I remember talking to Ms. Alvarez in her apartment one night before I left from campus to Argentina for my Parkin trip.
“I am supposed to be able to speak intermediate Spanish. I can barely speak a sentence in Spanish now. I am supposed to be an experienced rider. I have ridden a horse five times in my entire life. But I think I will be fine," I said.
“Don’t worry," Ms. Alvarez said. "you will do great!"
This conversation accurately summarized my trip to Córdoba, Argentina, where I worked for five weeks in a local equine therapy center just outside the city. I came with little knowledge of what I was going to experience and left with surprises, friendships, and a sea of memories I will treasure all my life.
I worked at an equine therapy center which provided great opportunities and happiness to the children who came and attended class here, especially those who were not as fortune physically as we are. Students came not only to learn to ride horses but also enjoyed valuable interactions with both horses and other people. The center had a history of welcoming volunteers from all over the world. I was lucky to come and become a valued member of the team.
In Argentina, people work late and rest late. I normally ate dinner at 8 p.m., went to sleep after 1 a.m., and woke up around 9 a.m. Every day after lunch, I grabbed my backpack, waited at the bus station, and hopped on #25. After about an hour, at the end of a U-shape turn, when only two or three people were still on the bus, I arrived at my working place, Fundación Cordobesa de Equinoterapia.
We started working around 2:30 p.m. We cleaned the living place of the horses, including both inside the stables and outside, and sometimes cleaned the leaves in the yard as well. Then we would clean the horses, put on saddles and bridles, and prepare them for the classes. Normally at around 4 or 4:30 p.m, the first student would arrive. Depending on the situation of the student, I would walk closely next to the horse to prevent the rider from falling, or lead the horse, or just stand aside and assist in the class. Around 6:30 or 7 p.m., after the last class was finished, we returned all the horses to their place in their casual bridle and jackets, and made sure all doors were closed and all horses had water and food.
My experience was not without challenges. In the first week, I was the only volunteer at the center and struggled to finish the work. Cleaning the stable was the hardest task for me as it was repetitive and physically demanding (especially when I was not familiar with it). I remember being alone in the dark, confined, smelly stable, holding my breath and tears from my irritated eyes, and trying hard to throw the shavings onto the wall with a heavy shovel. I was exhausted but the progress was slow. Callouses grew on my hand.
Veronica, the founder of the center, would come in sometimes when I could not finish my work and help me. Seeing her finish in 20 minutes the work I would need an hour to do made me even more frustrated. I felt like instead of helping, I merely added to her work and inconvenience.
I was upset. But I just kept coming every day and worked relentlessly. Before I realized, I was no longer worn down after cleaning one stable, but could instead move to the next one with satisfaction.
It was a big moment for me when Veronica was talking to a friend and commented on me that “unlike some former volunteers who barely did anything, she is a true hard-worker.” All my past advantages such as being a good student, being bi-lingual, cleverness, fast-learning, and artistic, disappeared in the dark stable. I was left with all the disadvantages of being poor at physical work and Spanish communication. I wondered so hard what still made me unique and valuable. After all the difficulties had been overcome, I realized the core personalities that made me who I am had never changed.