Tag Archives: abroad

Go Abroad Already

20 Feb

On Saturday afternoon I had a pleasant deviation from the normal. A friend I had while studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain in 2007 was passing through Buenos Aires with another friend and we met up to pass a few hours together in the afternoon. Even though we had lost touch since leaving Spain, I saw via Facebook that he was in town, and we planned to meet up by the Evita Museum and then check out Recoleta. Though our paths have been significantly different since college study abroad kids, we found incredible similarities in how our experiences shaped us and left us feeling about life abroad.

I won’t go into details, but he also lived abroad recently in Iraq, working with the Department of Justice. It would seem like our experiences are totally different, but deep down we had those same stories of high points and low points, ultimately leaving us with a mixed feeling on life abroad, yet hoping that it was all for the good in the end. It’s always difficult to sum up this life of ours or say in simple words what we’ve done, but one thing that is for certain is that it’s a possibility.

People always say that they wish they could live abroad, that they wish they had traveled more or could do it all over again. The truth is that you really can. There are always going to be things back home, whether it be a job, family, loans, or whatever. But in the end it comes down to you. Can you chin up and take the leap of faith? In most cases it takes a suitcase and airline ticket. As a student there is a world of opportunity to study abroad. No matter what your major is you can usually find a program which relates to your field of study, and though it might be difficult to match up credits or even hold you back a semester, it’s possible.

Work abroad is not merely limited to teaching English. You can take on a number of projects as a volunteer or working with a private firm. You don’t even have to have an office job. Depending on your profession, you might be able to work remotely with an Internet connection. There seems to be a myth or mystique around the life of an expat. While there are advantages, it can be isolating and lonely. In some cases you have intense short term friendships which come and go, and in others you have long drawn casual friends who you see once in a while. It requires an ability to adapt and change, but mainly the will to continue and accept day by day.

So what’s your excuse? If you want to go abroad, do it already.

Finding Out About Death While Abroad

5 Jul

July 3rd seems to be a cursed day. Last year I found out regretfully that a friend of mine had died in a car accident after Independence Day celebrations. One year later, another guy I grew up with died on the same date. Jeff Webber wasn’t necessarily a good friend of mine, but we’d known each other since I was maybe 10 years old, had many classes together, and often worked out together at the gym. Either way, whether you are best friends or hated enemies, when someone you know dies, especially young and so suddenly, it’s shocking and saddening.

I don’t know how he died and neither do the couple of friends that I’ve asked. The lack of communication is aggravating because it goes beyond a daily missing out of inside scoops. This is a big deal and I can’t be there to hear things that hold higher importance. When you’re abroad and someone you know dies, you don’t really know what to do. If you have some friends that can often consolation, it might get you by. But otherwise, you have no real outlet to think about the severity. My friends back home can talk about Jeff and tell old stories, attend the funeral, and close out that chapter.

But here abroad I can’t do any of that, and I have to bottle it up or assume I’ll talk about it someday via Skype or when I eventually go home. Everyone can relate to having a family member, friend, or acquaintance die, but fewer have the experience of not being at home when it happens to relate to. It’s isolating and makes you think of all of the things that you miss. Today was a miserable day and I could barely muster the energy to mutter a few words.

I’m hoping tomorrow will be better.

To Continue Griping on Learning a Language

9 Jun

Maybe this week is another wall of sorts. I’m kind of sick of speaking Spanish at the moment. Eh, no, let me clarify that. I’m not sick of speaking Spanish, but I just miss simple things like being able to clearly express myself and being totally understood. I know that people compliment me on my second language ability, but there is a definite lacking to not only say what I want to say, but to do so clearly and sound educated at the same time. I don’t want to talk like a 5 year old every day.

Little pockets of relief come in having one or two expat friends, but since the community is always growing and shrinking, it’s hard to keep things consistent, and even then I only meet up once a week if that. It gets tiring always having to strain yourself thinking of words, or knowing that you just made a mistake and trying to remember not to make it again while continuing a conversation. Speaking faster than I should is a big problem.

Every day is a challenge in some way, and I wanted to face this, to know what it’s like from the other side of the wall. Having firsthand experience of expat/immigration life has really given me a new insight on the situation back home in the United States. There is so much that people don’t understand. The struggles and little triumphs just to get your life at a point which you can call normal, and to hope that you’re not being taken advantage of because you’re not fully fluent or from that cultural background.

I think sometimes about how you rarely if ever compliment someone on their English in the United States if it’s obvious that they are a foreigner. Instead of praising them, it’s assumed that they should speak English well, and if they have a thick accent, a common misconception would be that they’re stupid. You can hold a PhD and have a thick accent from your home country.

Here, people often tell me that I speak Spanish well, sometimes with a shocked face, as if it’s assumed that as an American I will speak poorly. Yet it’s not meant as an insult, but rather a true assessment of how difficult it is to speak a foreign language well, especially one that you did not grow up with all around you. Though not in all cases, speaking a foreign language is a skill and natural talent like the natural ability in math or art. You can be born with a certain aptness for language, which is why some people are better writers than others. Otherwise, it can be learned through years of study and practice.

Many international companies have call centers here in Buenos Aires and throughout the world. The people who work there have studied for years to get a slightly better paying job, yet still most likely work terrible hours based off of U.S. time zones. Think about someone you know who has ever called for technical support and gotten frustrated over the accent or English ability of the person on the other end. First of all, if you don’t even speak another language you are in no position to complain. And to clarify, knowing “Cinco de Mayo,” “amigo,” and “bon appétit” do not count as speaking another language. Second of all, speaking over the phone is the hardest thing to do. Not being able to see mouths moving, speaking quickly into muffled connections, and background noise make it nerve-wracking. And thirdly, these people that you assume are not educated for working at a call center and having thick accents are just as or maybe more educated than most people. Don’t hate them because they don’t speak with an East coast accent. If anything, blame the company for outsourcing the work.

These are the kinds of thoughts that come into my head as I struggle with my own second language abilities. The ups and downs inevitably make me see things more clearly, which is exactly what I wanted in the first place. Never take your first language for granted because it’s a gift. The second language has to be earned.

A Failed Experiment in Living Alone

27 May

Five months ago I was signing a 2 year lease on the apartment that I’m currently in, after months of looking and weeks of suffering over the pros and cons. It was not a decision that I entered into lightly, and I thought of so many possible outcomes and other options. This would be my first time living alone in addition to jumping up my rent considerably, about more than half. It’s not like I suddenly hit the jackpot, but I had been living rather cheaply and was looking to finally feel comfortable at home.

After host families in Ecuador, a bad initial burn on arriving to Argentina, and then disappointment after 4 months in the Microcentro, I was looking for a place to call my own where no one would be on my case or make me feel unwelcome. I also wanted to be close to a park so that I could run, go for walks, and just do something other than work and come home to the computer.  I knew that I was spending way too much on rent, but rationalized that being happy at home would greatly improve my life here. I also thought that I could get by on the bare minimum of things like food and money for going out on the weekends.

Man, was I wrong. It’s not that I was totally way off. After initially feeling a bit awkward in my new found freedom alone, I soon grew to love having a place to myself, though admittedly it gets lonely and boring at times, especially the weekends. The main problem came down to money. I have to pay my rent 6 months in advance, and coming up with that kind of cash is very difficult. Add to that the fact that the initial budget of rent rose unexpectedly (apparently that’s normal) and the cost of cable and Internet was not originally factored in to my budget. Lastly, inflation has hit me hard, and things that used to be 2 pesos are now 4-5. I might not seem like much, but it adds up quickly.

I would recommend always, always, always err on the side of safety. Don’t assume that you can scrimp all the time because it gets old very fast, and sometimes you just want to have a nice meal or go out without having to count coins. People get annoyed easily when you keep mentioning you’re not sure if you can afford it. One week I had friends in town, and just a couple of days out with them put me in a serious bind. I didn’t eat too well for the second half of March. It’s not fun to live like that. It would be one thing if I was a lazy bum and didn’t work much. But I work too hard to be ghetto-chic, making a normal Argentine salary but starving.

So in the end I decided to cut my losses. I will lose my month deposit (as I knew I always would from leaving early) and the owners have actually offered to give me back a months’ rent for leaving a month before the contract ends in July. That gives me two weeks to get out, which is pretty sudden. They’re already showing the place to new people. On Friday I was talking to a co-worker about my situation and she later told me that her family rents out rooms to exchange students and could offer me a room. The apartment, in Recoleta, is shared by her brother and is next to their family apartment.

I went tonight to check it out and though it’s a small room, there is a common living room and kitchen. It’s a good neighborhood right next to a park, and I can even walk to work again, which will save me some money on the Subte and buses in the long run. I won’t have total privacy anymore, but I’ll also have some roommates near my own age, and can take solace in the fact that I’m not getting screwed over because I know the owner through work. They seem to be a host family, so it might even be a good experience in the end, as I still get my independence but can mingle when I want to.

I don’t want to keep moving around town, and this apartment here was supposed to be my last. Now I hope again that the move to Recoleta will be my last. Otherwise my subconscious keeps willing me to pick up and move after a few months. Now I need to make the most of my remaining time living alone, because who knows how long it will be before that ever happens again. (Burps, scratches stomach, changes channel).