ETA Spotlight: Luke Wajrowski, Argentina

Every month, Fulbridge interviews an ETA from around the world to get a glimpse of life in different placements. This month, Fulbridge Founder Zoë Gioja talked with Luke Wajrowski, a 2017 Researcher in Argentina.

1. Why Argentina?

I chose Argentina for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to come back to a South American country to complement my experiences in Chile, where I studied for a semester, and in Peru, where I worked with children with special needs for two months. As I was looking at countries in South America, I was intrigued by Argentina’s highly effective English teaching program: the system consists of “teacher training colleges” at the tertiary level which utilize some of the most recently developed and effective language-learning strategies. This really spoke to me because I am looking to be a Spanish teacher when I return to the U.S., and learning from the best in the teacher training colleges would be a great asset. Finally, I am a longtime theatre aficionado, and I knew that coming to a country whose theatrical works are recognized worldwide would be incredible. It seemed like an ideal place to realize my side project: performing short plays in English for my students.

2. Where are you located and at what school/university do you teach?

I am located in Santiago del Estero, a mid-sized city in the north of the country. I am teaching at three different teacher training colleges, two of which are within the city of Santiago del Estero and the third is in the countryside. The three teacher training colleges are specifically targeted to educate future English teachers.

3. Since every country ETA program has different requirements, what does your grant entail?

I think the requirements of being an ETA in Argentina are very similar to those of other countries. Because ETAs work in tertiary education, some background in ENL (English as a New Language) or education will set you apart as an applicant. ETAs here in Argentina work closely with the tertiary level teachers, leading classes on cultural presentations, grammar, vocabulary usage, and pronunciation.

4. What does a normal weekday look like for you?

I typically wake up around 9 a.m. and have a quick breakfast, usually some bread and fruit. Then I head out to meet up with representatives from different schools, such as the Ministry of Education or a local school. These meetings can be with kids where I’m presenting, discussing lesson plans, and being an even more effective ENL teacher, or simply meeting to discuss my adjustment and living situation. Around midday I return to my apartment for lunch and a siesta. Here in Santiago, everything closes down from 12:30p.m. to 5:00p.m. Sometimes during the siesta I relax in my apartment, and sometimes I go for a run or explore the city. Afterwards, I head over for work at the teacher training colleges from 7:00 to 11:00. It’s a pretty new experience for me to be working late at night, so when I get home shortly after 11:00, I have a quick dinner (because everyone eats late in Argentina) and go to bed.

5. How have you gotten involved with the university outside of the classroom?

I’ve been involved with the students from the teacher training colleges in a variety of circumstances. They have invited me to many different events, from birthdays to concerts, and it has been fun to go out with the students who don’t differ significantly in age from me.

One main way I’ve gotten to know and interact with the students is through my side project. I meet up with small groups of students to rehearse and perform short plays in English. The plays come from both U.S. and Argentine traditions, and it’s a really fun to work with these students.

6. What has your experience been like using or learning the language in the host country? 

Speaking Spanish has been pretty much a continuity with my experience in Chile, where I really gained a grasp the language. That being said, Chilean Spanish and Argentine Spanish are differ in pronunciation to vocabulary. Even within Argentina, there regional differences in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. Here in Santiago, I’ve picked up on some regional slang, such as “chango,” an equivalent of “dude.”

7. What have been some challenges?

Getting a refrigerator! It’s the only thing my apartment is lacking and apparently it’s one of the hardest things to get in Santiago, unless you have moolah. I first got a fridge from a sort of thrift store called a “compraventa,” but although they convinced me that it worked, it actually didn’t (I managed to get my money back). Then, after being told by numerous friends and acquaintances that they didn’t have an extra one, one friend did have an extra one! He brought it over to the apartment and it wasn’t working (which is my current situation).

Another challenge has been balancing my time. Many people from school want to spend time with me outside of the classroom, and as I have over 150 students, it can be hard (impossible?) to go to everything. It’s been challenging to know how and when to say no and to take care of myself by doing some things that keep me going, such as running.

8. What have been some highlights?

It has been really cool to learn some of the regional dances, like chacareras and gato. It has been great seeing how many cultural traditions from music to tall tales have taken shape over the years and are still celebrated. I am excited to participate and learn more!

Another highlight has been being surrounded by friends! I came to Argentina not knowing anyone, after leaving behind family and friends, and it’s been a real blessing to have been able to make new friendships. The students I’ve met at school have been great!

9. What was your best lesson plan?

My best lesson plan has been one on “junk culture,” which is basically all the problems associated with today’s youth, such as extensive screen time, unhealthy eating habits, less parental support, etc. I prepared a mini presentation with various factors and statistics and then we had a great discussion about the causes of these problems and how to solve them. Students were challenged to give their opinions and argue their points in English as well as be creative with describing a potential intervention to this real-world problem.

10. What will you miss the most?

I will miss the people the most. I’ve already mentioned that I have experienced a lot of love—like people cooking for me or helping me figure out my problem with the fridge—but it is worth mentioning again. Although I’ve been here for only two months so far, I’ve already developed pretty genuine (and I’m sure lasting) relationships. It will be hard to leave at the end of these eight months.

11. Why should prospective grantees apply to work in Argentina?

Grantees who want to be surrounded by people who will love them no matter what should apply to Argentina (which is everyone, is it not?!). Those who want to travel in a country that has many different climates and environments such as the mountains in the Northwest of the country, the “end of the world” in the South, impressive beaches on the East coast. (Did I mention Iguazú falls is one of the seven natural wonders of the world?).

12. Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience as an ETA?

I would say my favorite trip I’ve taken so far is to Iguazú falls, located at the northeastern tip of the country. Before going to see the Falls, I had pretty high expectations because I knew they were one of the seven natural wonders of the world, but upon seeing them, they shattered all my expectations. I was surrounded by the hundreds of falls in a lush green valley. It was incredible! My friends and I had the chance of going in boat underneath of the falls, and it was like we were little kids again! We were screaming with joy as we got soaked. I will never forget that trip.

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