This week’s girl that goes is another lovely chica I’ve met on my own travels. Her caring, compassion and lively spirit really inspired me, and she had some great travel stories to boot! Check out Rebecca’s experience volunteering in Spain and Argentina, what verb is NOT interchangeable between Spanish in Spain and Argentina, and more in this week’s Girls That Go!
GGG: Hi! What’s your name, and where are you from?
My name is Rebecca Ruth and I’m from Kilkenny, Ireland.
GGG: When did you start traveling, and what inspired you to do so?
Well, if I’m going to be completely accurate my first trip was at the tender age of eight months when I traveled to Corfu with my parents. Throughout my childhood I traveled around Ireland with my parents and as a teenager we went on a big trip to California. I remember falling in love with San Francisco and promising I’d make it back there some day (still waiting!). In college I went on many different trips around Europe with friends. Upon graduating, three close friends and I embarked on the trip of a lifetime around South East Asia. When I returned, I set up camp in Barcelona where I stayed put for almost three years. And finally, a strong desire to discover South America took me to Argentina.
What inspired me to travel? Hard to say really. My Mum as a young woman traveled and lived for a time in Israel. So I guess I always had that itch to travel and see the world as she did. For me and probably as a result of my mother’s influence, travel is essential. It’s a form of education, it teaches you so much about the world, about other people, other ways of life, ways of seeing the world and above all about yourself.
Another element I believe is the fact that I’m Irish. As you very well know, the Irish are EVERYWHERE! While living in Spain I realized that not all nationalities have this longing to discover the world. If I look around me, I’d say that probably four out of five of my friends want to head off and travel the world.
GGG: You’ve done some volunteering in South America. Can you tell us about that experience?
I began working as a volunteer for L’Arche in September 2011. L’Arche is an international organization, it’s a group of over 130 communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. There are two communities in Kilkenny, and when I was growing up I always admired the work they did and thought that one day I’d like to become a volunteer. After two years living in Barcelona, I reached a point where I needed to give something back. I needed to help others, I need to make some kind of a difference. So I decided to look for a L’Arche community in Spain. I found the “El Rusc” community which is about 40km north of Barcelona where I spent seven months. Following my time there I spent another four months in a L’Arche community in Buenos Aires.
The time I spent living in community as a volunteer was like no other. L’Arche communities are very beautiful, very special places. People with intellectual disabilities are at the center, their differences and uniqueness are celebrated. A family is created for those who in many cases have been mistreated or rejected. Living in this family atmosphere with people who have intellectual disabilities opens your eyes and your heart. You realize how simple life can be, what is really important in life, relationships, love and caring for others. You learn so much about yourself, almost as if a mirror is held up to you.
GGG: Would you recommend L’Arche to other travelers?
Would I recommend it to other travelers? Yes, I would, although it must be kept in mind that volunteering with L’Arche is a very intense experience. As I said above, it’s as if a mirror is held up to you. The experience really opens you which is not always easy but always worthwhile.
In addition, I think there is no better way to truly live in another culture. During my time in the two communities I really lived and experienced the Catalan and Argentinian cultures. I ate their food, I celebrated their festivities, I learned their language, their expressions, their opinions, the way they see the world. I lived their cultures, their lives, I was totally immersed. It was great!
GGG: Language acquisition has been a key part of your adventures. Do you have any silly or interesting language-related stories?
There were definitely some funny situations but the two that are coming to mind right now are both of a sexual nature. Ha! Of course!
There’s an expression in Spanish, wait now I hope I’ll get it right …… “estoy hecho polvo” which means I’m exhausted. I’m sure on more than one occasion I said to one of my colleagues in Spain, “me estoy hecho un polvo” or something to that effect which more or less means “I’m having sex.”
Also, before going to Argentina I was warned to be careful when using the verb “coger–” a verb I used regularly in Spain, meaning” to catch,” (coger un taxi, un autobus ….) BUT in Argentina it is a quite vulgar way to say “having sex.” Sure, of course I walked into that one more than once, ah, the joys of it!
GGG: Ha, whoops! An important linguistic distinction. So, what are 3 things you learned about yourself while traveling abroad?
Hmmm…..where do I start with this one and how do I simply limit it to three things I learned about myself?! Sure it was the making of me! I proved to myself how independent I really am and how self sufficient I can be. Travelling alone teaches you to be very resourceful. You live with very little and this changes how you value things.
Travelling also gave me a lot more confidence. When you are constantly meeting different people from different backgrounds, different religions, cultures, iIt opens your eyes, you learn so much more about the world and about yourself. You also have to put yourself out there, which increases your own sense of self, your confidence.
I guess during my time volunteering I learned the importance of relationships and the beauty in friendship and meeting new people. However, after almost 3 years out of Ireland I realised that I needed to come home, to build on and to enjoy the relationships with some of the most important people in my life: my family and my friends.
GGG: What were a few things you were happy to return to once you got home?
Well, obviously my wonderful family and friends! The downfall to traveling and seeing the world is that you don’t have all those special loved ones close by. When I was in Argentina I found it difficult being SO far from home. At least in Spain it was always easy to fly home, thanks to cheap Ryanair flights! But from Argentina that simply wasn’t possible!
Since moving home, I’m really enjoying the simple things. Going for a walk with friends, popping over to someone’s house for a cup of tea and a chat, as opposed to a chat over Skype! Watching TV with Mam and Dad, cold winter nights in front of the fire with Mam and Dad, dinner with friends, special parties with friends. The hugs, the laughs, the look in someone’s eyes when they tell me how happy they are to have me home and to have me around again. It’s being around the people who know you inside out, who know your history, all the stories, usually the embarrassing ones, they know your worst and they know your best but regardless they love you so very much.
And you know what’s funny and I know it’s probably something I will tire of but I’m enjoying being in Kilkenny where everyone knows me. I’m constantly meeting old schoolmates, teachers, people who know one of my parents or someone who is related to me. It’s a given in a small town and I know it’s something that people often hate but having spent so much time being “the foreigner,” being on the outside, being different. It’s kind of nice to just fit in and simply to be a part of the furniture, I guess.
Another great thing about being home and something you can’t find anywhere else in the world is the good old Irish banter! I love the chats with strangers, I love the Irish-isms, it’s good to be with my people! 🙂
Thanks so much, Rebecca! Good luck with everything, and enjoy your time with family and friends in Ireland!
All photos in this post are courtesy of Rebecca Ruth.