Tag Archives: foreigners

In and Out of the United States in Under 2 Hours

13 Apr

I got just a little taste of the good old USA today when I visited the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires for the first time. Years of traveling internationally have finally caught up with me and I made it to the once dreamed-of goal of filling up a passport. I always thought this would be so cool, but once I filled up mine with stamps and visas and realized what it meant, it became anything but worthwhile.

To apply for new passport pages while overseas you need to bring your passport, new pages application (which you can download from the State Department) and shell out U$82, which is not spare change when you make pesos. However, with a trip coming up next week, there’s no point in risking it, and it’s something that I needed to take care of. Citizens don’t need an appointment for this service, and it can be paid in pesos, dollars or with an international credit card.

I showed up at the embassy at 8:30 am when it opened and was able to enter right away while I saw a long line of Argentines who were probably applying for visas eye me suspiciously. It probably didn’t seem fair that I had the VIP status. I had to turn off my cell phone before going in and go through security, then found my way over to the Consular section where I was given a number and sat down until I was called. Argentines entering the room had to check in with digital fingerprints but I didn’t have to. I was surprised to see how well it all moved along and maybe this is why the long line of people waiting for visas didn’t complain either. Though the line was long, it at least moved.

When called I gave up my passport and form, then was told to sit down until I was called to the register where I paid the fee. Again I sat until called up, but I was told that the system was temporarily down. We might have been in the U.S. Embassy, but were still in Argentina. Normally the process would be completed the same day but they took my phone number and said they would call me as soon as it was ready, which wouldn’t be too long.

A little after an hour and a half of arriving I was leaving the embassy passportless, but was given a little photocopy to get me back in later on. By 3 pm I had received a phone call that the extra pages were ready, so tomorrow morning I’ll go back and pick it up. All told, it wasn’t a teeth-pulling experience, but of course I would rather not do it again and hold on to my $82.

I don’t know why, but even just being in the embassy thousands of miles away from home brought up some kind of nostalgia and sense of belonging, like this was the one place in the city that I could not be totally out of place. Still, I couldn’t help but feel slightly nervous as I wondered if I screwed up any part of the paperwork and what that might mean for my future. But anyway, that’s one problem taken care of this week.


Navidad in Buenos Aires, aka “Respect the Firepower and Aim Away from Face”

25 Dec

Last year on Christmas Eve my plans fell through at the last minute and I wound up spending the entire night alone at home. I didn’t even head outside at midnight when the entire city goes nuts and blows up fireworks like it’s the 4th of July. So obviously, with another year under my belt, I was hoping for a bit more excitement this time around. Even after almost a year and a half in Buenos Aires, no locals invited me over to share a dinner with their families. I could attribute it to the porteño way, or maybe just inflation has made it difficult to feed the family, let alone an extra person. I’m sure if my friend Vero’s friends were meeting up again she would have invited me, but her weekend is filled with work and thus, I was left to find another option.

My friend Leo suggested I head over to Plaza Armenia at 9m to meet up with other travelers and expats from Couchsurfing. A forum showed that hundreds of people in the city without families were going to head to the plaza in Palermo Soho and spend the night with each other, and since I only had a plan to meet up with my friend Brian, it sounded like a good option. Brian came over around 5 pm and we began the eve with some comedy videos, beer and wine, while also saying goodbye to my Swiss roommate Yvain who left to travel across the country or continent, or world. He’s not really sure yet. Jumping up to Brian’s place in Palermo before it got too dark, we stocked up on booze and made a nice dinner of chicken, onions and beans. Brian knows how to make some mean beans, let me tell you.

In Argentina, Christmas Eve is the big deal, when families get together for a big dinner followed by midnight mayhem when it feels like you’re in a combat zone. No one really cares about Christmas day, maybe because this culture is so into the nightlife. Brian wanted to buy fireworks in bulk, and we stopped at the kiosk on the corner to get more while heading over to the plaza. I joked that the fireworks were a good excuse for losing a hand and the old man looked at me and said, “You have to respect the fireworks.” It didn’t exactly dispel the comment I made, but he had a point. The streets of Buenos Aires were totally dead, with maybe one or two cars going by, no buses and certainly no taxis. But at the plaza we followed the noise and found at least a hundred people sitting cross-legged and sharing drinks.

We started to mingle with some Colombians, Venezuelans, French and Brazilian travelers and expats. Midnight came and all hell broke loose. I finally lit my first firework at the age of 24, and all around us for at least an hour you had to yell over the sound of explosions. The fireworks continued well into the night, but more sporadically later on. At some point I lost track of Brian and buddied up with the Colombians, and we rotated from standing to sitting in the plaza as the sky got lighter and lighter. More bottles of beer and wine seemed to come out of no where, and passing them around in a circle we watched as the party thinned out and the sun rose. Finally by 7:30 am I convinced them to leave the plaza and head home, though they were on their way to search for breakfast.

Rolling in at 8 am, I could only sleep inconsistently for a few hours, and I feel the pain in my head and body today. Yet the juice was worth the squeeze and it was another memorable night in Buenos Aires. If I’m not mistaken I also got a new personal record for latest time coming home. Nothing screws with you worse than trying to get to bed well after the sun is high. Ah, Buenos Aires.

MixUp Activities in Buenos Aires

12 Dec

A few weeks ago I met Félix of MixUp, a program designed to bring foreigners and Argentinians together for intercultural activities and events. It’s a good idea because usually when you’re traveling to a new place for the first time, you mainly stick with other travelers or close friends. However, unless you are really outgoing or involved in a program that gets you involved with the locals, it can be hard to get to know some. Here’s some information on MixUp in case you’re ever interested in checking some of their events out.

*I’ll quickly point out that this isn’t just a plug, because I went to a couple of the activities myself, including a drum circle night and a boat party in Puerto Madero in which you could actually mingle with the regular porteños. This is their press release:

Program of Leisure and Cultural Exchange

Located in the suburban town of Bella Vista, 39 Kms from Buenos Aires, MixUp exchange program provides enjoyable and fun activities among local people.

The program includes TRF IN/OUT with A/C, Traditional Argentinian barbecue with a variety of gourmet products (appetizers, salads, red wine and desserts)

Tea Time: tea, coffee, fruit juice, cakes, homemade bread with “Dulce de Leche” and jam. Mate tasting.

Soccer | Swimming Pool | Ping Pong | Polo Bike | Table Soccer | Hammocks where you can relax.

Don’t miss a great day out of the city!

Schedule: Every Saturday – From 10 am to 7 pm – Subject to weather conditions.
Price AR$ 220.-

Other Activities

Madero Boat Parties by MixUp
Drum Parties
MixUp Town Trips (San Antono de Areco & Chascomus)
MixUp Beach Trips
MixUp Carnival Trips

You can email Félix for information at mixupexchange@gmail.com

Making Do on Thanksgiving

27 Nov

Thanksgiving is always the hardest holiday to be away from home, and since this was my third year away from family and friends on Turkey Day, it was gearing up to be a lousy week. Things were made better by the fact that Monday was a holiday in Argentina, and the weather has been beautiful lately, which always makes things better. But even knowing that it’s a bummer to be away from home on the holiday, I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had a chance to get to sad or homesick. I don’t have too many American friends and only recently met my buddy Brian, so I figured I’d spend Thanksgiving alone, but Brian knows a whole crew of English teachers and invited me to someone’s apartment for a feast on Thursday night. I couldn’t be happier.

My Thanksgiving in Ecuador got me a great meal hosted by my friend Lauren, and with new Ecuadorian friends we made a micro-family for the evening. Last year I was invited to my first “Thanksgiving a la porteña” hosted by a local, with no turkey but milanesas instead. At that point I was feeling homesick and it was a great treat. This year was a bit different, with more of a party than a sit down dinner, and it involved people from all over the world. Not only the U.S was represented, but Argentina, Germany, Colombia, etc. Basically, those who were away from their families met up, and others who were friends joined in to share in the strange and foreign holiday.

Our host went above and beyond, preparing two turkeys (I have no idea where she got them), pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, salads, pies, and a mountain of little pastries and desserts. Since everyone brought something to drink, the house was shortly turned into a bar. We went around the room saying something we were thankful for and then it was every man for himself at the table. I spent the night mingling and talking to some new people, and it made me wonder about the advantages of teaching English. One of the biggest reasons I could see is that you get to meet so many other people like you who are also looking for company and support.

Next year I’ll be back in the U.S. to enjoy a Thanksgiving Americana. I can’t wait to celebrate with the family again.

4 Reasons Why Locals Might Hate Travelers

23 Sep

Yankees, Get out of Latin America

In my experience traveling and living abroad, I’ve had many discussions with both fellow travelers and expats and locals. Sometimes the locals are more than willing to talk openly about a number of topics, but on the other hand, it can also take time to get beyond introductory conversations and hear what they really feel. Though not always true, in many cases I’ve seen that locals are envious of those who arrive to their city, stay for a few days or weeks, and then leave. And in some cases, they appear to downright hate them. Here are four reasons that I have seen contribute to a native disliking a visitor.

4. Not Learning Anything About the Place Visited

There’s always an expectation to learn something new when you travel somewhere, but it also doesn’t hurt to do some research before making the trip. Before living in Sevilla, Spain, I did almost no research on it so that I could go in with no expectations and a fresh outlook. But in retrospect, I think research can only help. I’ve written previously about reading local newspapers before arriving, or failing that, checking the international sections of outlets like The New York Times or Wall Street Journal for related news, which could at the very least introduce you to their news. There are various ways to get acquainted with the new culture, whether it be books, movies or music. You don’t have to sit down and watch a night’s worth of local soap operas to delve into the culture, but you might want to glance over it. And at the very least, flick through the history section of the guide book. I’ve come across so many people who had no idea about anything related to the culture they were living in. They were simply there to have a good time, which is fine, but also brings out contempt in many.

3. “Everything is So Cheap!”

This one might apply more to the developing world, but can also vary from place to place. I’m a local yet a foreigner, and it still bugs me when I hear people fresh in from the old country bragging about how cheap the country is. Taxis, food, rent–it all seems very inexpensive, but only when compared to the dollar or euro. In reality, many places are no cheap, especially for the locals. And those who have to live a normal life and make ends meet find it condescending when someone who’s in town for a couple of days says, “You must go out for steaks every night!” It’s always relative, like how when I lived in Cuenca, I considered a $2.50 lunch expensive, when it could have been $1.50 in other parts of the country. From Buenos Aires, $2.50 would be an absolute steal. Again, it depends on where you come from.

2. Constantly Talking About Other Places Visited

Not everyone has the ability to travel around the world, and though a few stories might interest them and photos could be nice to see for a few minutes, it’s rude to go on and on about travels. For example, that’s why I have a blog. I write about what I’ve seen and done, and if anyone wants to read into it they can. But I don’t talk about it all the time unless it comes up in a relevant conversation. You have to judge your audience and see if they genuinely want to hear the story or are just humoring you. It’s the same for when you go home and start to talk to your friends about the trip.

1. The Ability to Pick Up and Leave Whenever

This might be the biggest reason of all for someone to dislike a traveler. It’s envy, jealousy, and desire. A traveler can show up and set up shop for a few days, live like a king, and then move on like the wind. Meanwhile, a local stays behind to deal with a regular life. Many people often dream about just picking up and leaving, but few actually follow through with it. Even with a long term expat, there’s always the potential for a sudden change. If the job was no fun or a better opportunity arose, whatever the case, a person could just go to the next country or go home. Not many locals can do the same thing. It’s hard to break into circles sometimes because of this. There’s uncertainty on how long you could actually be around, so why get involved with someone who might leave in a week?

These are just four possible causes for a local to dislike you in your travels, but they are by no means rules. You may never come across someone who openly shows disdain for you, but on the other hand, you could find it very difficult to make local friends. It all depends. Just try to keep these things in mind the next time you travel.

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.