Sunday, February 22, 2009

third week thoughts

Today marks my third week in Buenos Aires, which is hard to believe. I feel like I don't have much to show for my time here, mostly because I haven't seen many of the tourist sites, or many of the barrios, for that matter, and have taken few pictures. But I'm getting there, and once my TEFL course ends I will make time for it all, including the expansion of my old people photo collection. Because seriously, every day I pass at least twenty nonagenarian porteños who trek through the city at about three times my pace, decked out in their finest attire. It's awesome. 

For those looking for some structure or point to this post, I would suggest you stop reading. Really I'm just obsessively checking my e-mail every five minutes, waiting for a response that will probably not come for several days. To pass the time, as well as to procrastinate on my writing my lesson plan, I'm here, writing whatever comes to mind. 

As mentioned earlier, I've started my apartment search. Well, I may have found one. I'm loath to go into any detail about the place, lest I jinx myself, so I'll just say that the apartment (well, it's more like a house) is located in a good area (Palermo Soho), with cool roommates (judging from one brief meeting), and, more importantly, within my price range. I would have my own private bathroom and (the best part!) a huge terrace right outside my room. The woman living there is in her late 20's and is a graphic designer; there's also a girl from London. I've already told her that I would take the room if it's fine by her, so now I'm just waiting for her to respond. As much as I have loved living with Delfina and Beatriz, I'm a bit anxious to move into a more permanent place, so that I can actually unpack and feel as though this is my life here, rather than a long vacation. 

I taught my second lesson on Thursday, and this time it was a high intermediate class with about eight students. This is the highest level that we teach, and it was an entirely different experience from my first class, in which I taught low beginners. This time around, I had to do relatively little in terms of explaining a specific grammar point - while the students could not speak fluently, they could express themselves very well and enjoyed doing so. In fact, at several points during the lesson I had a hard time getting a word in. The theme of my lesson was "the workplace," so we discussed adjectives that could describe one's boss and co-workers ("manipulative" was one of the first words the students yelled out) as well as the atmosphere. Overall, I was happy with how the lesson progressed, and my trainer had some constructive criticism which I can work from for my next lesson. My initial fear was that I would stand up in front of the class and become a bumbling idiot, as I always seem to get nervous when I speak in front of people, no matter how small the group. But so far this has not been a problem - my trainer even said that I seemed calm, confident, and had an excellent teaching presence. One student even came up to me after class and asked for my e-mail in case she wanted private lessons! Granted, I think she asked this of everyone, but it still made me feel great. So with my nerves behind me, it's time to set my expectations higher, and try to incorporate the different techniques we have been learning into my lessons. I'll have two lessons a week for the next two weeks, which is a fair amount of practice before I'm thrown into a real classroom. 

Random observation: Buenos Aires invariably smells of dog shit/garbage, both of which are ubiquitous, (though not in a Neapolitan way) or asado, which, to put it briefly, is Argentine barbecue. The former obviously makes me want to gag, the latter makes me hungry. The odd thing about the asado aroma is that it wafts into my window at any time of the day. On 7.30 pm on a Sunday, or 10 am on a weekday, and even as late as 1 am. Argentines are just plain crazy about asado. And if you could smell what I'm smelling right now, you would probably understand why.  I'm still adjusting to the Argentine eating schedule: they tend to eat dinner around 10 pm, but more often than not later. I have no problem doing this if I'm eating out, but for those nights in when I have no plans, I still like to eat around 8. Beatriz has asked me several times if I eat dinner at all, as she often comes home after I have eaten. Argentine kids are also on a different schedule, staying up late to eat with their parents. As I was getting ready to go out this past Saturday, I could hardly hear my music over the screams of the kids next door. This was at 11.30 at night. By the time I left around midnight, they were still going strong. As I passed by their apartment, I saw a sign with "Feliz Cumpleaño" written in a six year old's scrawl. When I turned six, I'm pretty sure I passed out at about 5 pm. Eating cake and opening presents is awesome at any age, but it tends to wipe most kids out. Or at least I thought. Maybe Argentines start their kids on mate (a green tea-esque drink which all Argentines, regardless of social status, drink at all times of the day) at an early age, or maybe it's just longer naps, but something has got to be keeping these kids going. And I would love to know what it is so I can get in on it. 

Well, I suppose I have procrastinated long enough. I never know how to end these things...years of schooling makes me feel as though I must have some sort of conclusion. But screw that.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I have already taught my first lesson.

This will be brief, but since I just taught my first lesson (!!) I feel the need to write a bit about it. 

Wow, I just taught my first class! Well, I taught with a partner, but for someone who has never really stood in front of a class and taught for an extended period of time, pretty cool. Fuckin' A. 

Last week I was not too happy with the TEFL course I'm taking. I felt like we hadn't done much of anything the first week, and I couldn't seem to see how what we were learning would fit into the bigger picture. Plus, the building where our school is normally located was still being renovated, so our lessons were temporarily held in the building of a Spanish school. Twenty students were crammed into a small, incredibly hot and stuffy room on the fifth floor of an old building. Not the best learning conditions, to say the least. Especially not considering how much we have all paid for this course. 

But this week we have moved onto our normal premises, and while they are still fixing the place up, it is a much nicer setting - a beautiful terrace, comfortable lounge, and larger, relatively well-ventilated classrooms. It was a huge improvement and unexpected surprise which did wonders for my attitude. 

For our first lesson, we all got to teach with a partner. Each lesson is fifty minutes long, and we were assigned a theme and grammar structure to teach to students of different levels. My partner and I had to teach the present perfect tense with "already" and "yet" while teaching "visiting a new place." Because it was for a low beginner level class, our vocabulary and activities were very basic. Even more basic than we had originally planned, as most of the students were new and had not yet learned the present perfect tense. Most of our lesson centered around modeling a dialogue, having the students repeat our model, and then trying to form their own sentences. It was a bit tedious, to be sure - I must have said, "I have already been to the beach" about thirty times - but on the whole an enjoyable experience. There were only five students, and all save one were older women (yes!) What's more, they all knew that their English was not very good, but they all tried their best the entire time, even when our explanations or directions were not as clear as they ought to have been. 

More importantly, I felt much more comfortable than I normally do in front of a class. Granted, it was a very relaxed setting with a small audience, but I'm still pretty happy with myself. I didn't botch too many lines, and though we skipped over one activity, in the end it did not make a difference. We did finish our planned lesson earlier than expected, but did a pretty good job of improvising another activity - asking the students, "what have you already done today? What have you not done yet?" My favourite  response was from Roberto, the only guy, who said "I have already had a beer at the bar." My initial response was, "Really? That's awesome!" Then I realised he meant he hadn't yet had a beer. But at least his mistake was comical, and they understood the humour. 

But the best part was the energy of the students themselves. Despite the fact that this was their second hour of difficult English grammar taught by novices, they remained alert and enthusiastic, even when they knew they weren't speaking properly. At the end of the lesson, one of my students, Victoria, took my hand and said "I like the way you speak." (Or at least I think that's what she meant...) and repeatedly thanked me. The fact that at least one student was grateful felt so...great. It made me think that I could actually do this, and enjoy it, and make it all work. Teaching is one of the most difficult jobs I can think of, one of the most tedious and exhausting, and unfortunately one whose pay is in no way proportionate to its importance. But it's the genuine appreciation of the students that make all the difference. Yes, I'm young and naive and have one fifty minute lesson under my belt, but I feel like I'm off to a great start. 

I have my first individual lesson tomorrow. It's with a high intermediate class, so the students are fairly autonomous in their abilities and really just look for their teacher to guide and occasionally correct their conversation. I'm teaching passive gerunds in the context of discussing workplace environments. I'm far behind in my lesson planning, so I should probably bring this to a close. 

But before I do that...In other news, the Great Apartment Search, Buenos Aires Edition, has officially begun. I've already seen four rooms, and so far, no luck. Since I'll be staying with my host family until March 1st, I'm not too concerned, at least not yet. Right now I'm looking to stay in the Palermo neighbourhood, but considering my budget that may change in the next couple weeks. With class every day from 10 am to 7 or 8 pm, it leaves little time to trek across the city for visits. But it will all work out, I'm sure. It always seems to. 

And I've also decided to hire a Spanish tutor. As much as I would rather save the money, I'm having major difficulties communicating with Argentines. I hate not being able to express myself, always sticking out as a foreigner, (and consequently ripped off, or there's frequently the attempt) and having my social circle reduced to expats and English speakers. I thought I would be able to pick up the language more easily, and perhaps I could if I exerted myself more. But only being Anglos for most of Monday through Friday has made this goal more difficult. So I think I'll take a couple of lessons, see how I'm improving, and then go from there. 

But for now, back to the books...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

rain and romance

To be more clear: rain, yes. A big Yes. Romance, not so much, but I did lose my heart to an Argentine man for about ten minutes. 

It began to rain heavily early this afternoon, and it had not stopped by the time my TEFL class (more on that later) let out around five o'clock. The school is conveniently located about 15 minutes by foot from my apartment; convenient, that is, sans torrential downpour. Not wanting to wait around for the rain to stop, I decided to suck it up and walk home. After all, it was a warm summer rain which, considering the oppressive heat of the past couple days, would be a nice relief. (side note: I can't complain at all about the rain; Argentina is suffering from the worst drought in decades, one with potentially devastating consequences for its agricultural sector, and thus its already struggling economy.) 

At first the rain did feel refreshing. Had I been wearing more comfortable shoes, I probably would have skipped my way home, and who knows, maybe even belted out a couple lines of "Singing in the Rain" just to be cool. But after no more than five minutes my dress was completely drenched and weighing me down, and my traction-less-when-dry flats were threatening to be my downfall. So I decided to take my time, as I would be rather be extremely wet than just really wet, bruised, and embarassed.

Within five blocks of my apartment, an old Argentine man with an umbrella came to my rescue. Most people who know me know of my odd obsession with old people, my extensive old people photo collection, and my not-so-secret desire to be an old Sicilian woman. But I'll save that for another day. So when this old Argentine man offered to share his umbrella with me, my heart skipped a beat. 

He made some comment about the rain - it was difficult to hear above the cacophony of the city and storm - so I merely replied, Sí, parece un río" (Yes, it seems like a river), referring to the flooded streets. After he made another incomprehensible comment, I answered, as I too often do, "lo siento, pero no entiendo" (I'm sorry, I don't understand.) Upon telling him I was from the US, he began, in broken English, "Ah, yes, I live in New York long time ago. I'm a sailor." Really? Pray tell! He said that he liked New York, but that Argentina was his country, and that he belonged here. He had only returned to Buenos Aires after spending many other years abroad - in Germany right after the "last war" - World War II - and then in Italy. My eyes aglow, I exclaimed, "Italia?! Ma dove?" (Where?) Genova, he replied. I then told him how I had spent a year in Bologna, and he agreed that it was a nice city. "But the best," he continued, "is Sicilia."

He had me at Sicilia. In an unintelligible mix of Italian and Spanish I tried to explain to him that I, too, loved southern Italy and especially Sicilia - the people, the atmosphere, the food (oh, the food!), I could go on and on. Unfortunately by this time we were nearing my apartment. Wanting to stand under a roof, but not wanting our conversation (however little we understood of one another) to end, I began to thank him, explaining that Argentines were so kind and helpful. "Yes, but be careful, they are not all like that." As we reached my door, I thanked him several more times, and with a "suerte" (good luck) he was gone.

That's what I love about old people - in an instant they will tell you their life story, and while this can lead to interminable ramblings or confusion, in my experience these stories, however brief or mundane, have been fascinating and filled with the pearls of wisdom that one acquires over decades of travel, love, loss - life, in a word. And even if these stories really have no point, the joy you can give just by listening is enough to warm you up, even in the pouring rain.

His comment that not all Argentines are kind reminded me of Italians - many of the people you meet in the paesini, and even in cities, are so generous and warm, yet the country's government is rife with corruption and run by dishonest thieves (though I don't want to oversimplify a complex issue). From what my host mother, Beatriz, has been explaining to me, similar problems plague the Argentine government. When you see the best of humanity, or at least its good side, it's a pity to think that lesser beings are often the ones running the show.

There were some other items I wanted to address, but for now a list will have to suffice...
1. I went to the Feria in Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo this Sunday. It's mostly an antiques fair, although artists, vendors selling handicrafts, and street performers also crowd the streets. Plenty of interesting old people; I will be back. 
2. I am currently not happy with the food situation in Buenos Aires; the selection of fruits and vegetables leaves much to be desired. Granted, I haven't been here long enough to explore the markets and find the best local verdulería, so I haven't given up hope...yet. 
3. My TEFL certification course started yesterday. The first two days have been pretty basic. Today we individually "taught" our peers with a simple 'core dialogue' exercise. It was not difficult, but there was a certain procedure to be followed. While I thought I had this procedure down beforehand, when I got up in front of everyone I botched up most of the steps. Not the best start, but I know that with practice and confidence I'll improve.
4. My blog is quite the eyesore, I know. I hope to take some pictures this weekend to remedy this.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

musings of a lazy saturday

It's been quite a lazy day - I slept in after a late night out (late, by my standards, being 5 am), ventured out to buy a cell phone only to find the store closed, and walked around Recoleta. I came back to the apartment earlier than expected due to an upset stomach, and have been relaxing ever since. While I hate to be inside on such a beautiful day, I don't expect the good weather to end in the near future, my blister-covered feet need a break, and most cafes (where I wanted to get some work done) were closed. On those days when I do a whole lot of nothing I feel the need to justify my idleness. I hate to think that I'm wasting my time here, that anyone else in my position would be out and about - I'm in Buenos Aires, after all. But it's not going anywhere, and neither am I, so sometimes a day to recharge is good, and by tomorrow I'll be ready to take on San Telmo and its antique fair. 

So, Buenos Aires. It's certainly a vibrant city, even though I've been told it's quite empty as many porteños are still enjoying the last few weeks of vacation. I had heard that Buenos Aires is like other European cities; it's been called the "Paris of South America," but I'm sure that was just some slogan created to attract tourists. What I've found, and I don't think I'm alone in observing this, is that yes, there are several similarities between Buenos Aires and Madrid, for example. One can see the European influence in the architecture and layout of certain grand, wide avenues, such as the Avenida 9 de Julio. Cafés spill out onto the sidewalks, allowing old and young people alike to sit and watch the world go by. It was the expectation of a certain extent of familiarity which drew me to Buenos Aires, and I have found it. 

What I'm trying to accustom myself to now is the differences between the barrios. I've been several times to Palermo Viejo, a wealthy neighbourhood filled with upscale boutiques and chic restaurants. While it's definitely a pretentious area, its smaller buildings and tree-lined streets are a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Microcentro. Last night I met several other expats for dinner at a pizzeria in Palermo Viejo - no, it did not live up to my high standards. Curse you, Naples! - after which we had drinks at two different bars. I had a good time and enjoyed the locales, but I began to think that before long I would tire of the neighbourhood's snobby atmosphere. Or, before long I would become part of it. I suppose what bothers me is participating in 'that' sort of lifestyle in the face of poverty, which is  the other side of Buenos Aires, and the one which strikes me as more authentic, more true. On the subte (subway) to Palermo Viejo, girls of no more than twelve years old carry infants and pass out stickers, notepads, and bracelets and ask for moneda - or change - in exchange. It's nothing I haven't seen before, and it's the same feeling of guilt that you experience upon seeing homeless people begging for money in any city - the kind that seems to overwhelm you in a moment, but not enough to make you do anything, the fleeting kind. Only here, the poverty is more of a reality, the norm rather than the exception to the rule. I don't mean to imply that everyone here is on the brink of survival, but most people here are struggling. From what I understand, the Argentine economy has improved somewhat since its collapse in 2001, but inflation is still a major problem, among others, and with the current global economic downturn, the future does not seem very promising. 

It's this dichotomy which gives Buenos Aires its character: you can see the echoes of its more prosperous era, when it first emerged as world-class city in the early twentieth century. But one can also see, at times more prominently, the consequences of nearly a century of political and economic instability. While it may have strove to imitate Europe in its earlier days, the more recent turmoil has created a new reality. I know that my assertion that certain areas of Buenos Aires are more true or authentic is without proof and meaningless. But when this reality is pushed aside and out of one's vision, I can't help but think that I'm missing the big picture, and just seeing what I want to see.

I hope I haven't made too many inaccurate generalisations - I must admit to know very little about Argentine history. But that's what I'm here for, after all. To learn. 

Friday, February 6, 2009

me duelen las orejas

It's amazing the kind of difference a slight change in the weather can make. It's cooled off a bit - probably only 3 or 4 degrees - these past two days, yet as I walk the same crowded, decrepit streets, I feel I can breathe more easily. It could be the refreshing breeze, or it could be the initial shock of the city wearing off. Not entirely, not just yet, but little by little. 

I'm still feeling pretty proud of myself for my successful "mission" yesterday. It was no great accomplishment, to be sure, but in these first few weeks it's the quotidian tasks that are daunting, and one measures progress by how confidently one asks for "un cortado, por favor", and how infrequently one hangs their head and mutters "no entiendo." 

Yesterday, I went to the doctor. 

I caught a cold right before I came to Buenos Aires, and I still have not been feeling entirely better. For some reason - true to my inner child - every time I catch a cold, an ear infection inevitably follows. Even Delfina remarked, "Ear infection? I haven't had one since I was eight." While still at home I went to the doctor, got an antibiotic, and hoped that that would be the end of it. The little help the medication did, however, was quickly undone by my three flights. A sharp pain pierced my ears during take off and landing, and the pressure made me feel as though my head were about to explode. Think Superman in the presence of Kryptonite. Well, I exaggerate, but you get the idea. 

Obviously I survived and slowly my ears have improved - I can actually here people speaking Spanish, though I still can't understand them. But since my ears still didn't feel entirely right, I decided to go to the medical clinic (I had bought health insurance from a private company while still in the States.) 

I found the building easily enough, and upon learning that the receptionist did not speak English, I tried to explain my situation: "Quiero ver un doctor. Me duelen las orejas." I must have sounded like a child, speaking in simple sentences, complaining that my ears were hurting. I was told to go around the corner to a different building, where a woman who spoke English helped me out. I had to wait five minutes to see a doctor, who promptly inspected my ears, wrote me a prescription for an anti-inflammatory drug, and then wished me well. With one beso - and only one in Argentina - I was on my way. Perhaps some people would have thought it odd that exchanges between doctor and patient begin and end with a beso, but to me it signified a more friendly, relaxed atmosphere. She would take care of me. (By 'beso' I mean the peck-on-the-cheek greeting typically associated with France. Does it have a real name?)

The entire process was very easy, even for an Anglophone. Almost suspiciously easy. Ever the pessimist, I'm sort of expecting the medicine to not work. Then again, I wasn't going in there with some rare disease - it was a routine procedure, so maybe that's why I was in and out of there in under half an hour. We'll see how I'm feeling in the next couple of days, but I have to say that for my first experience with a doctor in a foreign country, it wasn't bad. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

first impressions

I've been in Buenos Aires for four full days now, so I suppose some reflection is in order. 

I think 'overwhelmed' best suits my current state. That, and sweaty. And tired. 

With no plans, no places I had to be, and no one to answer to, I have spent the past several days exploring the city. Mostly I just walk around the different neighbourhoods. Sometimes I pause, have my cafe', recharge, and then walk some more. I've been walking a lot. Mostly because the weather has been very pleasant - apart from today, it's been around 80 degrees, perhaps a bit hotter, sunny, and breezy. Coming from an unusually cold winter in Baltimore (though mild compared to the two Canadian winters I survived), I could not be enjoying this weather and free schedule more. I figure I'll be sitting inside for most of the next month, so I might as well as see as much of the city as I can on foot before class starts on Monday. 

Well, maybe I should backtrack a bit. I'm staying with a woman, Beatriz, and her daughter, Delfina, in their apartment in Congreso, a centrally located neighbourhood. While I had initially hoped to rent an apartment with my fellow students, this became too difficult to coordinate, and so I decided a homestay would be an easier option, with the added benefit of speaking Spanish. I found this place on Craigslist, so it obviously was a crapshoot. Luckily, Beatriz and Delfina have been nothing but kind, generous, and patient. Last night, for example, they took me on a "grocery shopping tour," showing me where the nearest supermarket was, and where I could get good, inexpensive fruits and vegetables (at Antonio's, just around the corner.) While we spoke in English the first two days, yesterday we began speaking more Spanish, and they were extremely patient with my broken, almost pathetic attempts. The apartment itself is very nice; it's in an old building, but it's been recently remodeled. My room, however, is a glorified closet. I suspected this by judging from the pictures Delfina had sent me. There is a bed, a couple shelves, and a window. This doesn't bother me, as I really just sleep there, and have the rest of the apartment to hang out in when I'm home - right now I'm in a smaller living room, complete with TV and loft, that's right outside my room. My bathroom is also microscopic: it would be just big enough for a toilet and sink, but instead there is a toilet, sink, and shower. I've seen and used set-ups like this before in Europe, and in fact it's not unbearable, but I have a feeling that it will get old after about a week. I mean I have to hold on to the sink when I shave so I don't lose my balance. But maybe that's just because I'm a clutz. But all in all, if a small bathroom is my biggest complaint, then I really should just shut up.

As for the city itself, it's a lot to take in. Granted, it's a huge city (there are a little over 3 million people, and 13 million in the greater metropolitan area) and I'm used to smaller cities: Bologna has under 400,000 people, and you could walk from one end of the city to the other in about 40 minutes. But besides the size, I think the heat, the omnipresent construction (at least in some neighbourhoods), and my health have compounded my sense of overwhelmed-ness (and apparent loss of proper English.) And well, I think I would be more concerned were I not overwhelmed - this is a big pretty change, after all. I like to think of myself as a mature, independent, thrive-in-the-city modern woman, but really I'm still just a kid, and sometimes I just want to curl up in a ball, close my eyes, and make everything go away. I don't know if I'll ever grow out of that, but then again I'm not sure any of us ever do.

But despite this feeling, there are several things that I can connect with, that bring me back, and strangely enough, make me feel more comfortable: the torn up sidewalks filled with dog shit, greasy mullets, lack of personal space, general loudness - I'm starting to think it's a good thing Italy didn't get on the colonizing bandwagon.

That being said, I do like most of what I have seen. On my first day I went to Recoleta, a more wealthy neighbourhood which is about 20 minutes away on foot. Delfina told me to check out the 'feria', or fair, that takes place every Sunday in the park. There were tons of vendors selling jewelry, leather goods, and other crafts, along with people sunbathing in the park and a live band. I can't think of a better first image, or memory, to have of the city. 

I find that it takes me quite some time to write a post, so that by the time I'm halfway through what I had intended to write, I'm tired or find I can no longer construct a sentence. I don't think I'm going to explore as much tomorrow - I think I need a break and I may possibly go to the doctor - so maybe I'll just take my laptop to Cafe de los Angelitos and continue this allí Or should I say, ashí? 

Monday, February 2, 2009

new beginnings

Well, here goes. 

This is the first post of my first blog, one which I have been meaning to start for some time but kept putting off for lack of a title: I wanted something witty or inspired, that would perhaps incorporate some reference to literature or film, something that would be profound yet succinct. And then I remembered that it's just a blog, and that I'm not very creative to begin with. Besides, I've been in Buenos Aires for two full days now; it's time to give the damned thing a name and go with it.

So it's 'viajar y aprovechar', which in Spanish means 'to travel and to take advantage.' Yes, I realise the irony in my choosing a Spanish title, since my knowledge of the language is limited to whatever I could teach myself from a grammar book in one month. Which, considering how enthralling grammar can be, is very limited - I can recognise the verb tenses and conjugate most verbs (damn you, stem changers!!), but I do have to pause and think before speaking. And even then it comes out with an overly exaggerated Italian accent. But I'm trying.

'Viajar' because, well, I love to travel. After living for nearly a year in Bologna and traveling throughout Europe, I knew there was no way I would be able to settle again in the US, at least not in the near future. I could go on and on about the benefits of traveling, but I feel that Peter Hoeg best captured them when he wrote, 'traveling tends to magnify all human emotions.' Last year was not a continuous 'high', but rather a general one punctuated by moments of frustration, loneliness, doubt, and boredom that are inevitable when living in a foreign country. But even during the low points, I did feel as though as I was feeling things more deeply, however vague that may sound. This was all the more reinforced during my five month period back at university and home, though the latter more so than the former. By the end of August, as I was preparing to leave Bologna (and making daily gelato runs, obviously) I felt so ready to start the next chapter of my life: teaching English abroad, though exactly where I was not quite sure at the time. So the interim five month period almost felt like a waste of time, an unnecessary delay - though in reality it was anything but, as I had to go back to Montreal to finish my degree. I was just bitter that my momentum was interrupted - I was ready to pack up and go to Latin America, but instead I had to write several papers and write more exams. And even after that, I had two more months at home in the suburbs of Baltimore. But I won't dwell on that, and to be fair it wasn't the hell I sometimes make it out to be. Besides, I had just spent a year in Italy. 

 'Aprovechar' because I feel it summarizes what I want to do during my time in Buenos Aires, however long it may be. I want to take advantage of living in Argentina to learn Spanish, which seems obvious enough. But beyond the language, I hope to really immerse myself in the Argentine culture, about which I know little. It basically comes down to not wanting to isolate myself in an anglophone or expat environment, though I recognise the benefits of having these communities available. But 'aprovechar' also summarizes what I am already doing by coming to Buenos Aires: taking advantage of the fact that I am young, have no obligations, and am a native English speaker to do what I love (see 'viajar'.) The decision to teach english abroad was easily made, and strikes me as an obvious choice for anyone in my position. I mean, let's face it: a history major and Italian minor doesn't exactly open many doors to lucrative careers. Moreover, any sort of 9-5 office job seems repulsive and stifling, at least at this point in my life. I realise that one day I may have to get a 'real' job, but I still refuse to accept that there is only one path to success and that eventually everyone gives in and wears a suit to work. 

I suppose that I'm being extremely optimistic about teaching English, especially considering that I haven't even started my TEFL certification course, let alone the actual teaching. But despite my optimism (I am young, after all) I do realise that teaching is a job, and as such I will have to work hard. Not only to find a job, but most likely to find several jobs - from what I've read about the TEFL market in Buenos Aires, only experienced teachers get a full-time schedule; most others, particularly newbies, have to piece together several part-time jobs, and possibly private lessons, in order to pay bills and go out occasionally. I also know that I will have to put in a lot of extra hours for planning lessons and traveling between jobs for which I will not be paid. But I figure that since I'm young, I don't need to make much money, just enough to live on. If or when I change my mind, I can always pack up and leave and move on to another city with a more lucrative TEFL market (Asia, perhaps?) If I realise teaching isn't my thing, I can always go home and start from scratch. My plan, for right now, is to try this for at least a year and then go from there. 

So why Buenos Aires? Whenever I told people I was moving here to teach english, I was almost always asked, "So did you learn Spanish at school?" I wanted to reply, "No, I was smart and chose Italian, because, you know, they speak it everywhere." I initially did intend to go back to Italy, southern Italy in particular, to teach English. After researching the TEFL market there, though, I learned it is very difficult for non-EU citizens to find work in the EU, and that unless you had some good credentials, which I lack, it would be near impossible to find good, legitimate work. But this alone did not deter me; rather, when I stopped and thought about it, I realised that I will never not need an excuse to come back to Europe. What I have seen of Europe, I have loved, and will always want to come back for more. More importantly, for an American, Europe is too expensive. I had my year there, and my bank account has never been the same. While I have the choice, I should live somewhere with a more favourable exchange rate. 

I also realised that I know very little about the world outside of the US and Europe. While I enjoyed studying American and European history at university, it was decidedly unbalanced. Luckily a university isn't the only place to learn, and what better way to learn the history of a country, its culture, and all that good stuff than to live there? With Europe out of the mix, I considered Asia (most likely Japan) and Latin America. I thought Asia would be too much of a change - as I'm already going to have a hard time adjusting to a new language, culture, and teaching, I figure I should try to pick a place that would make the transition the least difficult. Buenos Aires stuck out immediately in my mind: it's been called the Paris of South America, and while one can debate the truth of this nickname, the European influence in Buenos Aires is palpable. The massive influx of Italian immigrants in the early twentieth century have also left a mark on the city, so I figured I could hopefully relate to that in some way (yes, I mean gelato.) In terms of learning a new language, Spanish shouldn't be that difficult after studying French and Italian. Granted, it won't be easy, but I imagine it will be easier than learning Japanese, for instance. Finally, Buenos Aires appealed to me because it's such a cosmopolitan city with a (apparently) vibrant expat community. Like I said before, I don't want to depend solely on this network, but it is nice to have. 

So here I am in Buenos Aires.

This has sort of been a long-winded introduction, but it's good to explain where I've been and where I hope to go. The rest of my posts will detail how I'm doing in that journey.