Tangoing in Argentina

Posted on May 12, 2012 by

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Full Name: Tan Jia Er

Gap : Dec 2009 – Jan 2011

Brief Education History: Cambridge A- levels, Taylor’s College Subang Jaya

Interests: Music, movies, travelling, extreme sports, meeting new friends, eating , sleeping, dreaming – life is fun 🙂

Email: jiaertan92@hotmail.com

Well, I’m not sure if this is a good example of a gap year, but it’s definitely something worthwhile for me. Before I took my SPM, like most of us, I had no idea what my future would be like. Not until I came across AFS (American Field Service), an organisation which promotes world peace by building bridges between different cultures around the world. One of their programs was a student exchange opened to all high school students. After talking to some of the returnees, I decided to give it a shot. I was planning to use that full year to figure out what I wanted to do in the future.

After a whole year of back-to-back interviews, trainings and preparation, I finally got a place in Argentina.  To my surprise, not many of my friends know where Argentina is ! ( I guess this lack of geographical knowledge was due to our Malaysian education system- no offence  🙂 ) For your information, Argentina is located in South America, just below Brazil. It is also a developing country like Malaysia, but less developed compared to Malaysia.

The process just to get there was a pain. I had to run all over KL just to get my visa done. Since this was a full -year program ( from Feb 2010 till Jan 2011 ), applying for a visa for such a long period was a bit tedious. Also, the whole journey took about 55 hours (gasp) , as there were no direct flights from Malaysia. Thus, we actually traveled around the world (!) from Malaysia to Holland, Holland to Paris and finally Paris to Argentina. We actually stopped in Holland for 15 hours! Up till now I could still remember the whole structure of the Holland airport check-in area . Well, to look on the bright side, not many people had the chance to travel for 55 hours non-stop without taking a shower for 3 days. The most embarrassing part was meeting my host family, as I thought I will not have any siblings, as noted in the letter send by AFS.  To my surprise, I actually have a sister and a brother, and two cute little DOGS in the house.

my house

my host family


It was a totally new environment for me. First of all, most Argentineans can’t speak English, or speak terribly till I had no idea what they were trying to tell me. Luckily for me my host mum is an English teacher, so there were no problems for me to communicate with them. As for the others, I had to resort to sign language >< It was tough (for me) for the first 6 months, but eventually you will pick up the language fast to survive in that extreme environment. Now, I’m able to read, write and speak Spanish, but my grammar is still pretty awful as I picked up most of the language by listening and communicating.

Here comes the fun part. I joined lots of activities over there- Basketball, Tango , acrobatics, horse riding and guitar lessons for local rhythms. Of course, as an exchange student you have to enter their local high school too. As I was living in a small town, I traveled around by foot or by bike. At the weekends it was usually PARTY TIME!!! In the beginning I went for parties once a week (On Saturdays) as my schedule was packed with activities throughout the week. My host mum actually asked me to go out 3 nights a week to party as she wanted me to fully enjoy my sole year in Argentina. (woohoo host mum!) Well, I took her advice and that was basically how I lived for that whole year.

As an exchange student I had to participate in some activities organized by AFS. There were trips, charity jobs, community service,  AFS promotions and many more. There were also many wonderful activities that I had participated in that year.

my basketball teammates 

my classmates

Horse riding with the Gaucho (Cowboys!)

sleeping in the bush

barbecue in the field 

 party at the beach

playing beach volleyball

AFS trip to Cataratas Del Iguazu, one of the world wonders

AFS representatives who participated in the ONU competition ( Jia Er suited-up, second from the left)
(Model United Nations Conference)

Children’s Day– carnival for the poor

Friends from the Youth for a United World organisation

Interview by a local TV station

Well, it’s hard to share all my experiences here as everyday was fresh, new and fun. The best part of joining this program is that everyone had different experiences. Some had a miserable one, some had a bland one, but for me I was quite lucky to have a fun one. What  have I learnt? On the outside, I learnt skills like horse riding, Spanish and etc. But on the inside I believe that I’m more mature, able to accept more things and most importantly I learnt how to enjoy my life. I feel that Malaysians tend to  focus too much on studies and work- which is how our education system, parents and government brought us up to be. This is why not everyone is truly happy, leading to many social problems in our community. Other than that I also understood more about the cause of war, why there is racism and why Asians are different from the Westerners. I did receive a lot of verbal abuse in Argentina because I’m an Asian, especially when Argentina beat South Korea in the World Cup. These are the lessons in life which you won’t learn in class or school, but by experiencing these situations, I became a better person.

You can find more information about the exchange program here –  http://www.afsmas.org/ .

You might ask, why bother to take a gap year? I would say it’s for self- development. Remember that I said I took a year off to figure out what I wanted to do in the future? The truth is, I did not even think about this throughout the year, but at the end of the year, when my mum asked me about my plans, a desirable career that I’d like to pursue came into the back of my mind. In other words, everything just comes to you naturally when you expose yourself more to different things and you will be able to understand more about yourself.

However, the sad thing is not many people can participate in this program as there are only about 60+ spots available throughout Malaysia, but I’m sure that you can still do many things in Malaysia. Plan well for your gap year activities. You can join company attachments, charity work  or activities that you want to do to understand yourself better so that you can make the right decisions. In the process of helping others you are actually helping yourself too. Currently, I’m volunteering in a few NGOs such as Prajna and AFS and I might plan to take another gap year to do more of what I want to do.

There’s a saying: Expect the Unexpected. Everything is possible. Your gap year might be really different from your initial plans but in the process you’ll learn something valuable. Live your life, enjoy your life and when you look back in the end, you will have no regrets. Good luck and have fun!!

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Posted in: Profile, Travel