Archive | October, 2011

BA Cast: Citizens of the World

31 Oct

BA Cast

The new episode of BA Cast is available, and it’s another extended edition that we think you’ll find very interesting. This is the show’s most international episode yet, with interviews with expats from Argentina, Italy, the United States, Nepal, and Mexico. The episode features an interview I conducted with a fellow classmate of mine from Nepal who has been studying in the US for five years, and I also give a short interview at the end of the episode on the differences between Ecuador and Argentina. Hope you enjoy the episode. Oh, and Happy Halloween.

I’m 25 and I Have to Learn How to Write Again

28 Oct

If we were looking at a chart or graph of my confidence in graduate school, it would come out like a volcano. I got here and after meeting other students and professors, I felt good about where I was. We’re all intelligent people, and this is a place where I belong and will learn a lot. Then we started to get assignments and papers to write, when the top blew off, and now it’s all been downhill. The confidence is gone. I’ve always considered myself a good writer, but have a completely different style than what International Relations (IR) professors are looking for.

My background in Journalism and History has given me experience in writing articles and analytic pieces. And let’s not forget over three years of blogging, which is a completely laid back and lazy style which I’ve unwittingly adopted. History papers are much different from IR papers, in which you take what you’ve read and studied and demonstrate that you’ve learned it. You cite references, but the bulk of the work is on you to speak for yourself, and not let the quotes do the work. Yet no one told me that upon entering grad school, and so I assumed it was similar. Thus, my first couple of papers have been a bit of a shock. There is a sharp learning curve here, and as today I need to choose classes for the Spring, it’s proof that time flies in grad school.

An IR paper looks for parsimonious and scientific prose. No nonsense, no flowery introductions, no sense of personalization at all. Political scientists want you to get to the point immediately, use a plethora of sources to prove that you’ve done research and someone else agrees, and then wrap it up as quickly as you started. It’s probably because with so many sources that in trying to prove a theory, a paper can often run upwards of 50 pages.

This isn’t my style, and I’m trying to adapt as quickly as possible. Never having taken an IR or political science class in undergrad, I feel unprepared for this change and wish someone had explained what is expected at the start of the semester. It’s disconcerting to go through life thinking you’re talent is writing and then get back a paper marked in red, knowing that you have to split your time between work and other classes which also demand the same amount of work. Now I’m 25 and feel like I need to learn how to write all over again. There’s no way around it and it’s either sink or swim. I just hope I don’t float away downstream unnoticed.

Four More Years for Cristina

23 Oct

Re-election celebrations, courtesy of La Nacion

Today was an important day for Argentina, as the nation held presidential elections. In a landslide victory, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was reelected to a second term. Multiple sources such as Clarin, La Nación, and the Buenos Aires Herald reported the victory soon after the polls closed today. With 53% of the vote, Kirchner easily out-muscled her opponents who failed to inspire any hope in the general population. Though I was recently given my DNI (national identity card) and citizenship, I was unable to vote in the embassy in Washington, DC because I didn’t register in March.

I see her re-election as a sign that the Argentine public, while not necessarily in love with her policies, did not see any other viable option as this time. Likewise, reports continue to come out indicating that the country has been improving and economic conditions have gradually been stabilizing, despite the fact that inflation remains to be a problem. (Inflation is actually denied by the government, despite assurances from the IMF and World Bank that it is a reality). My hope is that a second term will give Kirchner more time to see improvements in the country carried out, because a problem in Argentine government is often short-sightedness. Many politicians will work on public projects which can only be accomplished within their length of term, avoiding longer range goals which would give credit to a successor. For the next four years the presidency in Argentina will continue to work on “Peronist” platforms and social reforms.

BA Cast: Una Flaca con Saudade en España

23 Oct

BA Cast

This week’s episode of BA Cast is now live, with how to properly use the word “Che” among other things. “Che” is a commonly used word in Argentina, but 99% of the time is has nothing to do with “The Che”, in reference to Ernesto “Che” Guevara. There’s also an interesting expat chat with an Argentine who relocated to Spain a long time ago, and a new addition to the BA Cast team.

An Autumn Reflection on Argentina

20 Oct

Today was a crisp fall day, with a chilly wind blowing around and a grey sky hanging low over the capital of the United States. Walking to class on the usual route up Wisconsin Ave to Massachusetts Ave to Nebraska Ave, my walk was less a tour of the U.S. and more a stroll down memory lane. Red-golden leaves crunched under my Converse as I for some reason was reminded of friends back in Buenos Aires. I can’t remember why–maybe I saw a picture before leaving the apartment or was listening to a song that brought it up, but suddenly I was walking down some cobblestone street in Palermo or avoiding the potholes, narrow sidewalks filled with businessmen and women, and dodging traffic on the way to the office.

A half-grin instantly came over me while thinking of friends. I thought of Fer, from the BA Cast, and no matter how ridiculous of a story I had, he would smile and understandingly say, “Y bueno, es lo que hay!” Fer spent some years as an expat in Europe, and therefore he could relate to some frustrations in Argentina, yet could take it all in stride. He still loved his city very much, and the endearing way in which he defended his hometown always made it seem better.

There was Leo from the office, who wonderfully tip-toed the line of insulting me in an endearing way and never taking it too far. “¿Qué querés, estupido?” “Mirá a esta cara de pony” and “Sos un boludo” were common ways in which I could expect to be greeted by him. Vero would defend me and Matías would calmly tell me that I was a lost cause. The office environment, while at times totally aggravating and prison-like, afforded me the opportunity to build long lasting friendships and become familiar with Argentina in ways that many foreigners never do. I sat in quietly as my coworkers debated politics, vented and complained about societal issues, or discussed pop culture from the soap opera on the night before or a television series from the 80s. I usually said little and just listened, learning as much as I could. At lunch I would usually take a walk around the block and think it all over.

There was also Pablo, who became a great friend simply because he was interested in helping a lonely expat. He was another returned expat from Europe, returning to Buenos Aires around the time I moved in, so as he reunited with his old friends he invited me into the circle for pizza night and education on Argentine literature and movies, among other things.

So many other important friends to me still live inside my head and my heart, but the walk to campus is only about 25 minutes, so I don’t have time to think about it all. Instead of feeling down about missing them, the smile stayed and it made me glad to know that they were there and will be there. I’ll fantasize about a reunion, a big hug and catching up on the small things while simultaneously complaining about the transportation and heat/cold, like always. Every day gets me further away from Argentina, and though I’ve been back for over three months, I still feel that weird need to immerse in a culture that I no longer live in. I still want to drink maté with friends in a circle, or have a big asado, or whatever else. I think about taking that trip to the coast, but what coast? Mar del Plata?

The question is not if I’ll go back to Argentina but when. I’m aiming for sooner rather than later, but uno nunca se sabe what’s going to happen. For now, I’ll have to continue with the friends in my head and heart, and know that when we do see each other again, it will be better than any memory I quickly run through on the walk to campus.

Headed to Cuba in January!

18 Oct

I got some good news that I was waiting on this afternoon. Though I’m still in my first semester as a grad student, I applied for a new program at American University to travel to Cuba during the winter break and study for two weeks at an intensive course at the University of Havana. I guess my years of experience and hard work have finally paid off because I was accepted and will spend two weeks this winter learning about the culture, economy and contemporary politics of Cuba. This is a great opportunity because I know that in the future things will change with Cuba, and I’m eager to get to see how things are before major tourism opens up.

I’ve already become something of an expert on the Southern Cone and the Andean countries after living in South America for three years, but my experience in the Caribbean countries is admittedly less impressive. In Central America I’ve only been to Costa Rica and because it was years ago, don’t have extremely vivid memories. I’ve been to Puerto Rico a handful of times, but as a tourist. I know that there are extreme differences between traveling somewhere as a student or worker. But mainly, the fact that I am now fluent in Spanish and can converse with people openly opens doors in so many ways. Now I hope to improve my knowledge and understanding of this region which has been off limits to many for so many decades.

It’s funny, but already a number have people have told me to be careful when I go to Cuba. I appreciate the concern, but I wonder what it’s based on. Obviously they aren’t speaking from experience, or even stories from friends who have been there. Why do some Americans (if not most) possess an image of Cuba as dangerous? Yes, they have a different form of government and ideology, and we are in theory enemies, but where is the evidence saying that I’m likely to be robbed? I know someone who was robbed in Havana, but I know many more who’ve been robbed in Quito, Guayaquil, Buenos Aires, Boston, New York, Washington, etc etc. I’ve been told that you generally don’t need to fear for your safety walking down the street in Havana, but don’t worry, I don’t try to push my luck…too much.

Maybe it’s something about having already been through a bus hijacking, but I’m not too worried about travel to certain parts of the world anymore. There was a time when I wouldn’t consider going to Bolivia, for example, but eventually I was backpacking around there on my own. Once a person has fluency in the language, they gain a great sense of empowerment and comfort. So much of fear is based on a lack of language ability. Sometimes you just need to know how to shmooze your way out of a situation.

So Travel Guy will continue to be traveling, and already the prospect of a trip ahead has me excited and anxious to get underway. Still, there are miles to go before I sleep, and though we’re halfway through the semester (yes, already), I have a million other things to work on as well. Here’s to 2012 in Cuba!

A Half Marathon Under the Belt

16 Oct

Ben and I before the race

Yesterday was a busy one, awaking in darkness at 6 am and getting ready to head in to Baltimore with my friend Ben and his girlfriend Mackenzie. Because the Baltimore Marathon was starting ahead of the Half Marathon, parking in the city wasn’t really an option for us, so instead we drove to the closest train station to park and take the public transportation right to the center. For us, it was all starting and ending down by Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium. We got in early which was good, because we had enough time to check out the starting line, stretch and do a little pre-jog to get the blood flowing. The sun was starting to heat things up, and we were fortunate enough to have perfect weather for the race.

As time got closer, the racers began to line up in their appropriate waves, and so Ben and I took our place at the front of the line. Even though I’ve run in Ecuador and Argentina, this was my first race in the United States. Things seemed very organized, and our excitement was high as we were cheered on by local politicians and the National Anthem before beginning. We were hoping to complete the 13.1 mile (21 kilometer) race in about 1 hour, 50 minutes, but we hadn’t been training to extensively in the last few weeks. We are, after all, students with busy lives.

The race began downtown and moved quickly to northern neighborhoods of Baltimore. The first five miles were uphill and downhill, wearing a toll on many participants, but we kept on as well as we could, while our aches and pains from months of running and building up were drowned out by determination to finish. The race was nice because we basically got a city tour of Baltimore, and I got to see parts of the city I otherwise never would have. It seemed like we took some sketchy turns at places, and passed through parts of the city where the HBO show “The Wire” might be filmed. Boarded up doors and knocked out windows lined the low-rise houses as lone cops guarded the traffic at intersections and locals supported us as we ran by.

I have to say–the residents of Baltimore were pretty entertaining as we ran by, banging on cowbells, holding up funny and ironic signs, and even dressing in costumes like animals and zombies while dancing on top of cars. The Baltimore Running Festival has grown in size every year since its inception 11 years ago, and this year was another sell out for all of the categories. By the 58th minute we had reached a small but pretty lake and began to turn back to see the thousands of people behind us. Anytime you’re running a race, you get excited to see the mass of people in front of you. But even more exhilarating is seeing the thousands more who are behind you, telling you that you’re doing okay.

After the race, beer and donuts in hand

Helicopters flew overhead and local bands played 80s tunes as we continued down through the city and back towards downtown. We crossed a bridge and were just almost there as the crowds continued to grow. Every two miles we were resupplied with water and Gatorade, and I kept falling in a trap whereby I’d use the water to clean off the Gatorade on my hands, then get Gatorade and spill it on my hands while running, spending the next two miles trying to lick it off until I got water again. This was the first time I ate an energy bar during a race, and I feel like it really helped in the later miles.

To end it all we ran through Camden Yards, which was my first experience in the ball park, and then crossed the finish line in the parking lot at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens play. I thought we were going to end on the field, but I guess they have a game there today. Our official time was 1 hour, 51 minutes, 55 seconds. We guessed pretty well what we would get. In the staging area we were given medals and heat sheets, food, water, and vouchers for beer which we gladly accepted. I still love my traditional celebratory beer post-race. There was even a free photo booth and to cap it off, we ate some donuts before heading back to Washington.

So now I’ve got a half marathon under my belt, and if you think I’m going to tackle a full marathon next, you’re crazy. As thrilling as it was to complete it and even though at the time I felt like I could keep going, I don’t think I have it in me for 26.2 mile run. My body isn’t hurting as badly as it could, but I don’t know if it can handle that much exertion. For now I’m going to cut back and go back to running 10 kilometer runs just like in Argentina and Ecuador. That’ll do, pig.

Ready for the Baltimore Half Marathon

14 Oct

Continuing with my running habit that I picked up in South America, tomorrow I’ll be running in the Baltimore Half Marathon with my old friend Ben from back home. This is 21 kilometers, or 13.1 miles, which is the most I’ve ever run. We’ve come pretty close on our training runs, reaching up to about 17 kilometers, which was no walk in the park. The temperature has cooled down now that we’re in autumn, and it’s supposed to be sunny and crisp tomorrow, so we’ll have a good chance of running to full potential. After training for this race for probably over three months, I’m ready for it to be over already. My body is tired and strained, and training for such a long race is not easy on a normal person.

Today we went into Baltimore to pick up our running kit, containing some coupons, free energy bars, and of course the race shirt. It’s actually a huge day for running in Baltimore, with the Baltimore Marathon, Half Marathon, 5K and relay race. Our race kicks off at 9:45 am, so it’s going to be a 6 am wake up call in order to make it to the starting line on time. After running this half marathon, my running will tone down a bit. Mostly because I probably won’t run such a long distance race again, but also because the weather is getting colder out and the opportunity to run will be more limited. It’s hard enough these days between work and school to get a decent workout in, but we all do what we can. For tomorrow, anyway, it’s all about the running.