Greetings from Pittsburgh!

4 01 2011

When I last left off, Tim and I had a week left in La Plata. Well, that week flew by, and before we knew it we were on a plane heading back to the US. We spent a week at my parents’ house, baking Christmas goodies, soaking in the hot tub and catching up on some of our favorite TV shows. We had a nice Christmas Eve with them before heading to Tim’s sister’s for Christmas Day celebrations. We spent a week bouncing back and forth between her house and Tim’s parents’ house, eating a ton of delicious food and playing Wii. It was a really low-stress, relaxing holiday season in Michigan.

On the 30th, we made the drive to Pittsburgh and moved into our new apartment. It’s located in the half yinzer/half hipster neighborhood of Lawrenceville, and we are loving it! We were pleasantly surprised to see how nice and spacious our area is. We have two large private rooms, a shared kitchen and a shared bathroom. It seems like a mansion compared to the apartment we left in La Plata! It has a lot of windows and natural light and is generally a really pleasant place. Since we hadn’t seen the place yet, it was nice to get here and have our expectations exceeded.

Since we got here, we have been busy moving our stuff from storage and unpacking. We’ve seen all of our good friends (several times) already, too! We’ve been getting spoiled with dinner parties and get togethers. We are both even more excited to back here than we thought we would be!

Tim started his new job at the Howard Levin Clubhouse yesterday. I think it’s going to be a really great fit for him, and I know he is eager to be in such a positive and seemingly-effective program. I had two interviews yesterday and have been applying for a few more, so hopefully something comes together soon. For now, it’s nice to have a little time to myself after the whirlwind of the past few weeks. I can only imagine how bored I’ll get by next week though!

So that brings us up to date! We will not be writing in the blog very often while in Pittsburgh, but will be sure to post if any new life developments come up.

“Me queda una se…man…a!?”

9 12 2010

People keep reminding me that we leave in a week. I even hear myself saying it to others. “Me queda una sola semanita en La Plata,” I say, but it still hasn’t sunk in. Yes, it’s true, our time in La Plata is coming to an end faster than either of us realize. We’ve been quite busy as our time winds down. Things at work have been uncharacteristically hectic for me. We’re prepping for our return to Pittsburgh, and we’ve been trying to fit in as much sightseeing– and sun!!- as possible before heading back. Our time in La Plata has been great, and we’ll be leaving with the perfect combination of sadness and excitement.

More soon.

Happy Thanksgiving!

26 11 2010

Last night, we were fortunate enough to get to celebrate Thanksgiving with nine wonderful people. My boss Maria and her mother opened up their lovely apartment for us, two interns, their host families and my former coworker and his sister. Tim cooked a delicious rosemary turkey and everybody else brought a couple of sides. It was about authentic as it could have been—mashed potatoes, stuffing, roasted veggies and sweet potato casserole. We finished things off with apple pie, pumpkin pie and a platter of buckeyes, made by our very own Ohioan, Ariana. It was really fantastic to get to share such a tradition with our Argentine friends.

To commemorate the day, we have both taken a few minutes to write down what we are thankful for this year.

This year, and all years, there is much to be thankful for. First and foremost, of course, is family. We have been blessed to have family members who have supported us this year in a number of ways. From helping us pack up the Highview Street apartment to sending us cards across the miles to picking us up at 3 am in the middle of a blizzard when our car broke down— our families have most certainly been there for us during a busy and exciting year. I am thankful I will have the chance to see most of them again at Christmas and equally thankful for the role they are playing in allowing that to happen.

Similarly, I am thankful for Tim, who was deemed the perfect husband at last night’s dinner. I am thankful for his support, his flexibility and his optimism. I am thankful for his dedication to our marriage. But, most of all, I am thankful for his cooking!

I am grateful, too, for my friends. From Pittsburgh to La Plata—how lucky I am to have such wonderful people in my life! In the past year, I have become closer with many incredible people, some of whom I have known for years and some of whom are brand new. Thank you for teaching me, for making me laugh and for spreading your passion. I could not be more grateful for these relationships. I am particularly thankful today for our roommates, who have really welcomed us with open arms.

I am thankful, as well, for my time in La Plata, especially now as it begins to wind down. It has been an amazing experience so far, and I truly appreciate the personal growth it has spurred. I am thankful just to have been in a position to have been able to move abroad, and I am equally grateful that I can return just as easily (with the help and support of family and friends).

I am thankful for the warm weather, which is finally here. I am thankful to no longer be in grad school. I am thankful for the Internet and the ways in which it makes the world smaller. For my health and the health of those closest to me. I am thankful for the beauty of this planet, and all those who do their best to lift up others. And, finally, I am thankful for the possibilities that the future holds.

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Since we neglected what seems to be the mandatory sitcom-esque airing of thanks during last night’s dinner (perhaps due to my faltering Spanish, or the negative gut reaction to ever giving thanks on a Wednesday), Katie and I decided to spend some time acknowledging the good fortune we’ve had in the last year.

In the last 12 months, there have been some undeniable acts of graciousness, selflessness, and some downright angelic behavior. There were fearless blizzard rescuers, joyful apartment movers, and unquestioning security deposit senders. There were supportive supervisors that found no fault in quitting to live abroad, insightful Spanish teachers that allowed me to speak a second language comfortably, and roommates that were always patient despite language barriers.

The last year was precisely what I had hoped for from months #2 to 14 of marriage. Thanks to Katie for providing adventure without instability, challenge without hesitation, and laughter without reservation.
I’m thankful for a particular group of English-speaking expats in Buenos Aires that I was able to get to know in the past few months and for the job that brought us together. Thanks to my forgiving students that are a blast to teach. I’m grateful for the Argentine kids that showed enormous effort and dedication to learning a second, third, and sometimes a fourth language at an astoundingly young age.

I’m grateful to be sweating in late November while eating apple pie in shorts. I’m thankful for the new world in which we live that makes finding a job, securing an apartment, and talking with loved ones possible from thousands of miles away. I am graciously awaiting our return to the US in three weeks to see family, friends, and start a new phase. To all that have loved us, helped us, supported us, fed us, moved us, ran errands for us, or just made us laugh…..thanks.

Fireworks, ferias and futbol!

23 11 2010

With less than a month left in Argentina, Tim and I have been trying to cross everything off of our “Argentina Bucket List.” It’s been a lot of fun, especially with the beautiful weather we’ve been having!

It started a week ago, when we went with the interns to La Catedral in Buenos Aires. It’s essentially an old warehouse in the city where they give tango lessons and serve food. Since Argentina is known above all else for creating the tango, Tim and I had wanted to take an intro class on the dance. The venue was really cool, the instructors were great and there were people from all over the world. It was a lot of fun, even though neither of us were any good!

Dancing the Tango in La Catedral

Then Friday was the 128th anniversary of La Plata. Tim and I had one of the interns over for dinner and then we headed out to Plaza Moreno. The city put on a series of concerts that started with local bands and culminated with what felt like a never-ending set by Fito Paez. After the concert, there was a short light show followed by a somewhat impressive fireworks display. The whole evening really felt like the 4th of July with the hot weather, the families lounging together in the grass, the fireworks, the men selling glow-in-the-dark toys, and the hot dog vendors parked around the plaza.

The next day, Tim and I went to Buenos Aires to do some touristy things that we still hadn’t done. We started out in Recoleta, where we went to the famous cemetery and artisan fair. We then walked over to Palermo and spent some time in the MALBA, a wonderful art museum featuring Latin American artists. Afterward, we wandered through some of Palermo’s parks including the Japanese garden and the Botanical Garden. It was a really lovely day that made us both appreciate Buenos Aires’ beauty and culture.

Recoleta Cemetery

On Sunday, we went to a futbol game here in La Plata. There are two main teams based here– Gimnasia and Estudiantes– but the Estudiantes’ stadium is being worked on, meaning that they are currently playing their games in the nearby town of Quilmes. So, by default, we decided to see Gimnasia. Gimnasia, ranked second to last in the league, was playing Velez, the number one team, so we expected them to get crushed. The game ended in a tie though, which was quite a victory for Gimnasia. We spent the duration of the game trying to learn the words to what seemed like millions of chants and mimicking the locals by yelling “QUE BOLUDO,” “PELOTUDO” and other insults as loudly as we could. All in all, a fairly successful outing.

Gimnasia-Velez Game

We still have a lot more to fit in before we leave, and I am definitely looking forward to all of it! We’ll try to update a few more times while we’re here.


El viaje al norte

6 11 2010

We are back to La Plata, sunburnt and happy! Here’s a not-so-quick recap of our trip up north:

The trip started with the 24-hour train ride that I mentioned in the last post. I think Tim and I would both agree that if we ever have to travel that long again, train is the way to go. It was so cheap, we were able to wander around, absorb the views from the dining car and retreat to our private room to sleep through the night. All in all, not a terrible travel experience.

On the main plaza in Tucuman

We arrived in the city of Tucuman on Saturday and spent most of the afternoon wandering around the city center. Tucuman has a very urban vibe, with lots of retail and restaurants. Tim even said that it felt like they had “injected a little bit of BA” into the city. The only sign of the great historical significance was the handful of museums around. Unfortunately, they were all closed when we were there; so we spent our time sampling new foods instead. Our first meal was in the mercado: two tamales and two Cokes, all for around three dollars. Delicious! As we ate, we were surrounded by sacks and sacks of chilies. You definitely don’t see that in La Plata. And although it wasn’t super spicy by our standards, it was still one of the only meals we had tried until then that had even a little spice. Needless to say, it was a much welcomed change. The other notable meal we had in Tucuman was a street food called a panchuque, a hot dog (pancho) wrapped in a pancake (panqueque). It tasted a lot like a corn dog– not a meal I’d want very often, but it was a nice snack on a warm summer day.

We only spent one day in Tucuman before heading to Salta, about four hours further north. Salta is a beautiful city that sits in a valley. Cable car gondolas run from a park in the city up to the top of Cerro Belgrano for a stunning view. Salta seems to be one of the cities that everybody falls in love with but, for whatever reason, we were a little underwhelmed. The colonial architecture was beautiful and we certainly appreciated the museums, but it did not live up to the resounding praise we had heard before going. The whole city seems to revolve around tourism, something both of us found a little off-putting. Food and lodging was overpriced and, generally, sub par. It’s one of the only cities in Argentina that either of us have been to where tour companies practically assault you in the street– not nearly as bad as many other countries, but also not the tranquil travel experience we’ve come to expect from Argentina. People generally seemed less friendly and less interested in talking to tourists, as well. That said, we certainly enjoyed our time in Salta. We spent a lot of time people watching in the city, went to the market and visited several museums, including one with a slightly over-sensationalized exhibit featuring perfectly preserved mummies of children that had been sacrificed by the Incas. In Salta, Tim also had an interview with a social service agency in Pittsburgh for a mental health counselor position that would start when we get back to Pittsburgh in January. (For those of you who haven’t heard, Tim and I have decided to move back to the US in December. We’re planning on spending the holiday season with our families in Michigan and then moving to Pittsburgh for the New Year… more on that some other day.)

Looking down onto Salta

After a couple of days in Salta, we continued north to the city of Jujuy. Of the three cities we visited, Jujuy was our clear favorite. Despite the fact that it was not as bustling as Tucuman or as photogenic as Salta, Jujuy had an energy that we both fell in love with. Immediately after getting off the bus, it reminded both of us of Nicaragua. Reggeaton was playing in the streets, palm trees decorated the parks and plazas and the city just had a much more lively feel. Everyone was much friendlier, prices were more reasonable and the food was great!! Although there were still lots of shops, it wasn’t the high-end European style stuff that dominates in cities like BA, La Plata and Tucuman. There was something about Jujuy, that we haven’t been able to clearly articulate, that just made it stand out to us. During our three days there, we stumbled upon a great little bakery with delicious breads and cookies. We visited a fantastic art gallery/cafe with a truly excellent exhibit and the best iced tea I’ve ever had. We spent a lot of time in and around the market, went to a couple of small but impressive museums, wandered in and out of bookstores and hung out on top of a hill with a beautiful view of the city below.

From Jujuy, we continued north to Purmamarca, a small but touristy village along the Quebrada de Humahuaca. By the time we arrived, we were ready to finally get to the desert. The dry heat, surreal rock formations and tranquility were perfect. From Purmamarca, we did a short hike that was rewarded with unbelievable views of the Quebrada. We also took a short bus ride to the salt flats, the Salinas. It was great to get out of the city and see some of the amazing scenery Argentina has to offer. By this point in our trip, it became hard to believe we were in the same country as La Plata. People don’t realize how big Argentina is, but it’s the eighth biggest country in the world. That means that, like the US, when you travel from the middle of the country to the north– for example–the people, the language, the food, and the culture are all different. In Northern Argentina, there is a much stronger indigenous influence and, therefore, a much smaller European and US influence. There are pockets of people who speak Quecha fluently, and many Quecha words have simply been incorporated into the Spanish language. People tend to be more community-focused, as well. The food is based heavily around corn, with tamales and humitas being particularly popular. Instead of beef, llama meat is king in this region. It was neat to get to experience all of these new things, especially being surrounded by the breathtaking landscapes of the region.

Tim playing at the salt flats

From Purmamarca, we went to Humahuaca. We fell in love with the cobblestone streets and quaint church of Humahuaca instantly, but were only able to spend 12 hours there. We got in at night, and only had time to have dinner and explore a bit on foot before bed. When we woke up, the electricity had been cut off for the entire northern region and Tim had a second interview for the counselor position, so we headed south to Jujuy that morning.

After Tim’s interview, we headed further south to Cafayate, one of the wine-producing regions of the country. Cafayate is known primarily for producing Torrontes, a dry white wine. Like in the more popular Mendoza region, tourists can rent bikes and visit the bodegas around the city for wine tastings. Tim and I did this, visiting five or six of the nearby vineyards. It was a fun experience even though many of the wines were not particularly impressive. What was delicious though was the wine flavored ice cream sold in the city. Who knew that Cabernet flavored ice cream would be good? While in Cafayate, we also took a hiking tour of a nearby gorge, the Quebrada de Cafayate (or the Quebrada de las Conchas). Like the quebrada around Purmamarca, it was stunning. The different colors and shapes of the rock formations were incredible. Our time in Cafayate was the perfect combination of relaxing and active. It was a great last stop for us before we took the train back home from Tucuman.

Just outside of Cafayate

So now we’re back in La Plata. We’re working on getting everything in place to return to Pittsburgh next month, and once again, we’re becoming slaves to Craigslist. Tim accepted the mental health counselor position, so all we need now is to find an apartment and me a job. Things are coming together and it will be great to see our families for Christmas and our Pittsburgh friends shortly after.


The cities of the north:

The Quebrada of Humahuaca:

Wine country: Cafayate:


Our anniversary present to ourselves

21 10 2010

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, Tim and I will be leaving for vacation! We will take a bus into Buenos Aires, where we will board a train heading for Tucuman. It will take 24 hours to arrive to this northern city, but we luckily have a private camarote to ourselves, complete with two beds, a bathroom, air conditioning and storage space. Breakfast included. It should be an interesting journey.

We have no definite plans beyond that. It’s likely we’ll spend a few days in Tucuman then move on to other cities such as Cafayate, Salta and Jujuy. We hope to spend some time in the villages in the area too, known for delicious corn and llama based dishes, stunning scenery and friendly residents. We will be home sometime between the 1st and 3rd of November. Pictures to follow. Until then, here’s a map of the Salta, Jujuy, Tucuman, Humahuaca area:


Subway, not Subte

18 10 2010

Last night, Katie and I finally broke down and went to the new Subway on our street. It’s been the talk of the town for months and we decided to have an American night. Walking in gave us that familiar Subway smell with the usual decor of the sub shop at home with the addition of a cozy nook of leather chairs. Besides the obvious Spanish, the espresso machine, and the choice of 15 or 30 centimeters instead 6 or 12 inch, it was like any Subway in the US. So why am I wasting your time writing about it?

While in line, we had one of the most interesting experiences so far in Argentina. We’ve been used to being the clueless Americans in shops, restaurants, and bus stations, often confused by their different “systems”. In the newly opened Subway, however, we were the seasoned veterans. First, bread choice. Then sub style. Cheese or no cheese? Toasted or not? Veggies? Dressing? Combo? Listo, chau. While we were used to answering the rapid-fire questions (15 cm oregano parmesano, pollo teriyaki con salsa cebolla, con chedar, no, todo menos pepinos, combo con papas fritas), the Argentines around us seemed completely overwhelmed by the entire process.

Although Argentina is certainly rife with choice compared to most other countries I’ve been to, it still does not have the “Have It Your Way” attitude of the US. When presented with so many choices, especially simple ones that have virtually no bearing on life (eg toasted or not), people become confused and overwhelmed.

Obviously, a lot of the confusion had to do with them never being in a Subway, but there seemed to be something more to it than that. In the US, we are swamped with choice all the time. In Argentina, while having virtually anything anyone can want (minus spicy food, of course), there just aren’t 10 types of everything like in the US. Last week, an Argentine teacher at camp told me about her friend who just moved to the US being completely overwhelmed and unable to visit big box stores. With similar experiences after returning from Nicaragua and Jordan, Katie and I can understand the feeling of anxiety building while trying to choose one (just one) box of cereal from the aisle of cartoon-laden fluorescent cardboard boxes.

Well, never mind me – there are much more intelligent people than me that talk at length on this:
The Paradox of Choice:
The Art of Choosing:


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: