2019-20 Keiko, outbound to Argentina

Apr 1, 2020

Hey guys! I hope you all are well. In this journal I’ll talk about my school situation, COVID-19 conditions, and what my current life looks like.

So far on exchange, my school situation has been quite comical and unique. The academic school year in Argentina is from early March to December. This means that when I started school here in September, it was already getting close to the end of the school year. When the school year ended, I had three months and two weeks of summer vacation. I started the new school year on March 11th, but after March 13th, educational institutions nationwide were canceled. To put it in another way, I have had more summer vacation than school, and now, I have about one month more of staying home due to the quarantine.

Currently, I am getting sent assignments for all 12 of my classes through WhatsApp. This year, I have Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Math, Politics, Earth Science, Art, History, Literature, Geography, Physical Education, and English. My favorites so far have been Earth Science, History, and Art. In general, I am grateful that I have food to eat, a place to sleep, a computer to do my homework on, WiFi for accessing resources, and adults who can help me when I need it. I am aware that this quarantine really widens the education gap, because there are students who don’t have the privileges that I do, which makes it very difficult to study and succeed in school.

In relation to school, I understand everything the teachers say and can fully participate in all of my classes and activities. I remember before going on exchange, I was self-studying all of the Spanish grammar that I had never learned in school. I practiced conversations by Skying a fluent Spanish speaker every week for an hour. My US classmates thought I was a little crazy when I pulled out a Spanish textbook when we had free-time in class. Even here in Argentina, I expand my vocabulary every day and ask people to correct me all of the time. I think all of the extra work is worth it when I can build friendships with the locals, when I understand everything my teachers say, when I navigate public transportation with ease, etc. I am proud of myself for working hard and reaching a point in Spanish where I can get around like a local, and I am grateful for the opportunities and people who have helped me along the way.

Fun Facts about my school:

1) I attend the morning session, which is from 7 AM to 12:30 PM. Most schools here have morning sessions and afternoon sessions to split the number of kids because everyone (1st-12th grade) does not fit in the building at the same time.

2) The building that is now my school was originally a hotel! When the first train arrived in Chivilcoy in 1866, this building was constructed as one of the first hotels in my town. Now it has converted into a school; the classrooms are the old hotel bedrooms, and there is a lobby area where we can go to during break.

I have now been in Argentina for a little over seven months (I can’t believe it!). I remember about this time last year, I several ideas of what exchange could be like, but I had never thought that going outside would be legally prohibited for weeks. Due to the global pandemic known as COVID-19, Argentina has been under a mandatory nationwide quarantine since March 20th, and we have not gone to school since March 13th. Exemptions of the quarantine are few, they include movement to obtain food, medical care, and international travel for ticketed passengers. Initially, the quarantine was planned to end on March 31st, but the president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, clarified that the quarantine will be extended through April 12th (and possibly after). It is speculated that the peak of the virus in Argentina could be around mid-May. To avoid mass evictions, the government has frozen rent and mortgage. The government wants to freeze them for 180 days but the oppositions want no more than 90 days.

I understand that this is a really rough and uncertain time, especially for businesses, vulnerable populations, and low-income families and neighborhoods. In the end, everyone is effected in one way or another. For me, taking care of myself is a big priority, because I have learned that I can only be the most compassionate, positive, and kind version of myself when I have my physical and emotional needs met.

Since the local economy in Chivilcoy has come to somewhat of a halt, I help out others in ways I can. For example, my dance teacher here can not give dance classes in her studio due to the quarantine, which stops her flow of income. As an alternative, she is offering online yoga classes, which I am taking as a way to get more movement into my day and support the local economy. On the same topic, Lionel Messi (a famous Argentinian soccer player), voluntarily decreased his salary by 70% to support the FC Barcelona club. Additionally, he and the other players will be making more contributions so that the club’s employees can continue to receive 100% of their salaries.

My intention for these coming weeks is to make the most of my time here by being present. After all, this is my Rotary Youth Exchange, and the circumstances I am experiencing (living in Argentina, with a host family, 16 years old, during a global pandemic) is quite unique. I am making the most of this interesting experience. On a daily basis, I have been getting daily exercise, cooking some meals for my host family, doing school work, painting, and reading books (in Spanish!).

Before I end this journal, I want to send strength and compassion to those who are struggling through this difficult time, and thank those who are patiently staying at home. We are in this together and it will pass.

Thank you so much for reading. Until next time!

Wed, April 1, 2020

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