My First Orientation Week with FSD La Plata

30 05 2010

Whew! What an exhausting week it has been. Last Saturday, we received a new batch of interns and we have been busy with orientation since. The group consists of five young ladies from the US, all between the ages of 19-25. They study/studied everything from neuroscience to accounting to global studies. They will all be in La Plata for nine weeks. In many ways, this group is fairly representative of the average group of interns that FSD hosts; however, we also receive mid-career professionals, interns from other countries and, of course, young men. Additionally, many interns, myself included, stay for much longer periods of time. Because it is the summer in the US, however, many interns come for only 9-12 weeks.

Orientation started with airport pickup on Saturday and ended Friday afternoon. It included workshops on topics such as safety and security, international and sustainable development, local culture, living with a host family, working with a host organization and fundraising and advocacy. There were also activities to help them get acquainted with their new home including a session on castellano (Argentine Spanish), a city tour and a scavenger hunt. We watched a really moving film called La Noche de los Lapices (Night of the Pencils) about a group of secondary students from La Plata that “disappeared” during the military dictatorship. One of the highlights of the week was a host family dinner we had, where all of the host families came to the office and ate dinner with the interns and staff. It was a great way to ensure that the interns could meet and interact with their families in a more comfortable group setting before moving in with them. Finally, we did visits to partner organizations. As a group, we visited Siluva, a center for adults with developmental disabilities in Villa Elisa. Then on Thursday, one staff member accompanied each intern to their host organization to meet their supervisor for the first time.

All in all, I really enjoyed orientation week. I was essentially a participant this time since I am still getting accustomed to the location, the language and the policies of the organization. In a few weeks, however, another group will arrive, and for that orientation I will be fully involved, leading workshops, arranging logistics, etc.

Monday is my last day of training since Nancy, the current PC, finishes on Monday and flies out on Thursday. While I will be sad to see her go, I’m ready to really dig in. I’m feeling really great about moving down here for this job. Maria and Fabian are wonderful, the new interns seem really bright and enthusiastic, and the work is exactly what I want to be doing right now.


Day 5

17 05 2010

It’s been five days already since we touched down inĀ  Buenos Aires. So far it’s been surprisingly easy (bordering on too easy). It might be harder for Katie, who is the one who has to answer all my questions, act as a translator, and decipher my terrible attempts at the language. The Spanish here is pretty easy and I can generally get the major themes of conversations. Details are harder, but I will be going to a Spanish school every day for the next couple weeks to speed the process along.

Katie started working on Friday and was able to meet the country director (Maria), and both Program Coordinators (Nancy and Fabian). Fabian speaks great English and seems genuinely excited to help us. He is just starting to get into tennis, so I might be able to win a match or two. The office is comfortable and seems more like a residence than an office. (There’s a couch I plan to nap on.) There aren’t any interns here now, so Katie will have some time to get the basics of the job down this week before they get here on Saturday.

The past few days have been great, as we accepted every sightseeing suggestion that our host mom gave us. We went to the bosque (forest) section of the city yesterday, where we went to the natural history museum and saw the two 200,000 seat soccer stadiums that are a block away from each other. The museum was really interesting and had a skeleton of any animal you could imagine.

We’ve been wandering around every day at least for a couple hours to see what the city has to offer. La Plata is one of the only cities in the world that was completely planned before being built. It is a near perfect grid with no hills (take that, Pittsburgh!) and is 100% walkable. So far we haven’t seen any evidence of enclaves of anything, besides more stores being on major roads. Housing and commercial properties, students and professionals, the poor and rich all seem surprisingly well integrated. There are so many luxury businesses, be it high-end fashion, home improvement, salons, or video games.

We managed to meet up with Anne Marie Thursday night for dinner at 9, then had to have dinner with Nelly and Gaston at 10:30. Dinner is usually around 10, lunch is at noon, and a snack is at 5. Although Nelly always wants us to eat more, there isn’t as much pressure from her to force food down as we experienced in other host families. It helps that all the food is delicious, if not particularly exciting. The cycle seems to be empanadas, milanesa, pasta, beef, pizza, repeat. All of which has meat in it, on it, or oozing out of it. The sweets are everywhere and come with every meal (including breakfast). Dulce de leche (basically smoother caramel) is stuffed into anything too small to stuff meat into. The only particularly exotic thing I’ve had so far is pickled octopus with dinner last night. Delicious, tender, briny, and much too expensive to develop a habit for.

The week to come: apartment hunting, Spanish lessons, a game like tennis called Padle, interns, and job hunting.



Argentina, here we come!

8 05 2010

As most of you know, Tim and I decided that after nearly two years in Pittsburgh we were ready for a new adventure. So this Wednesday, May 12, he and I will be moving to La Plata, Argentina, where I accepted an International Program Coordinator (PC) position with the Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD).

FSD is a San Francisco-based nonprofit that “supports the efforts of grassroots organizations in the developing world that are working to better their communities, environments, and the economic opportunities around them” ( — check it out!). A quick way to sum up the work that the organization does is to say that it places interns and volunteers– of all ages and backgrounds– with local organizations in six different countries. In fact, FSD placed me with the health clinic in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua in 2008. I had such a wonderful time working with FSD in that capacity and am eager to continue my relationship with the organization as a PC for the La Plata program.

Being a PC is pretty close to my dream job at this point in my career. It’s a perfect way to combine my interest in strengthening the efforts of small nonprofits with my passion for international development. I will be working with FSD’s partner organizations, which will certainly provide insight into the ways that different organizations address community-level development issues. Another large portion of my job will be volunteer/intern management, meaning that I will get to interact with people with similar interests as me while gaining some meaningful management experience. I’m excited to conduct trainings and orientations for the interns and partner organizations, and, hopefully, I will get some (albeit limited) experience with project design and management. On top of all of the great work, taking this position means moving to a new country and getting to know a new culture, which is always a great learning experience in and of itself.

La Plata, the city where we’ll be living, is the capital of the Buenos Aires province and is home to roughly 600,000 people. Supposedly, the cathedral is the biggest church in the country and the city’s layout is one of the best. For our first month, Tim and I will be living with a host family, as a way to get accustomed to the language, food and culture. After that initial month, however, Tim and I are free to live wherever we choose. I’m sure we will want more independence (and spending money!) than living with a host family will allow us to have, but who knows what kind of accommodations we will find.

Tim does not have a job lined up yet, although the FSD field staff have assured me he will have no problems finding a position in social work or education. Despite not having a job secured (and not really knowing the language!), Tim seems genuinely excited for the big move. He just finished his last days with Gateway Rehab this week and appears to really be looking forward to this new stage. I feel unspeakably grateful to be with someone who is not only willing, but excited!, to pack up our Morningside apartment and move to the other side of the world with me on only three weeks notice. I have no doubt that our time in Argentina will be as wonderful for him as it will be for me.

This is where I conclude the first of our blog entries. We will both try to update as often as possible, especially in the first weeks and months as we get settled. The next time you hear from us though, we’ll be enjoying a cool fall day in La Plata.

Love and besos.