Thursday, March 26, 2009

finally, a job

I got a job today!

Ok, so right now it will only be about six hours a week, until my other class (or rather, one-on-one lesson) starts in a week or two. And it's on Thursday nights and Saturday and Sunday afternoons - not the best schedule. But it is a job. And I won't have to go all the way downtown to teach - the business is about ten minutes from my home. I start this Saturday, and am meeting with the current teacher tomorrow to discuss the student's level and what he's been studying. 

Starting Saturday, I really am a teacher. Odd.

Oh, and Happy Birthday Mom!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Photos of Cementerio de la Recoleta

Evita's tomb


A body-snatcher's paradise...?

Buenos Aires sin trabajo

It's been a while since my last real blog post, partly because I've been lazy and partly because I haven't been up to anything terribly exciting or blog-worthy. 

I've been job hunting since my TEFL course ended nearly three weeks ago. I was under the impression that English teaching jobs would be relatively easy to find, as long as you accept the reality of a 25-30 peso/hour salary (with an exchange rate of $1 US =  $3.6 AR, this comes out to about $7 US/hour). I wrote my CV and sent it out to about 20 English teaching institutes, and so far I have only heard back from a handful of them. Last week I went door-to-door to about seven institutes and tried to explain, sometimes in English but more often than not in Spanish, that I was an English teacher looking for work, and that I would be interested in any vacancies they were currently trying to fill. I've had two interviews, and though they both ended somewhat ambiguously, I'm trying to remain optimistic. Both were very relaxed and lasted about ten minutes; at the end I was told that I would be contacted once the director had assessed the needs of the institute and created a schedule. Tomorrow I have another two interviews, one of which would start immediately. Hopefully it will go well, because I need a job. Badly. 

 I'm not sure why I've been having difficulty finding work. And it's not just me; my friends from the TEFL class all seem to be in the same position: they've had some promising interviews, and now are just waiting to hear back about starting dates. I think the most likely problem is the economic downturn: most of these institutes hire teachers to teach at different businesses, many of whom have been forced to review and scale back their budget. Not surprisingly, English lessons are often considered expendable. I'm going to start looking for private students in the next couple days, which can be a much more lucrative venture. 

I'm almost embarassed to say that my life has been somewhat boring as of late. Embarassed because it's still summer (or at least it still feels like it) and I'm in Buenos Aires, and I'm sure many people back home would gladly be where I am now. Don't get me wrong, I've still been exploring the city and going out at night. But it's all been at my own, slow pace; when I have no where I have to be it often takes me a while to get anywhere. Now that I'm in Palermo, it takes me a while to get to Microcentro or San Telmo, or other areas with more attractions, such as museums, places of historical significance, etc. Palermo has only been recently developed; up until a decade or so ago it was residential district. Now, upscale boutiques and restaurants dominate the streets, and while these are all well and good, as an unemployed teacher I have to find other ways to spend my time. And I do exaggerate when I say it takes me a while to get anywhere downtown: it takes about ten minutes to get the Subte (metro), and then about a ten minute ride to get downtown. But ten minutes in the oppressive heat and cattle-like crowded cars seems an eternity. Yes, I hate the Subte. With a passion. But I've still not mastered the collectivos (buses), so I find myself on the Subte more frequently than I care for. 

But when I do get out and about, I have been enjoying myself. Yesterday I went back to the Cementerio de la Recoleta, a huge cemetery in which many of Buenos Aires' patrician residents and several famous historical figures are buried (including Eva Perón, of Don't Cry for Me, Argentina! fame). I had walked through briefly during my first week here, but wanted to go back to really explore and take pictures. The place is huge: one is easily lost in its labyrinthine paths, although I for one was not complaining. It sort of reminded me of the cemetery in Paris where Jim Morrison is buried (the name escapes me now). It had the same grandeur and inspired the same awe and contemplative mood. It was a beautiful day yesterday and it was not too crowded; I often walked up and down several lanes without seeing another person. It made for a perfect afternoon. I took some pictures of which I'll post just a few - for anyone with any interest in photography I highly recommend spending several hours there. Or really I would recommend everyone in Buenos Aires check it out; it's definitely been one of my favourite parts of the city. 

Yesterday was a national holiday in Argentina: el Día de la Memoria, or Day of Memory, which marks the anniversary of the military coup of March 24, 1976, which established dictatorial rule and resulted in tens of thousands of disappeared persons. I'm currently reading a novel, Imagining Argentina, which combines the devastating history of the era with magical realism to make for an interesting and unique read. I'm also trying to finish Félix Luna's A Short History of the Argentinians. When reading about the Dirty War, it's almost difficult for me to imagine that it began only 33 years ago. One normally associates atrocities of this nature with the Second World War; it's something your grandparents could remember, but not your parents. As it's an issue still shaping Argentine society, I hope to learn more about the Guerra Sucia during my time here. 

On an entirely different note, I bought tickets today for a football match (soccer game) this Saturday. Argentina, with Diego Maradona as the head coach, is playing Venezuela in a World Cup qualifying match. Though I expect the Argentina fans to be united (there's a bitter rivalry between two teams - River and Boca Juniors - in Buenos Aires) it should be pretty intense and amazing. 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

algunas fotos de mi casa

Since I finally took some pictures of my place, I thought I would post them. Also, I have nothing to do before going out tonight, so this should help to pass the time. 

My bed: modest, but comfortable.

Wall facing my bed. Yes, that's more a coffee table which functions as a desk. Not the most comfortable position for working on my laptop, but I can manage. 

My street - El Salvador - as seen from right outside my building. 


More terrace - and the reason I can put up with all the minor inconveniences. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

...and then my house flooded.

I had started a new post entitled, "¡troppe lingue!" in which I planned to detail my pathetic foray into the world of polyglots. And then my house flooded, an infinitely more interesting, harrowing, and in the end comical anecdote. So I'll start from there and see where this ends up. 

As mentioned previously, (I'm sure this would be an opportune time to create a hyperlink with the exact reference, but I'm old-fashioned/lazy/technologically inept. So you're just going to have to trust me on this one; I already wrote about it.) my new home is full of little "surprises", as I like to call them so as to not get completely frustrated and move out. A minor ant problem is among the newest. But the main problem, or so I had thought, was that the hallway outside my bedroom floods when it rains heavily. And though it hasn't been raining too often, when it rains in Buenos Aires, it fucking rains. I've also been prone to exaggerate, so when I said "flood" I really meant puddle, the kind you can keep up with the squeegee broom in two minutes. 

I had just settled down to write when the torrential downpour began...again. I ignored it as much as I could when Salvador, the dog, came into my room, dripping water everywhere. I thought he had been caught outside in the rain when I heard Vicky, my British roommate, shout, "Julia?!? Are you home? The house is flooded!" So I grabbed the squeegee broom and thought, no problem, I am an expert, after all. 

Oh, the naïveté. Five inches of water flooded the patio and flowed into the kitchen, living room, and two bedrooms. Manned with one squeeguee broom and one regular (and thus completely ineffective) broom, we attempted to sweep the water down the stairs and into the street. The incessant rain made any progress nearly impossible. We quickly realised the problem was the clogged drain in the patio, but there was nothing to be done about it, so we just kept sweeping. After half an hour of this the rain finally slowed down, and the drain miraculously unclogged, making our task a bit easier. Eventually the two of us managed to get most of the water out of the rooms and down the stairs, but most of the floor is still slick. Being upstairs, my room was not flooded at all, and luckily nothing really was damaged in the rest of the house. Hopefully we'll have someone come to check out the drain soon - had no one been home we would have really been screwed. 

Estefania has again assured me that this is only the second time this has happened, and that she's looking into getting it fixed. I'm not sure if I believe that this really is a new development, but considering that her room was flooded the most, she has a greater interest in making sure it doesn't happen again. 

In other news, I am now officially a certified TESOL teacher. Or rather, individual. I finished my course last week and picked up my certificate yesterday; now comes the hard part. I have already sent my CV to many language institutes throughout the city. Unfortunately so have hundreds of other prospective English teachers. And I thought finding an apartment was difficult. 

In another one of my previous posts I mentioned Argentines' obsession with asado. For those of you back home, here are a couple pictures of what I'm talking about:

Before shot - While at Mar del Plata, our group went to a friend's place for asado. 

Almost ready...

This was part of our graduation dinner at a Parilla in Palermo. It was served after we had gorged on the salad bar, fried cheese/bacon concoction, and empanadas. Needless to say, there were plenty of leftovers. 

Requisite chimichurri sauce.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

the end of the beginning

Tomorrow is the last day of my TEFL certification course...finally. While I haven't been happy with every aspect of the course, I have learned a lot and do feel prepared to start teaching...once I type up my CV, send it out to language institutes, get interviews, get hired, and all that good stuff. I hope to start this process early next week, which fortuitously coincides with the beginning of the school year in Argentina. 

During the past three weeks I have taught five classes, with mixed results. The first two classes went pretty well, I thought, and I walked home with a bounce in my step, confident that teaching would be a fulfilling and fun, albeit temporary, occupation. Last week, however, did not go as well as the previous week. While my lessons were by no means ineffective or painful, they were certainly tedious, and I felt that more often than not I was not getting through to my students. I think the lower teaching levels had something to do with it - I struggled to keep my dialogues and activities as basic as possible (simple sentences almost always make me cringe) and often threw in several words that were too advanced, and consequently created more trouble than they were worth. Several times I just wanted to say, "Don't worry that you don't know what it means - it's not important! For the love of God, can we just move on?!" My main problem was "teacher talk time", which basically means that I didn't know when to just shut up. I would often just rephrase my question, rather than allow a moment of silence for the students to stop and think. The silence flustered me a bit, and so I always tried to end it by any means possible. My trainers were very constructive in their criticism, and all in all my mistakes were like those of any beginner and could be remedied with effort and experience. I knew this, and so was not entirely discouraged. But there definitely were those moments when I questioned my choice and thought that maybe I was never meant to be a teacher. An exaggeration, to be sure, but in the back of my mind nonetheless. 

So it was with a significant amount of self-doubt that I prepared for my lessons this week. (Yes, Dad, I know I'm too hard on myself.) I didn't prepare as much as I should have this weekend, and was kicking myself in the ass on Tuesday morning as I was struggling to write the activities I intended to use. But sometimes things can come together just as quickly and inexplicably as they can fall apart, and such was the case for my lesson. I dramatically reduced my teacher talk time - it turns out that when you give students the chance to think, they usually come up with the right answer - and my explanations of the grammar point were succinct and effective. Moreover, there was a discernible flow and direction in the lesson which made my job much easier. I walked home with the same first-week-bounce in my step, realising that, as my trainers had suggested, several small changes in my preparation and execution could make all the difference. 

As for my new apartment...the first few days have been interesting. Well, maybe just the first day. I knew before I moved in that there would inevitably be some problems with the place - lights that don't work, the occasional leak, etc. It is an older place, after all, and I'm only paying $950 Argentine pesos (about $270) for monthly rent for a decently sized place in one of the nicest and most expensive neighbourhoods in the city. So I figured there had to be a catch, but I hoped that it would be just be several little surprises that I would adapt to easily. 

So far this has been the case, though initially I feared the worst. My room and bathroom are upstairs, but the steps and hallway leading to them are somewhat outside (if you continue two steps down the hallway from my room you reach the terrace.) Which means that when it rains, as it has been the past several days, the hallway floods. Not terribly so, but enough for you to need to mop the water out to the terrace. Ok, I can deal with that. There's also not really a handle or button to flush my toilet - you have to pull up the lever (?) in the tank. Again, once you figure out the technique, not a big deal. And I only get warm-hot water in the sink in my bathroom, though I've been told this will soon be fixed (we'll see.) So I've been adapting since Sunday, and I still think the terrace itself is worth the little hassles. (I'll try to post some pictures once the weather clears up.) 

And though I've only been here three days, I feel like it's already my home, if only because I've already comically wiped out in front of my new roommates. It seems that every time I move into a new place with new people, I inevitably break the ice by falling flat on my ass. This time I blame it on the wet floor and my dippy flip-flops, but really I'm just an incurable clutz. And I've got the scars to prove it. 

I think I'll get along well with my new roommates. I've been very busy these past couple of days and so haven't had much time to sit down and talk to them. Estefania is a 28 year old graphic designer from Buenos Aires, and Vicky is a 29 year journalist from London. She's currently working on a travel guide for Argentina and Uruguay. And then there's Salvador, la mascota de la casa, a cute pup.

I'm very excited for the "graduation" festivities that are to ensue tomorrow evening and will continue Friday evening when my entire class goes out to dinner (which will consist of beef and red wine, of course.) We're planning a weekend trip to Mar del Plata, a city on the beach about five hours south of Buenos Aires. We all deserve a small vacation after working hard for the past month. I really like the people in my class - there are about 20 of us - and while we have seen each other almost all day, every day, for the past month, this weekend should be a lot of fun. Unfortunately very few of them are staying in Buenos Aires once the course ends; most are looking to teach somewhere else, some are going back home. But that seems to be the case for TEFL teachers and expats in general: people always coming and going, meeting new people and creating friendships, but knowing that they'll be gone before long. 

Of course, once you expand your circle of friends outside of the expat bubble, this is less of a problem. On that note...I met with my Spanish tutor, Marco, yesterday, for the first time. It was an "interview" rather than a lesson, in that he wanted to assess my level and explain how lessons would work. I should start with a full lesson on Friday, and I can't wait. For me, starting a new language is always an exhilarating experience - what was entirely foreign to you mere hours before is suddenly recognizable. There's a sense of possession that comes with the acquisition of new vocabulary, and I always start lessons with a certain amount of greed. For me, the frustration comes later. And it inevitably comes, often sooner than I would expect, so I like to revel in those first few glorious weeks when you mark your progress in great strides rather than small steps. I've never taken private lessons before, and I'm excited to progress at my own speed (however quickly or slowly that may be) rather than according to the needs of my peers. 

That's all for now. Need to get a good night's sleep before the festivities begin. 

Sunday, March 1, 2009

move in day.

The Floralis Genérica, a metal flower sculpture which "blooms" in the morning and closes up at sunset. It's in the Recoleta barrio, about ten minutes away from school.

A boat I liked sailing down the delta in Tigre.

My lunch in Tigre - a choripan (sandwich with chorizo sausage), complete with Argenine flag.
Cool colors on a street in Tigre. 

The past several days have been quite busy, but I'm going to try to post a few pictures before I move today. Yes, in the end I did get the room in the cool house in Palermo; as soon as I finish packing up my stuff today I will move out of Beatriz and Delfina's apartment and settle in for good (hopefully) on Calle El Salvador. 

Yesterday I went to Tigre, a town located about 30 km outside of Buenos Aires, with six friends from my TEFL course. Located on the river delta, it's a great place to spend a lazy Saturday: we mostly walked around, checked out the outdoor market, took a one hour boat ride, and then relaxed/took naps in a shady spot in the park. After being in the city for one month (already?!), it was wonderful to get out and explore, even if the water was unswimmable (at least for my tastes.)  The best part about the trip was the price: a round trip train ticket cost 2.70 pesos, just under $1. I'm sure at that price I'll be back. Plus, there's an amusement park! It was a bit small, at least compared to what I'm used to, but there were two roller coasters that looked like good fun.

I taught two lessons this past week, and neither of them went as well I had hoped. I'm still learning, so I'm not too discouraged. My main problem was "teacher talk", or feeling the need to end silence by...talking. It wasn't quite rambling, just excessive instructions and clarifications, which did more harm than good in some cases. Both times I taught students at a lower level, and I struggled to keep my dialogues and activities as basic as possible. I have two more lessons before the class ends this Friday, so for most of today I'll be working on my lesson plans.

Finally, this past Thursday I went to Spanglish, which is essentially speed dating for language learners. For 15 pesos, you get a drink at a bar and about an hour and half of conversation. Anglos are paired up with Spanish speakers (hispanoablante) for about ten minutes, five of which you speak in English, the other five in Spanish. You then switch partners. It was a great atmosphere and everyone I spoke with was very friendly. The Argentines I spoke with generally spoke English very well, whereas I struggled with Spanish. But it's definitely something I plan to go to when I have the time.