Tag Archives: united states

Backtracking on Spanish

8 Aug

It was bound to happen sooner or later, and was maybe secretly one of my biggest fears about returning home. After reaching such a high level of Spanish fluency, and nearly four weeks at home in the United States, I can see that I’m starting to lose some of my second language ability. I haven’t totally lost the edge, but going so long without consistent practice has caused me to start making some mistakes and to blank on some obscure vocabulary I wound up learning over time.

It’s hard to notice the setbacks immediately, but after talking with a few friends back in Buenos Aires, they joked about how my Spanish has gotten worse. Even just a short time away from a Spanish-speaking environment can affect how well you formulate the words and your response time. In a rush to overcompensate for possibly sounding off, I might speed up how I talk, ultimately causing me to make more errors. It’s nothing monumental for now, but I’m afraid of just how far it can go.

I was aware of this for a long time and after putting so much work and effort into becoming a Spanish speaker, I feel like the ability is my baby, and I don’t want to lose it. I plan on doing as much as I can to stay sharp on Spanish, which means not only staying in touch with my friends in Latin America, but making new Latino friends in Washington. Language is a constant back and forth, and the old saying holds true: if you don’t practice it you lose it. Feeling it slip away is a helpless struggle, and it makes me want to go back to Argentina today.

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After the River Plate Riots

27 Jun

In the wake of yesterday’s River Plate soccer riot, it seems like the city has gotten some international attention. Once again, it looks like Argentine hooligans have taken control of the streets and mocked the sport, but though many were hurt and injured (68 hurt and 50 arrested), it’s probably not the worst riot that this city has ever seen because of soccer. Damage was certainly caused, but I think what hurts everyone more is the shock of River Plate getting relegated to the B League. As my friend Fer said he read on Twitter, you can expect the death of a parent, sibling, etc, but you do NOT expect River to get relegated. It’s the unthinkable.

Now the higher ups are saying that this was about 300 hooligans who caused the damage and they’re looking for arrests. Still, more preventative measures are being considered for the future, especially concerning the Copa América tournament which Argentina hosts this year.

In other news, Argentina is now facing a polar cold front, with temperatures this morning below 0º Celsius in some parts. This cold is expected to last all week, though it will hardly end. Experts say this will be one of the coldest winters on record for Buenos Aires and the possibility of snowfall for the first time in 2007 is high. Seeing as how I hate the cold and am always complaining about it (despite being from Boston), my trip to Rio de Janeiro couldn’t come at a better time.

On Saturday night I’ll be leaving for Brazil for the first time, and though I’ll only be there four nights, I’m sure it will just be a taste for a future trip (or trips). The only part where it gets complicated is that tomorrow I need to go to the Brazilian Embassy to apply for an expensive visa, which I was hoping to avoid with the arrival of my DNI. However, the DNI hasn’t been delivered yet, so I’m left with no choice but the pay the $617 (U$140) visa fee that we likewise charge Brazilians who want to enter the U.S. It’s only fair.

My last day of work is Thursday, and then it’s just a short leg until it’s back to the United States.

Remembering My Latin American Life

21 Jun

When I first got to Argentina with Kristine

When I get a few minutes of free time and I can sit and think, I lately find that my mind tries to reach back for some distant memory of the last two years in Argentina that I haven’t touched on in so long. But these memories are so far gone, so foreign to me after all that I’ve been a part of, that it’s like reading about someone else’s life. It doesn’t seem like me. It another time, or another part of the world for sure, but most definitely not now or who I am. It’s even worse when I try to think of Ecuador almost three years ago.

I think of specific details when they’re available to me, like my arrival on a cold and overcast morning in August, 2009. Going on the highway from Ezeiza International Airport we pulled into La Boca, and I thought to myself, “For this I could have stayed in Ecuador.” Things got off to a rough start, but soon my friend Kristine visited after just one week, and everything was looking up.

I think back to how we wandered around San Telmo getting to know the streets, perhaps unwisely walking around Constitución at night and then back to La Boca well into the night by myself. We met a Spanish girl named Iris and went to Colonia, Uruguay where we argued about whether the Río de la Plata was a river or part of the ocean. I was wrong, fooled by the way the sun set to the west of the river which I knew to be on the eastern side of the city.

The first time I made empanadas

I try to think of every place I lived in (5 different apartments) and how each place was odd and a new thing at first. Soon they became my home and a small sense of reality and sense in my abnormal life. What did I do as a newcomer who lived in the Microcenter? How did I spend my weekends living alone and practically friendless in Plaza Italia? What did I do after work in Recoleta? I try to reach back for these day to day memories which amount to nothing much priceless reminiscence and though would be boring to a friend, made up what was my life in Buenos Aires. Those little things which no one will ever touch or know.

I reflect on my life in a sort of before and after, using my current home base as the after, when things started looking up. I was saving more money on cheaper rent, loving the new apartment and area, and joining a running team that kept me busy after work and introduced me to new friends and challenges (the good kind). And soon these last 6 months will also be in the before time. I can’t go back and change the bad memories though I try in my head all the time, wondering what would have happened if I said or did something differently or if I took that job or lived in a different part of the city. In the end it gets me no where but back to where I started, confused and trying to remember what I’m doing here in the first place.

And then I go back to the little details of my bedrooms in Ecuador, or my morning routine before work. Again, it’s like reading a book about someone else and I think that this isn’t me. This couldn’t have been something that I did because it’s a thinner person who’s more sensitive to other cultures, and it’s not in Sharon, Massachusetts or with the people I grew up with all my life. But there are actual pictures and articles published, and of course a blog which has documented it all along. So though I feel as if it’s a parlor trick, I know that it’s real and these things did happen. I existed here.

I feel so strange to be going back home and the combination with lousy weather has me in a sort of funk—not happy, not sad, but indifferent. I’d like to combine both worlds but unless I get some kind of amazing job which gives me 6 months here and 6 months there, it’s unlikely. Yet I’ll still take the memories with me until my brain starts to fail me, and the knowledge that at one point in my life I lived out my dream of living abroad in South America.

A Short List of the Things I’ll Miss

18 Jun

Meat, Meat, and More Meat

Next month I’m going back to the United States for at least two years. People keep asking me for how long and that’s my general response–“at least 2 years,” because in reality who knows what the future holds. After all, I’m going to be studying U.S. Foreign Policy with a focus in Latin America, so it’s very well possible that I’ll end up right back here. Yet at this point in time I have no idea if I’ll be back in 5 months on vacation or in 5 years to live here again. Another thing my friends have been asking me is what I’ll miss when I go back home. Here’s just a short list of the things I’ll miss about Buenos Aires and Argentina (not in any particular order):

Dulce de Leche, the rich caramel-like creamy stuff used in any kind of dessert

Empanadas. The best ones usually come from random places or estancias, but there’s a place around the corner from the office owned by a Brazilian family from Bahia, and every time I come in the mom comments about my eyes and jokes around. I’ll miss that.

Great steaks. Even though I don’t eat meat as much as I’d like to because of the cost, when you get a good steak in Argentina, it’s pure heaven.

Fernet and cola. Hands down one of my favorite drinks. Mixed with 2-3 ice cubes and ONLY Coke regular.

That's me! On the right

Excellent, fairly cheap wine. Both red and white varieties are lining the shelves of the neighborhood supermarket, kiosk, restaurant, gym, post office, bus stop, etc.

Alfajores. I don’t eat many candies or junk food, but I love helping myself to a good alfajor cookie once in a while. The two best brands are Havanna and Cachafaz, but equally delicious is the Capitan del Espacio from Zona Sur, though only as a triple layer. For some reason the single layer is just meh.

Maté tea. Both in drinking and simply socializing with people. Get a few people together and bullshit over some mate for a while. Also helps in staving off hunger for a few extra minutes.

Road races. Buenos Aires is probably the capital of Latin America in terms of running races. I’ve gotten very into running while here and have already been disappointed by the options in the United States. A deep search showed me that aside from 5k races and a few marathons sprinkled in, there aren’t that many races throughout the United States. Maybe because most Americans don’t run, but drive. I’m still hoping I just haven’t found the right source yet.

Mate with friends

Random sketchy bars/clubs. South America is full of random little dives and sketchy bars where it feels like a slamming door will set the place off. Not exactly like the Wild West, but there’s just the feeling of imminent danger, which is somehow so attractive. Leading me to the next thing…

The feeling of doing something so unique and interesting that I otherwise never would have done back home. Even this means sometimes putting myself in danger or stretching my personal comfort to its max. Living an amazing life rather than reading about it.

Meeting new friends who reinforce that there are good and interesting people all over the world. We all share similar interests and desires, and friendship is one of the most precious things I’ve been able to take away from my time here.

Of course these are just some of the things that come into my mind right now. There are clearly more, and as the days get closer to my departure I will no doubt add to it. I’ll probably add to it after I publish this list. And then when I’m home. And then days, months, and years later. Until I come back and do it all again.

Going Back, But Slightly Different

6 Jun

Last week during lunch Leo brought up something which I’ve often thought about throughout the last almost three years. He asked curiously, though without malicious intent, what will happen to me once I go back to the United States. More than anything, he was saying how he’d like to see how I act in my element, back where I come from in the country that I grew up in. After all of this time here in Buenos Aires, almost two years, I’m become Argentinized. I expect that things won’t work well, I love a good piece of meat, and of course, I reach for my mate more often than a cup of coffee. So Leo wanted to know what will become of me now that I’ve gone through so many changes and struggled so much to become more like a porteño. It’s a tough one to answer and you might not like the answer.

I sort of realized a long time ago, back before leaving Ecuador, that you eventually reach a point where you can’t simply go back to how things were before. You can’t just go home and assume that your friends are the same, that the same shows will be on TV, or that the town will look exactly the same. You go through untold changes when living abroad and can’t just assume that it’s one sided. But that goes without saying. So after so much time away from what I grew up in, could I still consider myself your typical American? The truth is I don’t think so. And would I want to go back to that if I could? In retrospect, probably not.

It’s not that I don’t like the United States, it’s not that at all. It’s my country of birth and I’ll always have it as my own. But I’m not typical anymore, not in any sense of the word. Maybe I never was, and that’s what got me interested in living abroad in the first place. I try to relay the fact that the States are made up of so many diverse and unique people that saying we are one thing is nearly impossible, yet you can’t deny a certain stereotype or two when it mocks you to your face, and whether it be loud and obnoxious in bars or lacking a general sense of history and geography, I’ve tried to counter those arguments to friends here by setting an example. But then a friend from back home will ask me how Mexico is, thinking they’re funny, and it kind of makes my stomach hurt to think I’m going to be heading back into that atmosphere.

Not all Americans are like that, and since I’m going to be studying a Masters in International Relations, the people I’ll soon meet will hopefully think the way I do, or if not at least give me something new to think about. Leo was wondering if I’ll miss having mate in the morning, but I think he was also saying that I’m currently a model citizen. Many Argentinians (among other people throughout the world) can’t stand most Americans, and it took a long time for them to trust me and let me in enough to admit this. I’m an exception for them, and he’s wondering if I’m going to go home and become the same kind of person that usually puts him off.

I already feel the difference and have for a long time. It’s not a sense of superiority over others back home who haven’t experienced what I have, but rather a sense of inferiority in that I belong to such a small portion of the population who “get it”. It’s almost useless in trying to relate it to someone who doesn’t have their own personal experience with it, but to at least attempt it I’ll need more words and more time to better understand it myself. I first need to go home and test the waters, see how I feel, and then decide how far gone I am. I’ll keep you advised.

I’ve Got a Golden Ticket

7 Apr

Today I finally did the unthinkable, something I’ve kept out of my mind since arriving in Argentina in August, 2009. I bought a plane ticket home. Back to Boston, where family and friends await anxiously, and have been waiting for two and a half years, really. It’s about time I cut them some slack, so without keeping them on their toes any longer, I’ve now got a set date on my return to my home country: July 12th, 2011, D-Day, landing on the shores of East Boston.

I was all set to go to a travel agency near the office and purchase the tickets I had investigated yesterday after Vero passed me a special deal for travel agencies. It was the cheapest deal I was able to find around, though it would only get me in to New York. From there I’d have to either by another flight to Boston or take the bus, an option that wasn’t appealing but cheaper nonetheless. Yet it was a last minute change of plans as my dad emailed me some deal on 60% off airfare from another travel agency in the U.S. I don’t know how he got it but I looked into it and found a flight from Buenos Aires to Miami, Miami to Boston. It worked out to something like $50 more expensive, but gets me right into Boston, which in the end is easier and aside from the bus fare, probably cheaper.

The date wasn’t exactly picked arbitrarily–my birthday is in late July and I want to spend it at home as I’ve missed the last two outside of the country. My parents will be away until July 11th and thus I’m leaving on July 11th, landing on the 12th. The idea was to wait nearly as long as possible in Argentina to make the most of my time here, but I’m leaving my job on June 30th, and I’ve been away long enough. The idea is now to make the most of the time at home as possible. I also need to head down to Washington D.C. earlier on to find an apartment and get settled before starting the challenge of grad school.

It’s still kind of weird to think of it as so official. There was the idea long ago of returning in the winter, but without a notion of exactly when. Having the tickets in hand makes the calendar seem much shorter. A week here melts off the calendar and before I know it I’ll be on vacation for two weeks, returning for a couple of months and then, chau. I told my friends at the office and was mostly met with the “good, get out” response, telling me that I might be missed. But I don’t want to think of it as a goodbye forever. Especially because it’s a round trip ticket. I very arbitrarily picked a date in early September because still in the down season, the ticket would be cheaper.

I need to look into it when I return to the States, but if I can change the ticket for a fairly minimal fee, I’ll push it back as far as I can, either to December or January, Spring Break, or after classes end in May. It’d be nice to come back to Buenos Aires to visit my friends, eat a couple of steaks, and maybe visit a place like Bariloche. Of course, that all depends on how broke I am and if I have an internship lined up. Ideally I’ll get a job in D.C. which will allow me to save a tiny bit of money for something like travel. And maybe I’ll get an internship in Latin America.

For now, you’ve been warned. Posts to come might start to get more reflective or have a “wrapped up” feel to it. It’s only natural, but not entirely intentional. I hope you’ll leave comments on what you think of it all.

Planning Upcoming Trips

6 Apr

In three weeks I’ll be taking off for my long awaited vacation to southern Bolivia and northwestern Argentina. Though I’ve been slack on planning or reading too deeply into what I can do, I’ve got some things in mind for what I’ll do during the two week period of traveling alone. I’m excited by the prospect of traveling again for longer than just a day or two, and being able to go at my own speed and leisure. So far, all I have planned out are the round trip air tickets to Salta. The idea is to show up and then catch a bus to the border, arriving in Bolivia by the morning. Because the train from the border only leaves twice a week, I need to get there that day before 3 pm to get my ticket and head to the city of Tupiza, where I’ll hook up with a tour of the Salar de Uyuni. If I miss the train, there’s always a bus.

I’m wary of buying my bus ticket from Salta to the border in advance because of my experience with Aerolineas Argentinas, which I’ll unfortunately be flying again this month. With the last flight of the day, I can almost guarantee a delay, and I don’t want to waste money on a bus which won’t get refunded.

Apart from this upcoming trip to the north, I’m starting to think about what I’ve avoided all along while down here in Buenos Aires: planning my return to the United States. The time is coming when I now need to look more deeply into flights, and over the last couple of days I’ve been searching heavily, and come up mostly empty as I find that even through consolidator Web sites, the cheapest airfare available back to Boston is close to U$1,300 with a route heading up to Toronto, for example. I was considering going to Atlanta for a couple of days on the way back to visit some friends, but it’s more expensive for some reason than flying 3 hours farther north. That part boggles me, but just as well I suppose because my friend Lauren will be out of town during that time.

Today my friend Vero passed me an email with flight offers from a travel agency just a few blocks away, and they actually had incredible deals. A flight to Miami was something like $250 and to New York would run $490. This was round trip and before taxes, but I wanted to double check before getting my hopes up. After work I went to check it out and though I had to prove that I work in a travel agency (it appears to be a special deal), the price was the same. Taxes are heavy though, and in the end flying to New York will run me about $1,100, which is still pretty good. It’s a round trip ticket which doesn’t have many strings attached, except that I can only use the ticket during low season (winter in the Southern Hemisphere) and during the week). Though it was listed as an offer expiring on Friday, the guy told me it’s basically available all the time, subject to availability.

I took the liberty of checking the price on Rio de Janeiro as well (listed at $148) and it would wind up being $300 round trip. It’s not too bad, but I’m still going to shop around a bit online first and see what other carriers have to offer. If this works out, I’m planning on returning to the travel agency tomorrow to buy the tickets back to the United States, which at least for now, seems to be fixed on taking the red eye on July 11, arriving in the States on July 12. From New York I could either fly back to Boston directly or go the cheaper route of taking the bus. There’s time to think about that, though.

It’s sad to see time winding down here, but it’s also a nice thought to picture myself back home and enjoying so many of the things which I have missed while being away. And with a round trip ticket with a changeable date, it doesn’t mean that I’m just going to leave and forget about this place. That would be impossible.

Busy Days

2 Mar

These last few days have been getting busier and busier for me. Ever since joining the Nike Running Team which meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I find myself trying to cram a million other things into the week on my spare days. So far I’ve had almost every day of the week booked up, which is a nice juxtaposition from what my life was like in the winter, sitting around almost every night watching TV. I also keep in mind that we’re always going to be more active in the summer than the winter. Over the last few days I’ve had meetings and a little bit of fun, mixed in with running and hardly any writing as a result.

On Saturday I finally got back to Tigre after over a year since my first visit. This time I was heading to an island campsite for the night to take part in an Afro-Latin theme party which my Colombian friends had invited me to. I got there late, however, and as the sun was setting I was getting to the island, making it so that I couldn’t go for a swim in the river. Even going by the train, the boat to the island took about an hour, leading up zig-zagging channels to who-knows-where in the delta.

Once on the island I had to deal with the fact that I went there on extreme survival terms, with a bottle of water, a bag of Goldfish crackers, a bathing suit and towel (left unused) and some sunscreen and bug spray. The bug spray came in handy but just about everything else was useless. Luckily, I was able to get some meat from my friends’ asado and eventually found a tent to sleep in, though in the early morning hours I was freezing with no covers, and soon after the sun rose I was baking in the stuffy tent.

Sunday morning was lazy, but the prospect of getting back to the city late after barely sleeping wasn’t too attractive to me, so I caught a midday boat back and was home by 4 pm. Now that I find myself busy most of the week, I can really see the days just melt off of the calendar. We have a four day weekend coming up for Carnaval (which was not a holiday in Argentina for years due to the military dictatorship removing it) and in a couple of weeks I’ll be heading to Chile for another long weekend. Then in April I head off for my two week vacation. So looking at the months ahead, I have to finally do what I’ve wanted to avoid for as long as possible, which is come to terms with the fact that I’ll be going home in July. It’s not that I’m not excited to go home, but it will also close a chapter on something which I’m not sure how I feel about yet.

Slowly word is getting around, and I’ve been letting people in on the fact that I have an expiration date. I’d hate to leave people in the wind and then tell them a month before that I’m leaving. That would just be unfair to everyone. While I don’t want people to start looking at me and talking about me as if I’m already gone, there’s also a bit of an upside because people realize that they should make the most of the time you have left, rather than continuing to leave it for next time.

Some friends have asked me why I’m leaving, or if I don’t like it here. The truth is that I always had a time frame of two years in my mind, and I actually stayed a year longer and deferred grad school so that I could live in Argentina longer. It’s not that I don’t like Buenos Aires, though I complain about it often, but I have family and friends back home who I also need to see. I wish I could combine both worlds, but that’s a fantasy which will never be realized. I do mean what I say, however, about going to study for two years with a possibility of returning. I don’t know where the future will take me, but my studies are focused in Latin America and my citizenship in Argentina (if that DNI ever shows up) wasn’t done just for the hell of it. Anything is possible, and surely now that I’ve gone through the hardest parts like learning the language, culture, making friends, etc., a second time around would be much smoother.

Don’t be surprised if I disappear for another couple of days. It’s not that I don’t want to write, it’s just that I’m at full speed ahead and can’t get myself into the writing groove.