The Secret Life of Volunteers


One of the great things about working with Mariposas is the pre-prepared community of friends that is the international volunteers. The constant comings and goings means there is always a good reason to get together and go out for dinner. And then ice cream. And then some drinks. After siesta time there’s rarely a day when you couldn’t find another volunteer on the beach at Taganga. On the day the below photo was taken all but one of the us found ourselves at the same spot. We also travel further afield in the weekends to other beaches, or the mountains.


Often our conversations resemble what a school staff room might sound like. We talk about our favourites and our frustrations with particular kids. We talk about funny things that happened in class and things that worry us. We talk about things we wish were different, and we acknowledge the many reasons they can’t easily be. We gripe about organisational bits and pieces.  There’s no union, and no striking, though our wages are a scandal…

We also talk about our homes, the foods we miss and the weather we don’t. Our conversations float between English and Spanish depending on who’s more comfortable with what. Surprisingly given Colombia’s location, there are more European’s than North Americans. That’s good when it comes to another of our favourite conversations: the difference between American and other English. I have recorded an objective catalogue of these discussions for posterity:

  • We say entres and mains. Amercians say appetisers and entres. This is plainly ridiculous. Entre is clearly associated with something you do before something else. Think entrance, or the French word for before: entre!.Oh, and entrada in Spanish. One point to us.
  • Americans swim in the ocean. We swim in the sea. To be fair to Americans, if they swim off the vast majority of their coast they will be swimming in an Ocean, whereas plenty of other swimming is in the sea. So, absent overwhelming logic we go to a tie breaker: what does Spanish say? In Spanish you swim in el mar – the sea. Sea it is. Another point to non-American English.
  • We call 7Up and Sprite lemonade. Americans call it 7Up and Sprite and reserve lemonade for non-fizzy lemon tasting stuff which you might make yourself at home. They’re on to something. 7Up and Sprite have very little to do with lemons. And, by calling them lemonade, we’re left without a specific term for the lemon tasting stuff. Point to America.
  • Americans say apple cider when we’d say spiced apple juice. They say ‘hard cider’ when it’s alcoholic and we’d just say cider. This hass some merit because it also allows them to say, for example ‘hard lemonade’. However wine is not ‘hard grape juice’. Glaringly inconsistent. Still, us non-Americans be call that a draw and be ahead on points.

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