Last night, I was sitting in a restaurant in Argentina, surrounded by adolescent boys asking me questions in Spanish about pop culture and music in the U.S. Do you know the band Kiss? What style of music is popular there? And most importantly – what was the reaction like when Michael Jackson died? Most of the music that they listed as their favorites had its heyday in the ‘80s, and they listened with wide eyes as I tried to explain that rock and roll actually came from blues music.
Sitting there at the table, I had a major flashback to when I was studying abroad in Santiago, Chile and volunteering at a public school for boys in the city. I helped teach English to 180 freshmen boys, and often I would take small groups outside of the classroom so that they could ask me questions about whatever they wanted, practice their English and hear a native English speaker talk. Most times, these conversations would center around what I just mentioned – music (they always loved ‘80s music for some reason), as well as movies, TV shows and what life is like in general in the U.S. In my blog at that time, I wrote “this also made conversation extremely exciting and entertaining for me, especially when I found kids that liked the same shows, movies and music as me.” The point was cultural sharing, and that’s exactly what I was doing with the boys at la Fundación Camino Abierto.
Cultural sharing is one of the many things that Susana Esmoris and her husband Hugo Centineo encourage the boys to experience at Camino Abierto, and one of the reasons that they began to explore rural tourism on their farm. She explained how important it was for the boys to be exposed to many different things – whether it’s through the foreign visitors that come to the farm, the field trips to other parts of Argentina that the boys take every year, the many cultural programs that they offer (including an orchestra, painting and theater workshops, and dance lessons), or the cooking lessons they have with some of the most famous chefs in Argentina. The point is to provide them with opportunities and the freedom to choose their own path in life – hence the name of the place, “Camino Abierto,” which means “open path” or “open way.” It was obvious how powerful and influential these opportunities have been for many of the boys – you could see the pride in their eyes when they declared what instruments they played or when they helped in the restaurant kitchen. It was clear that some transformation had occurred and that they were happy and were doing what they loved.
The whole atmosphere of the place was remarkable and infectious. The boys walk through the fields with their arms around each other, everything is fresh and wholesome, there is a sense of tranquil connection to nature, and the food is to die for. Perhaps that is because it is infused with love and happiness, which Susana describes as the continual state of the kitchen (even when there are 25 people working in it). Overall, there is an ambiance of peace, hope, and people doing what they love. Or at least that’s what I felt.
I am so happy that we got to wrap up the project with this story. I am grateful that I got to spend some time with Susana, Hugo, and the boys. And I loved experiencing those priceless moments of cultural sharing. After all, isn’t that what traveling is all about?
And if you must know – in the video clip that my mom posted, I’m describing to them how powerful the reaction was to Michal Jackson’s death, with people dancing in the streets and providing countless tributes to that infamous king of pop.