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.