This blog was originally created for my experience abroad in Argentina. Now it chronicles my life back in Chicago. Below is a description of the Casa program, its history, and why I chose it.
“Casa de la Mateada”
The newest of three Casa programs, Casa de la Mateada is in its inaugural year, located in Córdoba, Argentina. “Mateada” is a derivative of the word mate (mah-tay), the name of a traditional Argentine drink similar to tea. It is communally shared amongst friends and family during leisure activities, and can even be an activity in itself. Google Translate defines “mateada” as a verb meaning “to sprout”, but in the context of this program, it holds a slightly different meaning. In Argentina, “mateada” more commonly describes the act of coming together with friends or family and sharing the drink of mate. There is no agenda as the sole purpose is to exist in community together. Thus, Casa de la Mateada continues the network’s theme with Casa de la Solidaridad, the house of solidarity, in El Salvador, and Casa Bayanihan, the house of communal unity, in the Philippines.
The program is structured around four pillars derived from the Jesuit Volunteer Corps experience: academics, accompaniment, community, and spirituality. Each pillar is experienced in a variety of ways throughout the semester, but there are a few distinct ways each are achieved. Perhaps the most easily understood pillar is that of academics. The entire curriculum is designed to supplement the adventure of living in Argentina. The classes consist of Spanish, Contemplatives in Action (psychology/theology), Philosophy from the Periphery, Comparative Perspectives on Global Poverty, and a Praxis Seminar and they meet at various times on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The hallmark of the Casa program is the fluidity with which the academic and practical (praxis sites) components play into each other.
Tuesdays and Thursdays consist of one of the most fundamental parts of the Casa program, the praxis site. This field placement offers full immersion with a small, local community of Argentine people. The purpose is to accompany them and gain a more in depth perspective on social injustices and cultural differences. While most of the aforementioned pillars are straightforward, accompaniment is one that mandates some explanation. The old saying goes: “To understand a man, you must walk a mile in his shoes.” In reality, this is rarely, if ever, possible. An educated person from the US will never know what it feels like to be an impoverished person in another part of the world. The inherent privilege that comes with possessing a passport from the United States can alone inhibit a true connection between people overseas. With this in mind, the pillar of accompaniment focuses instead on the opportunity to walk alongside another human being in a radically different position than one’s own. Additionally, the attempt is to create a genuine relationship between two people rather than one based on the foundation of service or volunteering. Three neighborhoods in Córdoba, Nuestro Hogar III, Barrio Argüello (my site), and El Gateado, each welcome three Casa students this semester.
The 2013 Casa de la Mateada fall semester has nine students that comprise the primary Casa community. Jake W.C. and I are from DePaul University, Catherine is from Virginia Tech, and Kayleigh, Alyssa, Amanda, Lorena, Sarah, and Jake H. are from Loyal Marymount University. Bianca and Michelle, our Community Coordinators (CCs), live with us as well. We all live together in the Villa Belgrano neighborhood in Córdoba. It is one of the nicest and most affluent neighborhoods in the city (all of our neighbors have pools…). Though this may seem to conflict with one of the fundamental aspects of the Casa mission, simple living, safely housing eleven young adults from the United States comes at a cost. Despite the surrounding area, the house has no Internet or TV, no microwave, no HVAC system and no pool. Our wonderful cook, Marta, prepares simple meals for lunch and dinner five days a week.
When our lives are less saturated with distractions like Internet and television, community can grow intensely strong. Aside from the inevitable and welcome bonding that comes with the lack of smartphones, our solidarity is reinforced by a Fiesta de Limpieza (cleaning party) on Mondays and a designated Community Night on Thursdays. And even though spirituality is continuously interwoven throughout much of the program, Spirituality Night on Tuesdays explicitly addresses the final pillar of spirituality. There are more ways the pillars manifest themselves throughout the semester, but those details will come in future posts.
To view LMU’s official brochure on Casa de la Mateada, please visit:
A Brief History of the Casa Network
In the mid-1990s, Kevin and Trena Yonkers-Talz, two members of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, returned from their time in Belize on a mission. They knew their time abroad had a powerful impact on them while also managed to help the world. But they were frustrated by the age limitation of the JVC. The organization had so much to offer to everyone, not just those with a college degree. Kevin and Trena believed the undergraduate experience is a sacred time of growth and change, and that structure to this period in a person’s life holds great potential. Their goal was simple: bring the experience of the JVC to college students. Their time in Central America led them to a man by the name of Father Dean Brackley, a Jesuit priest in El Salvador. He, too, desired to offer the JVC experience to college students and began the groundwork to start the program.
Within a few short years, Santa Clara University in California established the Casa de la Solidaridad, or the house of solidarity, in El Salvador in 1999. Just a little more than a decade later, Casa Bayanihan, the house of communal unity, was established in the Philippines by the University of San Francisco. And now, in its inaugural year, Casa de la Mateada joins these two other Casa programs to complete the Casa network.
How I Picked Casa de la Mateada:
I started my search at the beginning of 2013 by talking to people who had recently studied abroad. I have no background in any language besides English, but that no longer limits you to the UK and Australia. You can find schooling anywhere in the world in English. It’s a “lazy” language. I was open to going anywhere, so it took some time to figure out my destination. Along the way, I learned some useful information. Here’s what I discovered (excuse the generalizations – I’m summarizing):
1) Europe and Australia are expensive and feel very similar to the US. It’s possible to go to Europe and not speak of a word of anything other than English when you’re there, particularly if you’re in a popular tourist destination.
2) Africa is really only possible in a few countries unless there’s a structured, intensive program in which you are interested.
3) The people in Asia are very friendly, but a tall Caucasian from the US with no foreign language skills would inevitably find it difficult to experience extensive cultural immersion (something I wanted).
4) Latin America (LATAM) offers the opportunity to experience a multitude of people, customs, and cultures that speak the same language across a vast distance (possibly the longest on earth). Though many people speak English, outside of big cities, it’s much harder to get by without at least a little Spanish.
With all this in mind (shout out to Rachael Dimit who provided me with a lot of this info), I needed to make a decision. Despite its expense, my desire to learn Spanish and classical guitar initially led me to choose Spain. I was near set on my decision until a brief chance encounter with a friend, or rather close acquaintance. I ran into Jake W.C. in DePaul’s student center as I was headed to meet with a study abroad advisor. It turned out he just returned from that exact place, and explained to me his desire for something unique and different from the “typical European” expatriate experience.
I wasn’t interested in living in a foreign country with a close friend for fear of it limiting my desire to branch out and explore. But since Jake and I weren’t particularly close, yet still seemed like-minded, it was tempting. This was reaffirmed when he explained something his sister, Claire, an alum of the Casa de la Solidariadad in El Salvador, said. She had a difficult time readjusting to life in the US without anyone with whom she could process the powerful experience from which she had returned. (She, like us, did not attend the institution sponsoring the Casa program, and thus didn’t live close to anyone from the program after it ended.) Though Claire strongly encouraged her brother participate in a Casa, program her only advice was to go with someone who could share and reflect on their transformative time abroad upon returning home. We both quickly realized the situation to be more than ideal, and it didn’t take much else to convince me to apply for the distinctive program.
The rest is Casa de la Mateada history…