Take a Stand

So, let’s paint a word portrait here: it’s a typical Monday in Taller de Radio en Universidad de Buenos Aires Ciencias Sociales. I’m sitting with my radio group in the classroom, after we were led to believe it would be a day in the studio to practice our boletín informatorio. We start talking about our final project as usual, along with individual assignments coming up. Class then transitions to our weekly homework assignment of analyzing the three hours+ of radio we listened to.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of listening to radio; because there’s nothing like listening to Guy Raz or Meghna Chakrabarti on NPR. Bedtime magic has also been known to lull me to sleep. But when Radio Mitre or 750 do a run-down of the news, after what I can only assume is a Red Bull-induced microphone miracle, I am left to make sense of the pieces. Which is exactly the mindset I was in once called out on that misleading Monday to explain my examination of the interviews I heard. Miniscule details aside, I got an embarrassingly pity pass from my professor. I felt shameful and lost, to say the least.

 

It was only after class that a friendly face came up to me, and offered support. Sofía was kind enough to reach out and make sure I message her if I do not understand something. Which, to me, I almost believed I did not even deserve such generosity. However, she kept to her word and wanted to hear what I was going to do for our street reporter assignment the following week. I was able to interview an anthropological writer in the espacio cultural next door to my host mother, in a night that ultimately led to a rooftop bar/city view by Teatro Colón and a KFC-fueled Virtual Reality dance off (but that’s a story for a different blog).

 

Sofía did a grammar check before class and found my anthropological author piece to be intriguing. However, the real test was whether it would fly in the sound booth. Over the next two hours I patiently waited until I was the last student to walk in and recite my report with the interview audio clip, only one week after that embarrassing slip up in class. Seeing the impressed look on my professor’s face and compliments afterward made it all the more rewarding! As did stepping out and being surrounded by friends who were genuinely pleased with how my situation turned around 🙂

 

Perhaps there is a bi-fold lesson in all this. One side being the interpretation that I should have hunkered down and tried to relentlessly understand the radio hosts I listened to, and I do encourage you to do your UBA homework properly. But there is the other side in which “eh, stuff happens.” You can do your best when it comes to preparing for a class, but if you fail: GOOD! It makes the highs and redemption oh so sweeter, as well as providing a motivational kick. Anyway, in either situation I believe you should seek help sooner than I received it. You will make some great friends along the way, and feel more confident in class!

 

I only hope you can learn from my low that gave way to a high, because earlier today my group recorded our final project, and while we rocked it and had a grand ol’ time, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of regret for not reaching out more and getting to know them better earlier on.

 

Arriving to a study abroad experience like that in Buenos Aires can feel inundating at first, but make time for local friends, and try not to say no to a hangout or empanada run. Who knows, you might just wind up with a beautiful tapestry of far-flung friends (and an itching to play VR Beat Saber again (look it up)).

A Porteño’s Guide to Hitchhiking (más o menos)

These breezy and sunny autumnal days have brought forth once again the beauty and possibility present within this cosmopolitan city. I often find myself doin’ a little dance through the streets, jumping vivaciously at commercial marquees, and singing horrendously out of tune along the protected bikeways. So much so, that running into a friend on the sidewalk, she laughed, “I was wondering who that crazy guy talking to himself was!”

 

My quirks aside, you never know what you’ll come across when opting for the frugal fanatic’s ferrocarril: walking and biking. And yes, you read that correctly, biking is free in Buenos Aires! I seem to have unknowingly fallen into the role of unofficial EcoBici ambassador. So I’ll give you the same pitch: for those planning on coming to Buenos Aires, EcoBici is the city’s free bike share. You sign up online, download their app, and please please use the Cómo Llego app if you need directions! It lays out and directs you along the marvelous protected bike lanes so you don’t become colectivo meat.

 

As for walking, the sidewalks are generally spacious and capable (caution: summer months come bundled with unwanted A/C water raining on your parade). One of my favorite exercises (pun intended) is walking from Point A to whatever Point B I need to be at, leaving far in advance of the ETA. For example: if I need to walk to FUC or UBA Ciensias Sociales, and I’m trying to find a specific book I want to read, I would give myself one or two hours more than needed to meander on into any librería I come across. It’s helpful when Google is not. That way you know your city better, get to talk to more people, and may just score a free bookmark, pastry, or potted plant!

 

It’s all part of my* general hierarchy of transportation: EcoBici>walking>SUBE>BA Taxi, and Uber (as a last resort). Biking and/or walking are also methods to guarantee you won’t fall into the quagmire that is your smartphone. Because, especially if you have never lived in a city before, or South America, adventure and surprise are all around! Just in general too, if you are scrolling through your phone to prevent boredom, whether it be on the subte or in line at Nicolo (highly recommend), you are denying yourself time to be pensive, be present. One of my best friends once told me something along the lines of, “it’s a privilege just to think; I mean much of the world is fixated on staying alive. And here we are, with time in our day to stand still and let our minds wander.” I hope you wander more, and scroll less.

 

In all my wandering thus far I have met some friendly faces I try to hold onto. More recent ones include Claudia the café lady who helped me do some bike-related research, María the elderly passerby who needed a hand recharging her SUBE card, and my top floor vecina Estela, who was at first concerned by my poking around via phone flashlight, but then warmly invited me in and let me explore the rooftop terrace.

 

Happy wandering 🙂

 

* It should be known that I am an able-bodied estadounidense white guy, thus my experience is fundamentally steeped in privilege. So, results may vary to my walk in the park (literally and metaphorically).

Bloopers and Ubers

After surviving a scathing plague and a visit to “the Arizona of Argentina,” hitting the 50% mark of this educational experience is quite retrospective. For one, the internet can enhance, or torpedo, your language learning.

For a full week I only left my host mother’s apartment a couple of times, due to what could have been the flu. While I got into a habit of making a toasted peanut butter/chia herbed fried egg sandwich everyday, I lost my Spanish speaking routine while quarantined to my room. Venturing down several world wide web rabbit holes, it became clear after a couple days that I was predominantly consuming content in English. It was my default setting, as David Foster Wallace says, and I forgot to tweak the parameters. With the situation I was in, I might as well have never left the United States. To truly reap the fruit of your labors while studying abroad, you should limit English simply to those friends and family at home. Otherwise, why are you there?

With a fire beneath my feet to get out and interact with the world again, some friends and I trekked our way to Salta and Jujuy. If you find yourself there, I highly recommend Cafayate, the salinas grandes, and an alfajor factory in Tilcara. You shall not regret it.

One regret of mine from the trip however, is taking an Uber home from the airport. The sketchy details of this ride are a story for another day; the real juice of this story lies with the concept itself.

In Argentina, Ubers and other ride-sharing services are quasi illegal. In typical Uber fashion, they showed up one day with a local LLC and just burst on to the Buenos Aires transportation scene without a speck of legislative consultation. The government immediately sued for not paying taxes, and more importantly, lack of labor unions.

Argentina has a long and accomplished history of labor law protections, spurred by demonstrators and protesters. For a foreign hot-shot, high value company like Uber to just barge in with no plan is insensitive, to say the least. A court decision found ride sharing to be legal, to connect a driver with a passenger, but to profit off the connection was deemed illegal. Thus, Argentina forced Visa/Mastercard and others to not accept payments to Uber from Argentine bank accounts, still making it accessible to foreigners but cash-only to Argentines. Further moral issues arise when considering how the influx of Venezuelans see Uber as a way to make money with little experience in the country.

As complicated as it is, the whole debacle opens a window into Argentine labor disputes, and the growing international question of how to deal with disruptive and emerging technology. In fact, it’s especially poignant now with an economy struggling to find ground between rising inflation and a tumultuous election year.

One uplifting insight came from an author/civil engineering chief executive I interviewed a few weeks ago, who sees progress in the fact that Argentine people have now learned to not accept military rule during times of uncertainty. A baby step it may seem, it demonstrates the trust in democratic representation.

That’s all for now,

Stay tuned for Picture Day.

An Apple A Day…

When you study abroad on the IFSA Buenos Aires ticket, you go to Mario’s lemon farm in Uruguay. While it’s just a hop across the Río de la Plata, there are some notable differences in Uruguay. For one, all the stray dogs are vaccinated (supposedly), there indeed happens to be a Trump Tower in Punta del Este, and cats sit nobly atop tiny tables.

Our first stop was a beautiful and historic neighborhood in Colonia, along the river. I’m telling you this is a place you want to visit, and one I want to experience again. There’s even a cute little lighthouse! I looked up wondering what the view was like from the top. Probably something I couldn’t imagine.

In addition, there are friendly people and restaurants that spill out onto the street. Which is exactly the scene my friends and I found ourselves in, one night for dinner. I dove into conversation with someone who attends a school where studying abroad is required! What a concept. At her school back in the United States, she is already abroad, an international student from Japan. One of our long talking points was of the international student experience. She wished people understood how difficult it is for an international student, the missed cultural references and moments where speech does not come naturally. She hopes that all her classmates discover how hard it truly is, and return to school with a new attitude toward inclusivity with international students.

Her words add to a collective experience I have witnessed unfolding throughout the years. It’s not rocket science, people socialize with others who are similar. Whether it be for personality, background, culture, familial tendencies, it’s simply easier. But I wonder what we collectively lose when international students, and in reality anyone else, fall by the wayside. We could stand to have more people like Marta.

I wasn’t even hungry when I walked into that little cafe by the apartment. I was just looking to see what was around my dwelling. She came right up to me with a grandmotherly demeanor and told the backstory behind everything in the fridge I was looking at. We quickly got along and I heard all about her son in Houston. When I finally made my choice to go with the lone apple, she prepared it in a bowl for me, so lovely. I reached into my wallet and immediately she rejected any such payment. I was confused, but she offered reassurance with, “I’m sure I’ll see you around again.”

It was only proper I pass this act of kindness along. Around the corner, a homeless person could soon tell I was walking toward them. Reaching out and offering them the apple, they gave a reassuring toothy grin, one as bright as a cute little lighthouse.

Día 1

As I stared at the tarmac through a window covered in slush, I thought about that Italian family.

The day before, I was at The Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It is an initiative dedicated to telling the stories of those forgotten by history, primarily the immigrants who made their lives on this historic block.

To put it mildly, my mom loves this museum.

A walk through the beautifully preserved tenement that housed 7,000 people before it was condemned, would move just about anyone. Toward the end we heard a recording of Josephine, a woman who grew up in one of the apartments, with an astounding memory of every detail she could recollect. Our guide, Naomi, then told us Josephine’s parents were from Italy. Because Italians were often targets of discrimination at this time in New York City, neither Josephine nor her brother learned a word of Italian. Their parents believed if they grew up speaking solely English, they would have more opportunity.

How different it is at Whitman. I can remember numerous conversations where friends of mine talk about how nice it would have been to grow up bilingual, myself included. Ignorantly, I thought how could you not want the mental benefits that come with a verbal jujitsu of two tongues?

A situation like that of Josephine’s parents never crossed my mind.

It was but one experience to learn from, like that of my aunt’s. Or as she says, my “latina mamá.” Born and raised in Chile, she now resides with my uncle in Boston, learning something new everyday on NPR.

I stayed with them for a couple weeks, speaking Spanish in preparation for Argentina. In the midst of a Spanish party, with all the Spanish-speaking family friends, it felt comforting to have support from her and others.

My one piece of advice from this pre-trip, if you are interested in studying in Buenos Aires, is to find people you feel comfortable speaking with. Family members, friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, strangers, whoever you can find! There are often Spanish speaking events on Meetup or Facebook to attend. Movies help too, so I’ve been told. I was surprisingly lazy in that regard…minus a few half-hearted attempts and an in-flight rom-com.

Just before landing, as Anna Nalick once again reminded me to breathe, I thought about all it took to get here, and all there is that lies ahead.