I arrived in Buenos Aires Monday morning and have been dreading having to write this first post more and more each day. The last few days have been full to the brim with things to do and limited time to sleep or absorb anything that’s happened so far. I’ll try to recap the important things for my adoring fans (hi mom)…
FLYING ON AN AEROPLANE. The early highlight of my day came when the Delta Airlines guy didn’t charge me extra for my 51 lb. suitcase. Didn’t have to take out my frisbee and peanut butter! I connected in Atlanta and met a few of the other Fulbrighters on the same flight. We chatted it up and enjoyed a relatively peaceful, uneventful flight—minus the medical emergency during the first 10 minutes after takeoff (a woman took medication that she didn’t know the name of and went into some kind of shock; numerous announcements were made for any doctors or nurses to come to her aid. There happened to be a group of real southern, American doctors traveling together and swapping jokes but who didn’t speak a word of Spanish. Everything turned out fine). The food on the flight was SHOCKINGLY edible … kudos to Delta Int’l. We landed on time/a little early at the glorious hour of 6:45 am and then proceeded to stand in line at immigration for over an hour.
EL HOTEL (translation: the hotel) & DAY ONE. The Liberty Hotel in BA is glorious in no way. What originally seemed to be a punishment - that the English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) placed in BA were only permitted one night in the hotel (while providing lodging/accommodation for the 15 provincial ETAs for 3 nights) - turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Between arriving at the hotel Monday morning and boarding the bus in the afternoon for our city tour, a few fellow ETAs and I embarked on our first sketchy adventure to swap dollars for pesos (at the higher, black market rate). Following a recommendation from the guy at the front desk of our hotel, we followed a man smoking outside into the shopping center next door and waited in line to enter into a small room next to a café where I walked out with 10.6 pesos to the dollar, instead of the official rate (8:1). Then I got to eat my first [real] empanada in 2.5 years. The place I went was out of caprese (my favorite, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this cebolla y queso (onion and cheese):
and 10 seconds later…
The city tour proved okay but… difficult. Everyone was tired and I personally find bus rides to be enormously relaxing so… oops, I almost fell asleep again thinking about it. At least they gave us chocolate treats overflowing with dulce de leche.
We saw some of the major landmarks and drove through a bunch of different neighborhoods. I will wholeheartedly admit that the city—basked in early autumn sunlight rather than the cloudy winter I endured a few years ago—looked like a completely different place and made me more excited to be here. After the tour, I went on a mission to buy an adaptor (for the equivalent of $2, take that Target) and get a sim card for my phone (THANKS KERRY FOR THE FREE AND FABULOUS PHONE THAT DOES HAVE GOOD BATTERY LIFE). I successfully purchased a monthly plan plan that has free texts/minutes with other Claro members, 85 additional minutes and 200 text messages, and unlimited data for 160 pesos/month. Sorry, did you miss that? I said UNLIMITED DATA FOR 160 PESOS PER MONTH (ie, $16-20 depending on your exchange rate). Unbelievable. Try not to vomit at the idea of how much companies in the U.S. are ripping us off.
I went to dinner with fellow ETAs at a random restaurant near the hotel (nothing special, but then again that area of the city is nothing special). I did get to enjoy my first glass of Malbec in the city since 2011… unfortunately no one else at my table partook in the festivities so I was quite alone in that.
ORIENTATION, ORIENTATION, ORIENTATION. Fulbright packed hours and hours (and hours) of talking at us into 3 glorious days. On Tuesday we spent 9 hours at the commission’s office trying to stay focused and/or awake. On Wednesday and Thursday we went to the building of the national Ministerio de Educación and sat through 2 days of orientation that, unfortunately for my 4 BA partners and I, was catered specifically to the 15 ETAs placed in provinces around the country. Their referentes (or mentors) traveled up for a few days and they all sat together and got to know one another throughout various discussions and activities while the table all the way on the end was reserved for the bad kids (ie, the 5 BA ETAs). We tried to listen while doodling, yawning, and drinking water to stay awake. I scowled a little bit every time someone said “ALL OF YOU… except these people” and then pointed to us. We were apparently invited as a courtesy…
Oh, side note: this is the first year that the Fulbright Commission in Argentina has placed ETAs in the city of Buenos Aires. It was previously never an option, but this year they have a new cost-sharing agreement with the city. So our assignments are different and so are our funding resources. They’re still figuring out how to deal with us.
There were some interesting takeaways… namely 3 things:
1. There are people here who are genuinely dedicated to improving the education system and value the role that language plays. There was a lot of talk about our role as ETAs to stress the culture, content and practical use of American English rather than just the grammar. It’s nice to hear that… especially since traditional language learning in the U.S. is so not focused on pragmatic material. I look forward to being able to share slang, idioms, and hilarious American customs. This will be interesting.
2. One of the presentations discussed Argentina’s infamous economic situation (did anyone read that article in the Economist last month? Harsh) and the people’s attitudes. As someone put it, everyone is dramatic and paranoid and every single month (regardless of the current economic crisis) thinks everything is going to hell and awaits impending doom… “que todo se va a la mierda.”
3. I’M GOING TO BRAZIL. That’s right. I spoke with someone a few months ago who was an ETA in Colombia back in 2009 or something and she mentioned that all ETAs in the region were flown to Mexico City for a Fulbright conference during her grant term. While joking around with some ETAs during a coffee break on Tuesday, I mentioned how it would be sweet if they did that every year and this year’s conference were in Brazil. I’M PSYCHIC. There is a mandatory regional ETA conference in São Paulo August 19 - 23. YES YES YES YES. I am 98% sure (and thrilled) that this means Fulbright will be paying/helping with our visa fee ($140, ugh) and flight…which were the two major deterrents keeping me from visiting Brazil while I’m here this year.
MY APARTMENT. Through a great connection I made through my last job, I’m spending the next 2.5 months in an apartment in Recoleta, a very safe, well-located, and ‘ritzy’ neighborhood. There are a ton of parks surrounding my street, like the edge of this one with a giant bench:
Emily, one of my roommates, picked me up at the hotel on Monday evening and we took a cab to the apartment. My room is kind of a small closet but the rest of the apartment is spacious and comfortable, which is fine! I don’t intend to spend all of my time in my room like I did when I was confined to it during homestays. I get to share the whoooole apartment… including a kitchen! In case you weren’t made aware, I decided to take a one-year hiatus from my vegetarian lifestyle (which was 6 years old and going strong) to have a healthier and less torturous experience while abroad this year. Last time in Buenos Aires, my diet lacked nearly everything… especially protein. However, I plan to keep the food I make for myself at home vegetarian, limiting the amount of meat I eat to when I go out (which I’m sure will happen weekly). My roommates are American but have both been living here for years (one for 2.5 years and the other for more than 5, I believe).
BEING SOCIAL. Last night one of the Fulbright research grantees invited those still in the city (the majority of the ETAs in provinces left yesterday afternoon right after orientation ended) to his very nice apartment in Las Cañitas (a really nice neighborhood all the way out near where I used to live in Belgrano). There was wine, empanadas, and good conversation. I proceeded to a “concert”/bar in Palermo with a few other ETAs before coming home to PASS OUT. I haven’t slept enough over the last few days. Mix that with a 10-hour plane ride and an unnamed ETA sneezing on the back of my head numerous times during orientation and I have a bit of a cold and truly benefited from a good night’s sleep. I have nothing to do Fulbright-wise until Tuesday when the BA ETAs finally get our own orientation, so I plan to enjoy this long, beautiful weekend (oh, by the way, Monday is a holiday here). For those reading this from the east coast where I see snow is in Tuesday’s forecast, please drool over this:
MY MENTAL STATE. I’m a little overwhelmed but I finally unpacked today which symbolically helped a little bit. Last time I was in Buenos Aires I had a great time, but it was my first time abroad and I didn’t really know what I was doing with my time. I ended up wasting a lot of it, not taking advantage of the city, and spending too many weekend nights at boliches (clubs) and too many weekend afternoons recovering (going out here is usually 2am - 7 am, unbelievable). My friends were also exclusively composed of Americans and Brits. I’m hoping to be better and more strategic this time. I’m signing up for a coed soccer league, and already have a list of things I never got around to last time or want to revisit/do again. Tomorrow night, a Fulbrighter from last year who moved back is hosting an asado (grill/bbq type event) and so I will do my best to mingle with his porteño friends (as BA locals are called) and snatch up whoever I can.
That’s all my tired brain can think of for now.