Tag Archives: expat

An American Thanksgiving

23 Nov

Tomorrow will be the first time in four years that I celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States. The last three were spent in South America–first in 2008 at 16,000 feet above sea level on an extinct volcano in central Ecuador, later in 2009 with some Argentine milanesas at a new friend’s house, and lastly in 2010 at a pot luck dinner filled with expats and a few Argentinians. I remember the first year abroad, winding down the day alone at the hotel and realizing that it was Thanksgiving. At first it hadn’t even dawned on me, and with no media reminding me of the date, and no family or friends around who were also celebrating it, I simply went along as if it was a normal day. Later in the week a few of the volunteers got together and made a dinner, making up for the lack of family.

The next year I was in Argentina as a newbie, and though I’d just met a girl named Tamara, she invited me over to her house with her sister and friends for dinner. They made what they knew best–milanesas, as well as some other vegetables and fixings. We had some wine and because it was a beautiful spring night, we sat outside late into the night, something I’d never thought possible on Thanksgiving. I still had to work that day and it was depressing being on GChat while no one else was, so the day dragged on until the dinner. I still had work in the morning, so I had to bow out of the conversation around 12:30 am, while everyone else was still going strong.

The next year an American friend invited me to a coworker’s apartment for a joint pot luck dinner, where foreigners from all over the world (and even a few Argentinians) were meeting up. Everyone was in their mid-20’s-30’s and it was a refreshing mix of familiar accents and stories. This year I’m finally back in the U.S. and I’m thankful to be with family and old traditions. Like so many Thanksgivings past, we’ll be waking up at the crack of dawn to drive down to Brooklyn, New York and my grandma’s apartment. Later on we’ll probably head in to Manhattan with my dad and cousins to go out in the Village. I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving too.

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BA Cast Short: What NOT to Say

7 Nov

BA Cast

This week’s episode of BA Cast is a short, and a very useful one at that. This episode will teach you all of the standard Spanish words to unlearn when you visit Argentina, as well as the words that you should know if you go to other Spanish-speaking countries. One example of this is the word “carro” which is used in Spain to say car. However, in Argentina it is more common to hear “auto” or even “coche”. Take a few minutes to listen and learn.

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.

Latinos en Washington

9 Oct

Since I’ve moved to Washington, DC, it’s been relatively easy to continue practicing my Spanish. As you would expect in an international city with representation from almost the entire world, there are plenty of Latinos who live here. In fact, at least once a day I hear Spanish while walking in the streets, riding the bus, or heading to class on campus. It’s great for me, and I feel like being able to communicate with native Spanish speakers has opened up other doors to me. I’ve got a wide array of Spanish speaking friends and acquaintances here–a Paraguayan friend and his girlfriend, a Bolivian who grew up in Uruguay, a Columbian neighbor, a Peruvian on our soccer team, and more who I come across on a daily basis.

On Thursday night our intramural soccer team met up for dinner at a Mexican restaurant to discuss tactics, and soon we started talking about Lionel Messi and the World Cup qualifying matches that would be beginning soon. I soon started talking with our Meixcan server in Spanish and he laughed as I said words like “boludo” and “pelotudo”. He found it hilarious to hear them and tried comparing them to “pendejo” or “chinguero”.

I always try to stay in touch with the Argentinian roots that I learned to grow throughout the last two years, and usually wind up drinking mate at home while I study or have a Fernet at the end of the week. I’m now out of Fernet, but have found an Italian shop where they sell yerba for mate and Fernet, though at a marked up price. I’ve also investigated a bit for Argentine expats in Washington, and found CEGA, the Centro Argentino, for Argentinians and friends of Argentina who live in the United States. There are headquarters in Washington, DC, New York and Miami. The club now celebrates its 1oth year of existence, and it looks like it was founded by study abroad kids in Washington. I’ve already sent in my email for more information, and hopefully will be able to meet some other people around here who know how to make a good asado. So even though I’m removed from Latin America for now, in the United States you’re never really that far away.

Fall Instead of Spring

7 Oct

Fall has fully descended on Washington, DC, and it’s already my second autumn this year. I never used to be a fan of this time of year because it meant that colder winter was coming on and school was starting up again. Yet in the last few years of living in New England I truly began to appreciate the foliage and chill of the season. It’s not as intense here in the mid-Atlantic, but I can see out my window that the trees are starting change colors. We went through about three miserable weeks here, with the sun coming out sporadically throughout that entire period, but now we’re enjoining some clear days again, and if it weren’t for the calendar it would feel like it’s spring.

However, my perception of the seasons has forever been changed. After living in South America for the last three years, I can’t help but think that my friends in Argentina are now doing spring cleaning and getting ready for the warmer days ahead. It’s sad to think that I’ll miss out on the spring in Buenos Aires, which is a spectacular time of years for more reasons than might be obvious. The city comes alive again after a downer of a winter, and possibilities abound.

Lately, whenever I get the chance I think back on time spent abroad in Ecuador and Argentina. But I’ve also been thinking about trips taken to Chile and Bolivia, for example. Those little moments spent in the back of a car or looking out the window in silence. Hours in an airport terminal wasted, used for internal reflection and iPod alone time. Life has gotten a lot busier now, and it’s romantic to look back on those days not as time wasted, but time well spent.

When I lived in Spain we took a trip to the province of Extremadura, where we took an all day hike through the mountains to some ancient town with a medieval monastery-turned hotel where we stayed. After settling, we went for a short walk around the village the next day during the siesta. The town was completely deserted and as we explored the streets, we saw a fork in the road where the left created a steep hill, the right staying level. The effect was that if you got a good running start, you would be able to run up along the wall and stay upright for a few steps before gravity took you down. My friend Dave ran up it just as an old man walked by, and for a second I thought he might scold us. Instead, a huge smile broke across his face and he laughed giddily as he said, “I used to do that when I was a kid too.” We exchanged nods and went separate ways.

I wonder if one day in the future I’ll have the pleasure of saying something similar to some kids who are traveling through my village. “I used to listen to my iPod and look bored at airports too,” or “I used to backpack around the globe,” etc. Bah, I’ll get back out there soon enough.

BA Cast Short: Education Technicalities

30 Sep

BA Cast

This week’s episode of BA Cast is a short, as we continue our look at the differences between the educational systems in Argentina and in the United States. We’re coming out very shortly, perhaps over the weekend, with an extended episode with a lot more content that we think you’ll really enjoy. In other news, we’re in the news! About.com has included our podcast as a way to pick up some insider tips on Argentina. Check out the article here.

BA Cast: Education Technicalities

24 Sep

BA Cast

This week’s episode of BA Cast is the third short of Season 2, in which we continue discussing the differences between Argentinian and American educational systems. In this episode you’ll also hear the next Laws of Asado, as presented by Dan and Fernando.

The Launch of ECEL Leather–A New Expat Venture

20 Sep

ECEL Leather

Those of you who read my blog frequently know that I don’t usually conduct interviews, though I have done it on occasion when I thought the situation was fitting. Even though I’ve been back from Buenos Aires over two months now, I’m happy to report that my friends Alex and Chloe, a couple of Aussies who I met right at the end of my tenure in BA, have finally launched their long awaited fashion company ECEL Leather. I was at the ECEL launch party back in late June and can honestly say that the guys are producing some quality products, and I thought I’d share their project with the rest of you. So without further adieu, here’s an interview Alex gave me on his new company.

1. What’s your company name and how long have you been in Business?

The company name is ECEL (pronounced the same as Fr(eckle). We started designing in October 2010, however we have only just started selling to the public. We have taken our time and made a lot of changes to the original products since then as we wanted to make sure the ECEL brand represented the highest design and production quality; something we could be personally proud of.

2. How long have you been living in Buenos Aires and what are you plans for the future? Long term expats or short term expats?

We moved to Buenos Aires in early 2011 and originally planned to stay until the end of the year – however we love life in BsAs – and definitely have designs to stay longer than that now. We love the malbec and the asados (obviously) and were really struck by the fact that we have all the benefits of a big city but have been welcomed into a tight knit community of neighbors and friends.

3. Can you explain why you’ve chosen to sell bags, wallets, hats, etc?

We are making products that we personally have a need for but cannot find in the market. We’ve found that bags in particular are either weighed down with branding, or would use a ‘substitute’ material to keep prices down and if it didn’t it would cost more than a months wage to buy.  We want our ECEL products to fill this void and stand for simplicity, functionality, excellent quality and unique design at affordable prices.

A messenger bag available

4. Are there any plans for future expansion into other products?

We really hope the company is going to be a catalyst for creation – we have so many talented friends that we would love to get involved and so many ideas for beautiful things we would like to create. For the moment we are happy taking baby steps and just making a few products really well – but in the future there really is no limit to what we hope to make both in collaboration with others and under the ECEL label itself.

5. What was the process like for finding the right market, operators, producers, shippers, and retailers?

Living in Argentina one soon learns to be a proveedor – for example: you go to one verdura for figs while another one may be where to go for your strawberries. This can be annoying if you are used to shopping at a supermarket but it is also really satisfying when you make a new discovery like where to source something you didn’t think existed here or when you find a cheaper and better quality produce just one block down the road.

Anyone planning on doing business here should be aware the process is the same but on a much larger scale. Developing our network of suppliers and craftsman has involved a lot of leg work, these guys are old school artisans and don’t have mobiles, let alone websites and there are a lot of people out there who seem really legitimate but end up not coming through with the goods.

Considering many parts of the bags are custom designed and made the process has been very personal and has really benefitted from being made locally, as opposed to offshore.  We produce our own zipper pulls, studs and buckles.  We work closely with a local tannery to develop custom designed leathers and have spent a lot of time overseeing production to ensure the bags are of the highest quality.

6. Where can shoppers find your products and how can they be purchased?

Currently, we are selling online at our website www.ecelshop.com.

7. How much are your products being sold for?

Duffel bag

Our prices range from $40 – $400, meaning there is something in there for all of our customers.  The product is timeless and accessible.

8. Is there an eco-friendly or humanitarian edge to it?

The ECEL product is all natural, nothing synthetic:  the bags are leather or natural canvas, lined in wool and embellished with timeless copper fittings.  Our products are designed to get better with age and should be kept forever not disposed of after one season like so many on-trend fashion accessories saturating the market.

9. Why are you selling the bags without branding?

Our bags should speak for themselves and not need to be heavily branded.  Our customers then have the opportunity to become attached and make it their bag not our bag.

10. Where do you see the company in 5 years? 10 years?

Hopefully still selling the same products we are today. We are aiming to create things with ageless design features that don’t go in and out with fashion trends. At the moment we are concentrating on developing our working relationships within Argentina but it would be really exciting to work with people from around the world. We love the idea of putting people from different parts of the world and who work in different fields together and seeing what can be created.

11. Have you been receiving any help from experienced businessmen in Argentina or Australia, or are you doing this venture totally on your own?

We have been really fortunate with the contacts we have made throughout this process. We have spent a lot of time seeking advice and learning from other people’s experiences.

Here in Argentina, we have been really surprised at how open and friendly most of the other producers and designers have been. People have been more than happy to pass on the details of their workshops and suppliers . Without that openness in networks I think it would be near impossible to work in Argentina.

12. How are you dealing with legal matters in terms of your business operating in Argentina? Do you find economic benefits from operating out of Buenos Aires?

The company is registered in Australia and we have found a great forwarding agent to help us deal with exporting.  We are of course still in the preliminary stages of growth though.

13. Apart from your start up, what do you usually like to do in your spare time in Buenos Aires or back home? How do you like life in Buenos Aires compared to Australia?

We spend a lot of time walking here. It´s a beautiful city and literally every city block has it’s own character and something cool to offer. Alex is involved in street art photography and chloe has started baking business delivery ready-to-cook meals all over the city (this has definitely improved her bicycling skills!).