The Columns

Immersed in Language and Culture Caroline Rivers test drove her Spanish—and her courage in unfamiliar environments—during a summer teaching gig in Argentina.

— by on November 6th, 2017

“It put in perspective how challenging it must be to live in a place where your native language isn’t spoken. As I hope to travel and work with people of other cultures and countries, having gained that perspective will be valuable.”

Caroline Rivers ’20 takes a moment to enjoy the beach in Argentina, where she taught English during summer 2017.

Caroline Rivers ’20
Hometown: Spartanburg, South Carolina
Majors: Business and Spanish
Minor: Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Tell us a bit about your summer experience:

I spent six weeks living in Mar del Plata, Argentina, with a host family and interning as a teaching assistant at a bilingual school, Holy Trinity College. My host siblings, Bautista and Guadalupe, attend 5th and 3rd grade at Holy Trinity. I worked five days a week from early morning to late afternoon, primarily with children ages 3 to 9. The children have their morning classes in English, and afternoon classes in Spanish.

What was an average day like?

Every weekday, I went to school in the morning with my two host siblings. I worked until late afternoon, helping with administrative work and supervising classrooms. Some days I even taught and led the lesson plan when a teacher was absent or needed help. I often worked individually with students who were struggling with their English pronunciation or reading comprehension. I also helped the high school students prepare for English exams, and with community service and fundraising projects each week. Every afternoon around 5 p.m., either at home with my host family or at a friend’s house, we had tea, an Argentine tradition. Dinner was never until 8 or 9 p.m.even later on the weekendswhich was a big adjustment for me. On the weekends, I spent time with local college students who have graduated from Holy Trinity.

Did you meet anyone during the experience who became a mentor or an inspiration to you?

My host mom, Mili, was a huge mentor to me. I was originally supposed to move in with another family after two or three weeks, but I became so close to my original host family that they invited me to stay there the entire six weeks. Mili treated me like her own daughter and made me feel at home during a time when I was going through so many adjustments and experiencing various cultural differences. She had a huge impact on my experience in Argentina; the time I spent with her and the rest of my host family will always be special to me and made it hard to leave.

What was the most challenging aspect of the job?

The most challenging aspect of the job was teaching itself. I have a newfound respect for teachers after this internship, especially those who teach young children. It takes an immense amount of patience, and is both physically and mentally tiring. But the relationships I was able to build with other teachers and the students, watching them learn and improve, made it rewarding.

What else did you find fulfilling?

I found the most fulfilling part was being immersed in another culture and language. It makes you realize how much bigger the world is than just your own life and home. Not only did I came to realize all the little things about my own life that are unique to American culture, but I also came to appreciate a culture that is different than my own.

As member of ESOL, English for Speakers of Other Languages, here on campus, I was reminded at times of when I was struggling to communicate the importance of the work we do here in Rockbridge County. It put in perspective how challenging it must be to live in a place where your native language isn’t spoken. As I hope to travel and work with people of other cultures and countries, having gained that perspective will be valuable.

What did you like best about the location?

The town was on the coast, so there were miles of beautiful beaches. I loved passing the ocean every morning on the way to work and seeing the sunrise. Although it was winter, it was still nice to look at the water or go for walks on the shore.

What have you learned at W&L that helped you in this endeavor, and what have you brought back to your life on campus?

The Spanish courses I have taken here at W&L prepared me with enough Spanish-speaking experience to feel confident about challenging my speaking skills in such an immersive environment; while many people spoke English, my host parents knew none. The LACS courses I have taken not only piqued my interest in other cultures, but made me more equipped to notice and embrace all the cultural differences I was surrounded by.

Has this experience impacted your future plans in any way?

Yes, I now am considering doing a semester abroad in Argentina during my junior year. I was not able to spend much time in Buenos Aires, but what I saw of the city was so beautiful. I think spending a semester there would be amazing.