Tag Archives: returned expat

Living in Glover Park

6 Nov

I’ve been living in Washington, DC for about 2 1/2 months now and people have started to ask me how I like it here. The truth, unfortunately, is that I haven’t been able to see much of the city because I’ve been so occupied with work and school. Originally, I had the idea of going out to see a museum once a weekend, but when football season came around, just after I moved in, that idea went out the window. I’ve been downtown a handful of times and even made it to a Washington Nationals game before the season ended, but apart from that, I spend the majority of my life here in the Northwest DC bubble.

I live in Glover Park, a small, mostly residential neighborhood featuring a bunch of embassies, green spaces, and quiet streets. That is of course, for the hilly Wisconsin Ave, where I live. Day and night I hear the fire trucks and ambulances wailing past, leaving me to believe that either people in Washington, DC are stupid or the emergency services overreact to everything. It’s not like living downtown during rush hour, but you notice the siren when it blares past your window at 2 am. Wisconsin Avenue is your best bet to find any kind of business in this neighborhood, and though there aren’t a great number of options, you can find a few restaurants, cafes and even bars. There are some handy stores, a CVS, Whole Foods, and a couple of gyms.

Yet when I look out my window I see houses and trees, and it appears as though I’m in a suburb outside of the city. That’s a good thing and a bad thing, because while I need to see some wildlife, I also want the feel of being in a city. I want to go downstairs and have a few markets or stores where I can quickly pick up bread or fresh fruit and vegetables. I want a Metro stop nearby, but if you live in Glover Park you’ll need to travel at least over a mile to get to the nearest stop. One night it took me an hour and forty minutes to get to a bar via public transportation, even though it would have been less than a ten minute drive. Because I mostly hang out in this area it only affects me on the weekends when I try to get somewhere else.

Working just down the hill in Georgetown, I walk back and forth to the office each day, taking away the stress of a commute. In two separate six month stints in my two years in Buenos Aires I was able to walk to work and I know how much of a difference it makes on the way you start your day. For that, I’m grateful, though sometimes I think it would be nice to make it farther down just to get out of the area and see something else. I head back to my apartment, study, get in a run if possible (though it’s getting less manageable with assignments and the colder weather) and then make the 25 minute walk to campus.

Depending on the day and how many meetings I have, I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon in Tenleytown at American University, then head home again to continue studying and call it a night. So how is DC? I wish I could tell you. From what I’ve seen so far, I don’t love it but I don’t hate it. Some people do profess a love for this city, but it has yet to grow on me. There’s a weird vibe brought on by the journeymen who aren’t really from here, young go-getters trying to make a name for themselves, and diplomats driving around. By the end of at least two years studying here, I’m sure I’ll have a better appreciation for it, and will be able to talk more about the capital of the United States.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

A Golden Age Missed, Perhaps…

8 Sep

I’m kind of being bad right now. I probably shouldn’t be taking time out to write a little blog post, but I figured it’s worth it to clear my head for a few minutes. I’ve just got so much work to do, and it never ends, that it almost seems pointless to try and get it all done in a one day period. Graduate school is no walk in the park when you’re also working. I’m not pulling a full time job, but the 20 hours a week I’m shouldering is enough so that I notice the difference. I head over to work in the morning, leave in the afternoon to come back and study before heading off to the university. Then I come back and study some more, but I never really seem to come close to finishing all of the assignments until they are due. There’s just too much to read.

That’s the way it is though, and I knew I was going to have challenges like this. After all, this isn’t meant for everyone, and if no one can force you to go to college, there is definitely no one who can force you to go for a Masters. Everything has been incredibly interesting so far, and from learning about the Cuban Missile Crisis to strategy on how to combat Al Qaeda, I can honestly say that I’m smarter after just a couple of weeks in the program. That is to say, I never would have just known about this material on my own. On a day like today though, I can feel weighed down by responsibility. Work, meetings, reading, class, and having to scrap together a meal with almost nothing in the fridge at the same time. I haven’t gone food shopping since moving in, but I really have limited time to get down to the store, as working with the buses is a venture in itself.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the last six months or so that I spent in Buenos Aires. Once I moved back into Palermo with my new roommate Tomás, life started to get a lot sweeter. I was on the downward slide, so knowing that I would soon go home made my job less of a chore, and nostalgia started to reign in. I made some great new friends but also solidified my long standing relationships with other Argentinians and a handful of expats. There was one week in February when I was busy every night of the week, running with the Nike team, going to a pub quiz, and other after work outings to keep me busy. I was flying by but enjoying it all, though eating poorly (pasta and pizza for four days) eventually caused me to fall ill.

The weather was beautiful as the summer edged on and eventually slid away, and from the 13th floor apartment I could see the sunsets come around faster and faster, until I was running in the dark after work and complaining about the chill. I would sit in the old green felt chair with character at night, prop my legs up on the wooden table and watch a show on my lap top. I would enjoy leisurely activities like writing and even read a few books, including a book on philosophers and their teachings from the Greeks to the 1800s. That book actually helped me in dealing with stress in some situations, and I’m still grateful to my friend for letting me pick any book I wanted from his pile.

Becoming more familiar with my neighborhood, I could drop down for a $5 ARS ice cream cone, or drop in to the bakery for some fresh bread to match my meal that night. Buenos Aires certainly has some European characteristics, and one thing that I’m missing here in Washington is being able to stop in at a corner market for fresh fruit and bread. But I’m not forgetful, and I have the archives here to show me that it wasn’t always peaches in BA. Did the last six months make up for frustration during the first year and a half? I think the answer is self-evident. Those last six months in Buenos Aires were a precious time in my life, and I think I’ll always be able to look back on them with a tragic romanticism, happily allowing a bit of water to the eyes even while I picture the scene of the old living room with a view of the Botanical Garden, bedroom with a view of the west, and kitchen with a view of the Palermo parks and Rio de la Plata. I can see it now.

Earthquakes, Hurricanes, and Move-Ins, Oh My!

28 Aug

This last week has been a bit of a rush and that’s why you haven’t seen too many updates from me, save for a handful of Tweets. I’m sorry about that, but unfortunately I’ve just moved into my new apartment in Washington DC and won’t have Internet installed until next Saturday. There’s nothing I can do about it, but I’ll see if I can do a few posts from the library during the week. It’s a shame too, because this transitional period is so crucial to understand what it’s like for a returned expat to change locations yet again, especially for one who is about to begin graduate studies.

Backtracking on everything to happen since Tuesday morning would be irrelevant by now, and most of the major stories have already come to you via mainstream news, so I’ll just give a quick run down of what the transfer to Washington has been like. On Tuesday afternoon my parents and I rolled into town at about 1:50 pm, just at the 5.8 earthquake hit. Yet we had no idea, because as we were in the car trying to find the hotel, we couldn’t feel the vibrations. Once we pulled into the valet area at the hotel we saw people evacuating and were told an earthquake has just hit. This was my welcome to a new city, and with such a powerful entrance, there would have to be a follow up.

Still not 100% sure if the deal was going down or not, I showed up at the rental office at 8:30 am on Wednesday to sign my lease, got the keys and moved into my new apartment in Glover Park, between American University and Georgetown University. It actually couldn’t have worked out better because once I dropped everything off in the small studio room I went for an interview for a position with the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. As a research assistant, I’ll be able to actively engage in work on economic studies, learn about the trends and predictions for educational needs and health care concerns, and take part in a critical process in Washington. It will be the perfect complement to my foreign policy studies, and is only a few blocks from home.

My parents and I headed to IKEA and bought just about everything I’d need: a couch, desk, table, TV stand, etc. Soon the room was filled with boxes which turned into furniture, reluctantly of course, because for anyone who’s ever put together something from IKEA, you know that it’s a love/hate relationship. My parents had to leave a day early because of extenuating circumstances, namely Hurricane Irene, which has threatened the entire eastern seaboard. Raining hard as it did, it wasn’t exactly the worst storm I’ve ever seen, and I even walked down to my friend Ben’s apartment to watch a movie last night. On the walk back up it was merely drizzling and I didn’t even need the umbrella. It was damp, but nothing requiring a boat.

Orientation at American University has come and gone, and though overwhelming as it was, I already feel privileged to have advisors and professors who seem so passionate and interested in their work. My classes begin on Tuesday, and once that happens my ability to write frequently will most likely become more difficult, yet I’m still planning on proceeding with this blog and am even interested in expanding into writing about the things I’m learning from my classes, if for nothing else than to educate those who haven’t taken the kinds of courses I’m soon to engage in. Stay tuned for more.