me was a program in Argentina called Human rights and Spanish.

Why? Firstly, I didn’t need a visa to visit Argentina (finally, somewhere I didn’t require a visa!). Secondly, the program wasn’t only about helping poor families, it was about making a difference in the community. Thirdly, I wanted to learn a new language.

To make this dream a reality I had to find the money to pay for the program. I didn’t want my mum to pay the full amount. Then I remembered that my Director of Stuidies talked about the MPW Travel Scholarship. That was my golden ticket to Argentina – I was over the moon!

I was so excited during my last days at work, packing and checking. Leaving a hot and sunny London didn’t make me sad, as I knew that adventures were waiting for me.

One thing that scared me was the language barrier, as I hadn’t learnt any Spanish before. So, I decided to download a podcast on Spotify called Coffee break Español, which I would highly recommend.

I travelled to Cordoba, which is a city in the centre of Argentina. I was met by the coordinaters with kisses and hugs, a traditional greeting in Argentina. Cordoba welcomed me with sun and smiles. Through the window of the taxi, I took in the sights of the city. My first impression was that it looked like suburban Almaty. Cows walking near houses, nothing tall or modern. Just imagine a post-soviet city, and you will know what Cordoba looks like.

At once, it felt like home. I was taken to the house of my host family. They live in one of the best areas in Cordoba, just in front of the park. I was met by my host mother Sylvia. She reminded me of my grandmother, always smiling and caring. I lived with five other volunteers from USA and England.

They became my family and good friends. From the first day they kept us busy. Activities included in this program were making protest signs, cooking dinner for poorer families and looking after their children, talking to the lawyer and actually participating in protests.

If I was asked about my favourite thing about Argentina, I would say dinner times. They are so magical, it is a time when all the family joins together after a long day, they talk about anything and everything. Also, dinner starts around 8pm, so I was very hungry by then! But it was the perfect place for me to test my spanish.

The most memorable moment of the trip was participating in a protest. We were visiting during important an event in the country, when the government was deciding whether or not to legalise abortion. We had a chance to make a difference to the country and its people. I do remember standing there with my cold feet, I was freezing and still shouting, “Aborto Legal ya”, which means legalize abortion. I can’t describe every moment and emotion I felt on this trip, but it definitely changed me.

I would encourage everyone to travel, explore and volunteer. It’s been such a valuable experience. Thank you to MPW for giving me such an opportunity.

Aizere Assylbek