Cockroach Season

24 09 2010

The wonderful thing about living abroad is always having the convenient ability to happily accept normally unpleasant details of life as new and exciting “cultural experiences.” As the weather warms, the once rare sighting of a cockroach in our kitchen has turned into a several crunch-underfoot a day habit. In the US, having this problem would range somewhere between annoying for some and shriek worthy for others. Abroad, the little ugly beasts somehow inspire a bit of introspection.

Stay with me here. As odd as it sounds, I’m grateful to have been blessed with the means to squash a cockroach in Argentina. Besides being born with feet big enough to make shoe shopping difficult, I was also born into a family that truly allowed me to do the things that I’ve done, am doing, and will do in my life. A lot of work has been put into being able to live in another country – some done by Katie, less by me, and a whole lot more by our parents.

By starting to see my life as a sum of actions by my parents, I can’t help but be incredibly grateful. Without every individual difficult and/or unpleasant task completed by my Mom or Dad, I wouldn’t be able to live life that much ‘differently.’ With every bill dutifully paid on time by my Dad, the longer I could stay in college with the help of student loans. With every rejection of silly childhood desires for this new toy and that new game, I learned the importance of careful spending (Dad always says, “If it’s not on sale, it doesn’t go in the pail.” – frustrating for a high schooler, but a good motto to have at your disposal as a broke twenty-something.) With every stack of files my Mom alphabetized I learned the importance of a real work ethic. With every patient dust-mop lap of the halls of Bemis Junior High, my Dad slowly laid the foundation for the life I have today.

As I rode the bus from Buenos Aires back to La Plata tonight, I again thought of how extraordinary this ordinary act was. Passing the dark, empty fields of the countryside that I’ve seen dozens of times was routine for my eyes, but rarely appreciated. A generation ago, I probably wouldn’t have gone to college, and certainly would not have had the same attitude about living in other countries. A generation ago, I very well could have been drafted to fight in Vietnam. Two generations ago in the South Pacific. Three, in Europe. Four…?

Instead of fighting for my country (and possibly dying for it), I’m traveling voluntarily with my wife in-tow (probably the other way around?). We’ve seen some amazing things so far and will continue to grow and mature in incalculable ways that would have remained out of reach if it weren’t for some very good people back at home that got the important things right with us.

Although it’s easy to categorize our generation as lazy, self-centered, arrogant, lost in technology, lacking common decency, common sense, etc, etc; there are times when we have some moments of clarity. This is apparently one of mine. So, thanks to those that got me here.


Algunas cositas

11 09 2010

Nothing too exciting to report today, just a few quick updates:

1.) I’ve finally found yoga classes, and I’m loving them! It feels really nice to move a little after two straight winters and too many facturas (pastries).

2.) I’ve also found a place I’m really excited to volunteer at. The Fundacion Sotrali is a shelter in Lisandro Olmos for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. I’ll post more about it after I’ve been there a few weeks, but for now I will mention that it looks like FSD might start working with the organization, as well. It’d be a great placement for interns interested in women’s empowerment or youth.

3.) A new group of interns arrived today, which means I will be busy all week with orientation. Even though it’s disappointing that we have another small group (only three interns), I’m really looking forward to working with them, particularly the two who will be here long-term.

4.) And, finally, the new apartment is working out really well! We posted some pictures here (along with a couple of photos from a tango show I went to in BA last week):


Immersion Camps

5 09 2010

Since I got lucky enough to have a rare Sunday off, I guess I should write a quick update on what I’m doing with my life these days. I was hired as a coordinator at an English immersion camp company based in Buenos Aires. It’s a relatively small company with no more than 5 full-time employees in the office in a small apartment in the multicultural (read: English-speaking) neighborhood of Palermo. It employs roughly 30 camp counselors from the UK, US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Ireland to work at three day camps held in remote locations across central Argentina.

The general idea is to allow Argentine students from 8-18 to experience traveling to an English-speaking country without the expense of a trip abroad. It’s relatively common for students (especially those from wealthier families in Buenos Aires or Bahia Blanca) to study English in an institute before or after school or attend a bilingual school. As anyone that’s studied a foreign language knows, learning in school and talking with native speakers are two very different experiences. In camp, the kids are expected to speak only English with rewards for doing so and punishment for speaking Spanish. The founder of the company is insistent on making the camps as different as possible from Argentina, so everything in Spanish is banned, including basic hygiene products. To complete the illusion of arriving in a new country, the students receive mock passports and have their bags searched for any Spanish “contraband.”

The weekend consists of games from freeze tag and capture the flag to activities like cooking and crafts. The idea is to keep them having as much fun as possible while using English, but not forcing it on them like being in class. There is usually a campfire where they learn songs and make S’mores. The second night they have a special dinner that fits the theme of the camp. There are about a dozen themes, but some are Spy Camp, Robin Hood, Na Fianna, Pirates, Who dun it?, California Gold Rush, Medieval, and Flower Power.

Even the menu is carefully selected to complete the English-only environment. Many kids will eat their first full English breakfast or American pancakes with maple syrup at the camp. They can never believe that anyone eats eggs, bacon, and sausage at breakfast! The waitstaff are even separated from the kids to prevent any Spanish interactions.

As coordinator, I make sure everything at camp runs smoothly. I deal with any disciplinary issues, make sure the other counselors arrive on time, liaison with the teachers, and work on all the logistics that having a camp six hours away entails. Overall, I’ve had a great time with the kids and counselors at the camps. I’ve done four camps so far and will be doing one each week through October.

When everything goes right, camps feel more like vacation than a job. The only real downside is that I have to travel for hours on the bus every weekend and be away from La Plata and the wife on the weekends.

During the week (Monday through Wednesday usually) I teach private English lessons to two Argentine guys here in La Plata. They’re a lot of fun to teach and have a high level of English so there isn’t too much prep work.


Here are some lame-o pictures: