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Easter Renewal (Or Listen to Your Grand-dad)

1 Apr

One of the challenges in our last days before moving to Argentina was struggling to answer many of the shall we say… specific … questions from family and friends.  But a year and a half later, there’s one I still find myself asking from time to time.

“You have to keep in mind,” my grand-dad gently pressed us. “Are you running to something or running from it?”

My grand-dad is slow to impart wisdom. Even in his 80s, he seems to prefer listening and learning from those around him.

Grand-dad and grandson with his name

Grand-dad and grandson with his name

And at the time he asked me this question, I couldn’t answer him. Or, more truthfully, I didn’t want to. It felt like the right answer was to tell him I was running to something. And that wasn’t exactly true.

When I left my job in Los Angeles, I was definitely running, fast and far, from it. For five years, I had taught in at a public high school in South Central L.A. And, for four-and-a-half of those years, I had loved it. Helping kids become first-generation college students, teaching teenagers how to read, being a part of the movement to close the widening social divide in the U.S., it all filled me with a great sense of purpose, pride, and joy.

And then, halfway through year five, I lost the joy in it. There’s a bit of a mantra among good teachers, “Once you’ve stopped enjoying teaching, Stop teaching.”

It was time for me to go. Sometimes, these huge life decisions can seem difficult, even impossible to make. For me, one day, I went home, started to cry, and I couldn’t stop. I mean. I. Could. Not. Stop. It was really that quick. In one night of extremely sad clarity I knew it was time to go.

And so Grand-dad, I was running from something.

Some people are blessed with overwhelming awareness of one thing that they are really passionate about and good at. I had that for a while with teaching. And then, it ended. I didn’t know what was next, or where I was headed. I simply knew that this particular chapter was over, and I didn’t want to just sit and wait for a new one to begin.

This is obviously only part of the story of why I moved to Argentina. Stephen has his own personal one. And, we also have a more important one together.

It being Easter season, a time of mourning loss and celebrating hope reborn, here’s the hopeful ending to this story.

After six months of feeling professionally lost in Argentina, an opportunity came to teach elementary kiddos at an international school here in B.A. One conversation with the principal, and I knew I wanted it.

I never thought I could enjoy teaching such little ones. Turns out, it’s mostly thanks to them that I get to love teaching again. Through their young eyes, I’ve regained delight in the simplest of pleasures and amazement in all things new.

Getting ready for the new year

Getting ready for the new year


For me, this season has had me reflecting upon some of my losses leaving L.A. A humbling realization that I could no longer hack it at a job I still believe so deeply in. A grief over my vision for those kids, their future, and the harsh contrast with reality. A desperate silence that can come with unwillingness to accept God’s handling in all things, wanting him to do more.

Good things still happening. You never forget the kids who thank you personally before graduation.

Good things still happening. You never forget the kids who thank you personally before graduation.

Love this kiddo. We were freshmen together.

Love this kiddo. We were freshmen together.

This guy is about to graduate from university!

This guy is about to graduate from university!

And, it has me celebrating in a way my own renewal. From a night of tears and loss, to my simple day today in a café – smiling as I lesson plan for my new group of kids, reflecting on my hope for their lives, and feeling grateful in the work I get to do.

So now, Grand-dad, I think I can tell you that a year and a half ago, I was definitely running from something more than I was running to anything in particular. And, I think that’s okay.

I’ve noticed a trend among long-term travelers and expats. It seems many of us experience a similar urge to run from something at the beginning of new travels.  I’m convinced we’re not the only ones.

We’re all created to continually search for renewal, in essence, to run from the parts of ourselves that keep us from being our best, loving our best, serving our best. It’s necessary at times to shed the old before we can find the new.  And while we find different solutions to these crossroads in life, my grand-dad’s sage words can probably help us all along the way.

What are we running from?

What are we running to?

One Year Later: 10 Things about Buenos Aires that Now Seem Normal

12 Oct

On May 13, 2011, we announced our plans to pack up from Los Angeles to head to the Midwest via a not-so-direct detour. Our detour through Buenos Aires, Argentina, is now officially at the one year mark with no clear end in sight. We’ve settled in, set up a daily routine, and gotten used to the way things work. We miss our friends, family and dog terribly, but for now, this is where we need to be.

To celebrate the end of first year in Buenos Aires, we’ve compiled a list about our daily life here.

10 Things about BA that Now Seem Normal

  1. Walking carefully. Everyone in this city walks with one eye looking to the ground scanning for “landmines” left by the numerous canines on the city’s sidewalks.
  2. Ordering a la carte. Side dishes are not very common here. Unless it’s a carrot salad, mashed pumpkins, or french fries, forget about it.
  3. Shopping a la carte. Instead of walking down the next aisle at Target, we shop at numerous boutique stores for our various daily needs. We’ve got our pasta shop, our veggie stand, our chicken and eggs supply, our general household goods store, our Mexican food delivery, and our work/office supplies store.
  4. Being uninsured. In the U.S., that’s asking for trouble, but here, with nationalized health care we can get any medical need for free. (We still opt for visiting the private clinics/hospitals, which are still comparatively affordable because they compete with no-cost care.)
  5. Taking public transportation. Buses, commuter trains, the subway, and taxis keep us connected and moving.
  6. Walking 2 miles. Although done carefully, foregoing public transportation is an often welcome change. “You want to walk?” is met with, “Of course.”
  7. Staring blankly. After having an awkward exchange in “Spanish,” sometimes that’s all that can be done. (People stare blankly at us too.)
  8. Cooking from scratch. There’s not as much prepared or semi-prepared food here that we like, so we’ve been forced to expand our cooking repertoire to prevent the next item in this list from becoming much too normal. One example of this is that all black beans come dry. No cans.
  9. Eating meat, pasta, and white bread. While normal to most of you back home, we didn’t eat much of these in the U.S. Here, you’ll starve if you don’t.
  10. Sipping coffee. Drinking children’s sized coffee in a restaurant and enjoying it for hours while not being bothered by the wait staff is something that is sorely missing from U.S. culture.

Thanks for following our adventure!

If you’re an expat in Buenos Aires, what’s on your list of things once felt foreign, but now seem normal?

My Work and the Police Mafia

30 Jun

When it came time to find a job in Argentina, I chose one with lower pay in exchange for a work visa sponsorship, health “benefits,” a local bank account, and regular hours. Six months later, I’m still in the beginning stages of obtaining a work visa – thank you bureaucracy. The health benefits turn out to be about equal to the national healthcare available for anyone inside the country. And, a local bank account is no longer an asset, since recent laws have made it basically impossible to withdraw U.S. dollars inside this country.

Regardless of this, I am increasingly grateful to have landed the job I did. I teach at an English institute that markets itself to working professionals and college students. Its methodology combines technology (think Rosetta Stone with a telenovela storyline) with in-person conversation, practice, and assessment. It’s a quality program, and its price reflects it.

The demographic of my students could not be more different than back in L.A. – except for still being English Language Learners. Some of my favorites include:

– An 80+-year-old woman whose father and husband both worked as ambassadors for Argentina. She grew up a child of the world near the Argentine embassies of France, Poland, Switzerland, and Brazil. French is her first language, Spanish her second, Portuguese her third, and English her fourth. Her royal-like upbringing and connections always make for fascinating stories (admired by Churchill, high tea with the Queen), made all the better by pepperings of multi-lingual profanity.

– A twenty-something medical student. She is Peruvian and moved here to take advantage of Argentina’s free education system. (In Argentina, you can become a doctor FOR FREE.) While going to school full-time, she also works at a pharmacy and just bought her first apartment. In my mind, she is the epitome of the AMERICAN dream, she’s whip-smart, and she doesn’t believe in dinosaurs, evolution, OR creation.

– A 30-something Brazilian flight attendant. She’s just a hoot. Plus, flight attendants put everyone else’s multi-lingual skills and traveling savvy to shame.

The students come to the institute when it fits their schedule, and I never know who I am going to see until I arrive that day. As a result, it is literally impossible to do much planning ahead of time. For anyone who has ever taught, I promise I do not take for granted my ability to clock out every day, go home and not even think about work until the following morning. It’s been a refreshing and restful change of pace.

Another difference between my current job and working back in L.A. is that every month, the Argentine police “mafia” comes to collect their check. Technically, it is a monthly pittance to a Buenos Aires police charity “foundation.” When the institute first moved to its current location, a representative came to request a charitable contribution. My boss refused … he came to work the next day to a ransacked school. The back door had been broken into and several brand-new computers stolen.

Before anyone reported it to the police, they showed up on their own, and once again, asked for a donation. The institute, like all its neighbors, has been paying them off every month since.

For anyone interested in teaching English in South America, there are plenty of jobs in B.A. It’s extremely easy to find work. It’s not so easy to make a living wage – especially while abiding by immigration policies. – If you manage a way to pay for rent, prepare for at least U.S. $600 PER ROOM, you will be able to make enough to pay for your other expenses. If you have teaching experience, another way to go is to teach at an international school outside the city – apply in advance, and many of them will give you a monthly stipend for living.

If you have any more questions about working in Argentina, I would love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below!

Silence is Golden (And What People Listen To)

10 Mar

Today, we’re getting together again with our expat friends who we’d meet soon after arriving in Buenos Aires. I’m excited, because it’s been awhile since we’ve all gotten together.

Learning that I’d be hanging out with our gypsy-footed Darling friends I annoyingly proclaimed, “You’re alive!” Then the Danger Darling explained that the two of them have been transitioning from the early vacation life in Buenos Aires to the reality of daily life here.

I concur wholeheartedly. And that’s why we’ve been silent on the blog since our recent move. We’ve been going through the same transition as the Darlings and find ourselves investing our energies in work, exercise, chores, and eating. You know, normal life.

Maggie and I are both working full-time. Her regular teaching gig from 10am to 2pm at the institute is an enjoyable, consistent presence and her mobile, sometimes unpredictable, better paying private tutoring world keeps her moving around from the hours of 2pm to 8pm most days. My work has blossomed so much that some days taking a shower sounds like a waste of time.

It’s all been great fun and helpful in keeping food on our plate; it just hasn’t left us with the energy to write about our experiences. So disgruntled readers of our world famous blog, just know that the silence from us means everything is golden. We’re working more now than playing, but the playing will return this afternoon at the polo fields.

If you’re left unsatisfied and want some Buenos Aires culture, here’s a cool video that shows what Porteños (that’s Buenos Aires city folk) listen to while walking the streets. The video also gives you a good look at the pace of the streets here. Enjoy!