Two weeks ago, I went hiking with a friend from the theater and one of his friends, a girl from Massachusetts. Throughout the six-hour trek, the girl and I got to know each other, sharing our backgrounds and anecdotes of our time in Argentina. A lot of my stories centered around things I've done with English Talk, and so I always started with, "I was with a friend--she's a missionary--and we went to the feria" or "My two friends and I--they're missionaries -were getting coffee" . As I kept talking about my semester, I reached a conclusion that I'd never noticed before: A lot of my friends here are Christian missionaries.
The girl I was hiking with was surprised when I said this out loud, reflecting both on the fact and on how I'd never really noticed before. She asked me what they did, and I described their jobs, and then said, "They're normal people, you know. They don't wear long robes and crosses and stuff." ...And the girl said, "Oh, really? They don't?" And she was sincere.
I don't write this to embarrass or criticize her; her reaction made me realize that A) Being a missionary is perhaps not one of the most common jobs and B) A lot of people don't know what exactly missionaries do, so C) Many people wind up with the unfortunate stereotype that missionaries live in mud huts and eat bugs.
I'm sure some do, but my missionary friends don't. I had a lunch interview with them (we ate tacos and cake) to get the dirt on what it's like to be a missionary in 2013. It turns out that missionaries still have to do chores and check their e-mails like the rest of us.
My Friends Are Missionaries And They Look
Who:Mike & Andrea Who: Diane Who: Rachel What: Superhero buff, artist What: Mom What: Teacher, traveler Floating library? No big deal.
What: Superhero buff, artist Where: Michigan & New York Where: New Zealand Where: Indiana
When: Until 2015 When: Until November When: Until August
"What are you good at? "You don't just need "There are a lot of
Go do it for the Gospel, money, you need needs that we're
go do it for the Kingdom." emotional support. You unaware of, and we
need people caring about can use our gifts
what you're doing." to serve."
Ally: Tell me about OM. Turns out they're allowed to have fun.
Mike: OM is a global missions organization.
Andrea: It’s a non-denominational organization, so it’s not associated with any church.
Mike: They’re in almost 120 countries, and there’s almost 7000 missionaries in OM...One of their big focuses is literature distribution and books. We have a ship that goes around the world and goes from port to port and gives out Christian literature and books and it’s basically the world’s largest floating evangelistic library.
Being normal on her off time :P
Ally: Are there any special rules or stuff you have to observe while you’re here in Argentina because you’re here as missionaries?
Andrea: OM, because it’s not a denominational organization, their thing is just to go with the culture. For example, with drinking, drink in moderation--don't make it a big part of your life. But if a family’s going to have wine and it’d be culturally inappropriate to not drink with them, it’d be better to have a glass of wine.
Mike: We really don’t have a bunch of big lists about ‘you shouldn’t do this,’ ‘you can’t do this’--
Andrea: The Bible, maybe?
Mike: It’s really just a matter of going with the flow of the culture, but at the same time, by being Christians, being countercultural; if something’s against the culture of the Bible, standing up for it.
Andrea: Love people, love Jesus.
Ally: What do you think are some of the stereotypes that people have about missionaries?
Diane: That we use secondhand teabags.
Mike: One of the interesting things too is that we tend to glamorize missions and think it’s “Oh you’re doing all this stuff and giving Bibles to everyone you meet.” In reality we’re living life in a different culture. In reality we’re trying to be God’s hands and feet and love people where we’re at. There’s times missionary work is not glamorous, there’s times you have to get your hands dirty, there’s times you might have to do things you might not want to do, and in the US people only see the good pictures--they only see you handing out soccer balls to kids.
Andrea: We still have to do our laundry. We still have to make our food.
Mike: There’s administration things we have to do. We live on a tight budget.
Rachel: My friends work with the upper class there because they’re very unreached, so they’re working with really rich people that take six vacations a year. They’ve had people say to them when they’re in the States, “Hey we’re gonna come down and paint houses, or just—that’s missions.” They didn’t realize that’s not always necessary—they don’t see it [mission work] as valid if you’re not working with the poor or doing manual labor. I think a lot of people think you have to teach Sunday school or be a pastor…but you can be an accountant or use any of your gifts to serve. There are so many needs besides working in a church and…I’ll go back to raise funds in order to work with university students, and I don’t know if that [goal] will raise funds as quickly as it would to do a “typical” mission.
Ally: Would you say that’s it’s a 24/7 job, where you always “on call?” Sports ministry in Las Violetas
Andrea: It feels like it should be.
Rachel: You feel guilty when you’re not.
Andrea: Yeah, I’m trying to learn to be...normal. It’s not really easy. I wrote a blog about not feeling guilty that it’s not always a 24/7 job. I think about how people back home have a 40-hour job, but they also have personal time where they can hang out with people, they can work out, they can do other things.
Mike: There are times when you need to sacrifice what you want to do for other people. You need to have willingness to be available when people need you.
Rachel: It’s made me more intentional in my relationships. At home, I had a very demanding full time teaching job with 600 students every 9 weeks, and my life at night was grading papers and I’d have a few events during the week. I didn't intentionally meet with people one-on-one, not discipleship or anything. Here, because you want your life to have extra focus, I think you are more intentional with your time and with your resources and with your attitude.
Ally: I think the thing that surprised me the most when I met Adam or the hockey girls was that sports ministry is a thing. I never would have thought of that. (Adam, another OM missionary, played soccer with kids in a poorer barrio every day).
Andrea: Sports gives a family atmosphere. Especially for some of the kids in Las Violetas, it’s so necessary. They just…their homes are filled with people, but so empty of love and so empty of intimacy or affirmation. To be able to have a place where they have coaches that’re encouraging them and sharing with them the actual love of God—living it with them, that’s important.
Mike: One of the cool things about OM is that their heart is for “unconventional ministry.” In reality, God has given us each gifts, talents that we can use. And whatever you’re good at, that’s in reality bringing glory to God by using that gift to make Him known. OM is focused on that—what are you good at? Go do it for the Gospel, go do it for the Kingdom.
Rachel: My team leader’s moving to Córdoba, and he’s a real visionary. He wants to meet with people around town to find where the needs are and where university students would be likely to join in and see it as a valid cause. For example, AIDS awareness is a huge issue in Córdoba. Also, I work with ABUA, the Asociación Biblica Universitaria Argentina, and they do direct Bible studies in groups in different facultades, and that is really threatening to someone who’s never even opened a Bible, and this would be a different step to have them get involved. There are a lot of needs that we’re even unaware of that we can use our gifts to serve in a way that will create more relationships.
Ally: And things that you want people to know about your life in Córdoba or about being a missionary?
Rachel: I lived in Bolivia for a while with the same organization and it was so cheap to live there, but here it’s very expensive and it requires a lot more work with fundraising to be able to live here.
Andrea: The thing is is that a lot of your funding often goes to things that don’t look so glamorous, like keeping the lights on in our building that we own en Las Violetas, we have to do ministry, but we also need to be able to turn on the lights and use the gas and do all that stuff that’s not as glamorous to fund as, like, feeding babies.
Mike: Some of the funds that we raise are for government things, government taxes and stipulations and visas and here the government is very strict on nonprofits. Part of our support is understanding that the government is kind of silly on some things…we wish every dollar could go to the ministry, but if we want to be in good standing here, we need to do these things. Christ said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” and part of our funding goes to giving to Caesar.
Rachel: Living here as a missionary…it takes a lot longer to live here than it does in the States. Most cooking is done from scratch and there’s no dishwashers, no clothes dryers. It doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up. You spend many hours in the kitchen, many hours doing labor.
In Other Words..
Andrea, Mike, Rachel, and Diane are Christian missionaries in Córdoba, Argentina, a city of about 1.3 million people. They've made time commitments to their respective organizations, and while they're in Argentina they're obligated to work. The three OMers (Mike, Andrea, and Diane) live together in the OM house.
However, they have free time to pursue their own interests. They get to pick what they cook and what they wear and what time they go to bed. They had to raise the money to come to Argentina, and their budget for food, transportation, and other household costs is fairly tight.
They are extremely holy, extremely dedicated people who left their lives in the US and New Zeland to bring the Word to people in Argentina. I admire their patience and capacity to love. I met them all through English Talk, and I know that my semester would've been extremely different without their friendship and guidance.
The Beginning of the End
In ten days, I return to the United States after six months abroad in Córdoba, Argentina. That's 171 days in another country, another continent, another culture. Wow. I've spent a lot of time the past few days in a retrospective cloud, and I expect the haze might get hazier in the next week. Needless to say, a lot has happened since I arrived in Córdoba on February 12. Has every day been thrilling? Was every new activity an adventure? Did I spend six months amid the strange, the unknown, the foreign, the exciting, the absolutely-life-altering?
No. I didn't. Of course I tried new things. But I also did a lot of the same old things that I love to do in the States. Before the semester started, I thought that coming to Argentina meant I'd need to reinvent myself completely; that my old lifestyle would stay in the States, and Ally 2.0 would walk off the airplane and collect her luggage at the airport. I was wrong about that, and I couldn't be more glad to be wrong. Here's an honest look at the everyday things I've done to put things in perspective a little bit.
10 Things I Haven't Done in Six Months
- Straightened my hair
- Driven an auto
- Attended Catholic Mass in English
- Used a dishwasher or laundry dryer
- Held my boyfriend's hand
- Used Pandora or Spotify
- Visited with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins
- Played XBox
- Worked a steady job
- Paid with a debit card
Some of the activities are more important than others, but I wanted my list to include a little bit of everything. There are a few things--straightening my hair, playing XBox, and using Pandora--that I haven't paid any attention to in a long time. They are activities that I honestly could live without when I return to the US, and I wouldn't complain or even notice. They are the "cushy" things. Don't be mistaken--there are flatirons and online music services and XBoxes in Argentina, but I never made an effort to access them because, well, they don't Really matter.
And then there are activities that were normal components of my daily life in the States--driving, using a debit card to make purchases, and using dishwashers and dryers. I noticed the absence of these things, and I'm looking forward to enjoying them again.
Finally, there are the Important Things that I've gone six months without--family, physical intimacy with my boyfriend, Mass in my native language, and work. These are staples in my life. These are the bits of fuel that keep Ally up and running, and coping without them was a challenge. It wasn't impossible--but it wasn't easy, either. Perhaps there's a time limit on a study abroad or life abroad, and everyone's time limit is different. If it's true, these are the things that would determine the timer--how long can I make it without my family by my side? How long can our relationship last without holding hands, kissing, and physical presence? These are the make-or-break factors. I've had my desperate moments in Córdoba of tears and frustration brought not by the difficulty of a new culture or different language, but by trying to cope without the Important Things. I can live without straightening my hair or swiping a debit card, but these are my treasures, and I can't wait to come home to them.
10 "Normal" Things I've Done This Semester
1. Worked out
I arrived in Argentine summer, so I took advantage of the warmth and started a fairly steady running routine that lasted until the cold crept in around June. I've been slacking the past few weeks, but that's 100% my fault and has nothing to do with the unavailability of fitness equipment or Gatordade in Argentina.
2. Read books
I like to read, and I was afraid that my time abroad would prevent some Ally/book quality time. I was wrong. I've read more books recreationally in the past six months than in the past two years combined! It turns out being unemployed for half a year frees up a lot of time.
My recent literary conquests include books in English, books in Spanish, and translated books. Reading a book in English is pure release and relaxation; finishing a book in Spanish gives a feeling of supreme accomplishment.. Here's a list of the books I've read:
-La Batalla de la Mente para Jovenes
by Joyce Meyer--a Christian book translated from English to Spanish.
by Juan Fernando Andrade--Spanish fiction
by Juan Carlos Ortiz--a Spanish Christian book
-The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green--English fiction
-Wild Goose Chase
by Mark Batterson--an English Christian book
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry--French fiction translated into Spanish
-Dios me Ve Perfecto Aunque Todo lo Hago Mal
by Adrián Intrieri--a Spanish Christian book
by Fabián Casas--an anthology of Spanish poetry
-La Ontología del Lenguaje
(ongoing read) by Rafael Echeverria--a Spanish nonfiction book about linguistics/ontology.
(ongoing read) by Orson Scott Card--English fiction
3. Drank milk/juice/coffee/tea/Pepsi & eaten pizza/chips/ice cream
Argentina has its share of distinct foods, but it's also got enough US influence to have Doritos, Starbucks, and Subway. Also, some foods are just universal.
4. Gone to the movies
I've gone to the movies three times this semester; for The Great and Powerful Oz, Iron Man III, and Man of Steel. When I saw Iron Man III, it hadn't been released in the US yet. The down side? Movie tickets are pricy.
My host families have given me delicious food, and they've also encouraged me to cook for myself. It's not hard to buy (most) ingredients here; it's easier to buy some ingredients here than in the States (verdurerías (
vegetable stores), panaderías
(bakeries), and carnicerías
(butcher shops) are the Walgreens of Córdoba). Yes, Argentina doesn't cater much to peanut butter, maple syrup, or big American breakfasts, but it's been easy for me to find what I need when I get the urge to cook.
6. Gone to Mass and worship services
I've grown in my faith since coming to Argentina, despite the language barrier that existed in the first few months. I still don't understand everything the priest says during Mass, but again, worship is universal.
7. Had a few dates
With my boyfriend, mind you.
Have you noticed that the established phrase is "long-distance relationship" and not "long-distance dating?" It's probably because it's really hard to maintain the dating aspect of dating when you can't go on a physical date with your partner. Still, it's possible. Armand and I have combined our ample creativity and had a few wonderfully memorable dates together; once we took our laptops to cafés in our respective cities and Skyped over coffee, once he played his guitar for about two hours straight and I sang along, and we've passed many a night watching Arrested Development together on Netflix. I love Skyping Armand, and he doesn't seem to mind spending time with a pixelated version of me. But I think it's natural for both of us to feel like we're missing out on the dating aspect of being in a relationship sometimes, because all of our real-time activities are limited to what wifi can provide. All that means is that we had to churn up some fresh ideas, which, mind you, is one of the best parts in our relationship right now (Another best part of what we have right now? We'll be together in 11 days and then creative wifi dates can sit in the relationship trophy case, where it probably belongs!).
8. Played table games
I put this on the list to show that everyone plays games. Also, games are a great way to spend time with someone if you're too nervous to talk or if the language barrier seems too daunting. I've played Uno, rummy, Dutch Blitz, truco, checkers, Jenga, and Tabboo, and it just seems like a cool novelty to me that I've made connections with people through games.
What would have happened to my Generation-Y life if I'd suffered a six-month texting drought? I probably would've lost the ability to communicate electronically.
Thank God for TextPlus for Android, which put me a finger tap away from my family and friends in the States, and my dinky local Nokia, which let me text my Argentine cohorts.
10. Had genuine conversations
This was the hardest daily habit to maintain because it's not something I could do on my own, and it's not something that came automatically. Over the course of the past six months, I've developed strong relationships with many people, Argentine and American alike. I've told them my secrets, my fears, and my hopes for the future.
10 New Things I've Done
- Used taxis & public transportation
- Eaten a new "weird" food
- Performed live
- Watched an NBA game on TV
- Baked a pie
- Climbed a mountain
- Used a smart phone
- Learned to French braid
- Put a lot of time into an extracurricular activity
- Seen labor strikes
This list mimics the list of things I haven't done with its inclusion of both mundane things and surprising things. Most of these activities are things I could've done in the States (you're probably wondering how I made it 21 years without watching an NBA game, baking a pie, or using a smart phone). Really, the only Argentina-exclusive things on that list are the exotic food and the labor strikes; all the rest are very feasible to experience in the US.
What does it mean that most of the ten things listed above don't impress you? Did the semester fall short of what I was hoping for? Of course not. Were there other new things I did that aren't on the list? Of course. My point is that life abroad is different...but it's also the same in more ways than you'd think. And I'm glad for that. I'm glad to find familiarity abroad, just as I'm glad to explore a new culture. I'm glad that every day in Argentina hasn't been an adrenaline-pumping, life-changing adventure. I don't think I could handle that.
This is my attempt to put my time in Córdoba, Argentina, in perspective; to acknowledge the good and the bad, the surprising and the ordinary, the universal and the culture-specific.
I'm also thinking a lot about how I've changed...because I have changed. But did Argentina change me? After all, I spent such a huge chunk of my time texting and talking and eating pizza--doing the things I've always done. Many of the things I've gone without aren't important parts of my life, and many of the new things I've tried could've easily crossed my path in the US.
People always change in minute ways, finding new hobbies, trying new foods, and making other small changes to their lives. But they do so in a steady, daily routine that is so calm it tends to blend the small changes into its schema. The small changes aren't noticed. When a college student travels to a foreign country for the first time, there is no more daily routine for a long time, and this makes changes extremely apparent. Perhaps, when I come home, if my family and friends mentioned that I've changed, I'll tell them that it's because they haven't seen me every day for the past six months, and my absence from their daily routine makes any of my changes seem exaggerated. I also know that I've changed in other ways that Córdoba is completely responsible for (my Spanish proficiency, for example). It's a mix. Part of me has been affected by Argentina, and part of me has been affected by the progression of life. And that's okay with me.
Hey, everyone. Thanks for coming back to A is for Almost after a rather disappointing hiatus. In trying to think of the best excuse for not updating in a long time, I came up with two competing answers: The first is that I didn't do anything grand enough to blog about (especially nothing grand enough to follow my last post), and the second is that I've been too busy to post.
Every good story needs a paradox, right?
Semester Abroad, Part II.
The more I think about it, my faithful blogging in February, March, and April, followed by my subsequent laziness holds a little meaning in the context of my time in Córdoba. At the beginning of the term, every day was an adventure. There was a layer of uncertainty in almost everything I did, whether it was trying a new route to school or buying something at the supermarket. Every little victory felt like a big victory and felt blogworthy.
Five months later, the rhythm of my life has changed from the frantic tribal beat of the confused foreigner abroad to the steady (yet spicy) rhythm of a girl who feels at home in the urban gem of Córdoba, Argentina. Over the second half of the semester I've forged meaningful relationships with meaningful people, tried a few new things, and found peace in the chaos of life abroad. I also spoke a little Spanish. Prepare yourself for a photo explanation of my past few months.
This is a nice profile of my neighborhood, Alta Córdoba.
Plaza Italia, my favorite thinking spot in the city.
Various parts of Córdoba as I walk. I walk a lot.
Luz Urbana, my second home.
My actual home.
A big part of my life (and sanity) revolves around English Talk, a group that meets weekly and gives Argentines the chance to practice speaking English for free. The characters in these photos and I plan the meetings and goof off together, and they've become a second family to me.
The PECLA girls and me.
These girls (Megan, Jenna, Cherokee, Sasha, and Evelyn, respectively) are so important to me. We were all strangers in February and over the past five months, we've grown close. One of the best parts of study abroad is the opportunity to meet new people from your new culture, but I think people sometimes undervalue the importance of domestic (for lack of a better word) friendship. Study abroad teaches you to work around language and culture barriers, but sometimes there's no better remedy for homesickness or frustration than a pack of Oreos and US girl time.
May 25 marks an important day in history--the date of my first asado (coincidentally, it's also a national holidy, Día del primer gobierno
is an Argentine barbecue that focuses on friends and food. For more juicy details on asado, check out this article
, but I think my photos serve well to illustrate what an asado is all about. (Side note: No, the photo on the right is not Photoshopped. Yes, it was the best meat I've ever eaten. No, that's not an exaggeration.)
Mina Clavero. Mina Clavero is a small town about two hours out of Córdoba in the sierras (the not-quite-mountains-that-are-still-impressive-and-beautiful), and I went for a weekend of nature and hiking. It was the first time I'd been out of Córdoba, so the silence was simultaneously startling and nice.
English Talk! Every Tuesday, I meet up with Argentines & native English speakers for English Talk, a free group that gives non-native speakers that chance to learn & practice English. We eat snacks, play games, and divide into chat groups to chill and chat. The photo on the left is my team's photo from two weeks ago when we played charades and pictionary, and the photo on the right is my chat group from this week. The majority of the friends I've made in Córdoba have come from English Talk--everyone has buena onda, as the Cordobesians say. Athleticism at its finest.
Hockey femenino (women's field hockey).
I had no classes the first week of May because Argentines really enjoy holidays (this is my conclusion after 11 national holidays in 5 months). Most of my school friends were traveling, but my empty pockets had me lounging around in Córdoba....until the women's field hockey team from Messiah College in Pennsylvania arrived! Yep.
The team came to Argentina for a week through Score International, a company that works in sports ministry (for more information, check out their website
!). They ran field hockey clinics and played local teams in Córdoba and San Franciso, a province located east of the capital and right on the border of the province of Santa Fe.
All of the girls on the team were excited for the
project. It was their first time in Argentina...and they needed translators during the hockey clinics and workshops.
A friend from English Talk welcomed the team to Córdoba Monday night and introduced me to the man from Score International who was accompanying them for the week, and by Wednesday afternoon, I was on a bus to San Francisco with a student from Brazil who was also itching to translate.
My experience with field hockey up to this May has been limited (limited to the point of non-existence, you might say..), but in three days I learned A Lot. I watched the girls practice and play, I learned the terminology, and then I learned the terminology in Spanish.
That weekend was the first time I'd ever officially translated, and it was a sample of what I want to do after I graduate from Wartburg. There were frustrating moments--like finding out there's not a clean translation for dribbling.
Also, I was the only native English-speaking translator; there were 2 Argentine girls and the Brazilian girl with me, and their preferred language was Spanish. Often, the players would defer to them for translations with the mental assumption of that one girl is American, so her Spanish probably isn't very good
. That was probably the hardest part--proving, in a way, that I could translate.
But all of the week's frustrations didn't stack up to the amount of fun I had. Field hockey is a really interesting, really fun, really intense, and really tricky game. In three days of hockey immersion, I became decently-versed in the sport's do's and don'ts. All of the girls from Messiah were friendly and enthusiastic, and, as you can see from the photos above, more than willing to let me and the translators try our hands at hockey.
Poetry. All semester, in addition to the classes I've taken, I've also been working on an independent poetry project to satisfy a requirement for my writing major at Wartburg. The idea was that I'd study Spanish poetry and write my own poems (15 in Spanish and 5 in English was the ambitious goal that my Wartburg advisers and I settled on in the linguistic comforts of Iowa, USA) under the tutelage of an Argentine poetry professor. I arrived in Córdoba in February with The Poetry Reader's Toolkit (Marc Polonsky, in English), Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry, a Bilingual Anthology (edited by Stephen Tapscott, bilingual), and a Neruda anthology with English translations (an anniversary gift from Skar). Soon after my arrival, I met Carlos, a professor from the School of Philosophy and Humanities at the university. And then....I let my independent project sit for four months, occasionally reading, occasionally writing, and frequently fretting about how I was neither reading nor writing.
With the arrival of the end of the semester, though, my skills as a poet were called upon. English Talk hosted its first ever English Talk Art Night last Thursday, and I volunteered to perform poetry (in English). The following night, my study abroad program held its despedida, or going-away party, and I was asked to recite poetry (in Spanish). My five months of tranquil composition transitioned into two days of hectic gathering, revising, and performing.
How'd it go?
Pretty well. I've been writing poems here and there, on-and-off all semester, and I didn't realize how much I'd actually written until I sat down last week and sorted through it all. I couldn't find anything respectable enough for English Night, so I composed two poems between Monday and Thursday (I wrote one of them 45 minutes before reciting it). The two poems I read at the despedida were poems I'd written in April and May; one was humorous, and the other verging on Nerudain-drama. *I'm working on another blog page for Collegiate Hypocrisy that will contain all of my Spanish poetry! Stay tuned!*
I'm very critical of the poems I write because I've never worked with poetry before and writing in a non-native language brings its own unique set of challenges. Nevertheless, I'm chipping away at my 20-poem goal, and although I'm not sure I can write 20 decent poems by August, I'll keep the words flowing.
Remember Gustavo, the improv actor/coordinator of the festival back in April? Well, now I take group improv classes with him through Impro Escuela Argentina
. Every Monday night. In Spanish. Yes.
I think I could write another post dedicated entirely to what I've learned from improv (I probably will when nostalgia pangs cripple my kidneys mid-November), but I'll give a short summary and a few nifty connections:
- Never say no. The first rule of improv. When you say "no," the scene has nowhere to go. When you're learning a second language and you say no to immersion experiences or challenging situations, your language proficiency won't improve.
- Embrace failure. There's something valuable in every mistake you make, something salvageable. And if you mess up in a scene..so what? Who cares? Chances are, if you don't pay attention to it, the audience won't either. In your second language learning, you will make mistakes. You will make many silly, stupid, confusing, frustrating mistakes, and you'll be tempted to give up. But you know what? 95% of the time, the native speakers you're talking to are so excited that a foreigner wants to learn their language, that they'll help you out. They'll ignore your grammatical inaccuracies and help you find the word you can't remember.
I'd like to think I'm a master of this bullet point, embracing failure. This is the improv technique that I own, and it's all thanks to the fact that I primarily speak English and primarily improv in Spanish. Was I scared my first class? No...I was terrified. Am I still scared? Oh yes. Do I understand the rules and guidelines for the activities? Most of the time time. Do I understand EVERYTHING my partners say? No. Is it necessary that I understand EVERYTHING my partners say? No. Do I mess up often? Yes. Very often. Does it bother me? ....Nope. Not anymore.
- Just keep going. And if you can't think of something to say, say the first thing you can think of. And if you can't think of an action, try pantomiming a basketball dribble or guitar playing; they're pretty distinguishable. Don't let what you're doing intimidate you. Nerves will hit when you're learning a new language, and you'll doubt yourself, and you'll fear sounding stupid. Get over it.
- Building a story. The platform for a good story is the following: "Who am I? Where am I? What am I doing?" If those three details are clear, the story will be clear. Get those down and pressed before slinging other details willy-nilly throughout your scene. (The rather cheesy study abroad equivalent) Don't forget who you are, where you're from, or what you're doing while you're abroad. It's important that you try new things, speak your new language, and immerse yourself. But don't forget about you--what you like to do, the foods you like to eat, the songs you like to sing. Don't change your personality to fit into the culture of your host nation.
- If you are the non-native speaker who ALWAYS waits to be last to participate in games and activities, eventually your instructor will notice this oh-so-sneaky tactic and push you to the front of the room to start the next scene. You can scrape by with the bare minimum when you're learning a language. It's possible to live six months in Argentina and speak Spanish for 3 hours of class a day and then revert to English outside of the university. It's possible and it's what many students do. Just be prepared for that push, though.
El Más Allá
I have exactly 4 weeks left in Argentina before returning to the US. Wow. It's hard to imagine that the months have passed so quickly.
I'm not going to end this post with something cursi, or a bout of nostalgia...that will come later.
I have a bucket list, I have friends, I have activities, I have a few books to read, and I have time. That's good enough for me.
Gracias por leer,
Week 8: Revolución Interior (Or, The Time I Unknowingly Joined an International Improvisation Festival)
Greetings, readers! Five weeks have passed since my last post, and I apologize for the inconsistency. A few weeks were full of school, and a few weeks were so mundane that I didn't feel I had much to share. This week's blog was supposed to be about how my honeymoon period is over and things are finally settling down.....then the week lost all consistency. I'd like to tell you about it.
This chunky collage is a pretty good summary of the past month. But then...
Wednesday: Un día normal
Wednesday night, Irene and I go to an improv show, part of Córdoba's first ever improv festival, Revolución Interior. It's pretty nifty. The show is Improlucha, a cage-match improv battle between two teams of two improv actors. Actors from Chile, Colombia, México, and Argentina duke it out (with, you know, costumes and body language and rapid fire Spanish humor), and the audience votes for the winner.
It 's my first Spanish live comedy experience (and my second public Spanish media exposure, the first being Oz the Great and Powerful in theater with Spanish dubs), and I'm glad Irene came with me to explain all the jokes that whizzed past my ears. All in all, it's a fantastic show, and I'm glad I got to go and support a friend, Gustavo, who represents Team Argentina.
Thursday: El comienzo de las locuras
Thursday finds me in my only class from 9-11 am. Afterward, due to an impressive combination of tiredness, moving to a new home (no room for that backstory), moving away from Irene, and caffeine deprivation leaves me homesick and mopey. I'm having one of those rare "Ally, what the hell are you doing in Córdoba?" moments; they don't happen often, but when they do, they come out of nowhere like a sucker punch to the self-confidence gland.
I do the only sensible thing a homesick girl can do in her 8th week abroad: I talk with the other Wartburg girls and buy an impressive amount of ice cream. After the girls go back to the uni for their afternoon class, I walk through Nueva Córdoba, still feeling a little amiss. My new home is about an hour's walk away from school, so if I walk home at 2 pm, I'd be home alone of the rest of the day...not a tempting option. Instead, I text Gustavo, my improv actor friend, and ask if we can meet up for a few minutes.
I guess it's important to mention at this point that Gustavo is the head coordinator for the festival, the international festival, the first ever international teatro improv festival in Córdoba. I know he's super-busy, so I ask for five minutes of his time, just to see a familiar face. We meet at the hostel where all the actors are staying, and after a good pep talk, Gustavo has to jump to his next offically stressful administrative duty.
Then he asks me if I'll go with him and two other performers to a theater workshop and take photos. No big deal. Without knowing what I'm getting myself into, I say yes.
Quite suddenly, I'm in a taxi with Gustavo, a Colombian from Improlucha the night before, and Gustavo's Argentine improv partner. We go to the theater workshop at a private arts college close to the university. The Colombian, Juan, hands me a large, fancy Nikon camera, tells me to point and shoot, and leaves me to my new role as publicist/photographer. Students come, Gus and company instruct, games are played, and I snap photos.
Not too bad for my first gig, huh?
After the workshop, Gustavo asks if I can go with him to help with some errands. Again, with nothing better in mind to do, I say yes. Long story short, I spend the rest of Thursday night venue-hopping with Gustavo, doing little tareas to help prepare the two shows planned for the evening.
Clase A, an improv show in the context of a fútbol match. 100% Argentina.
By the time the night ends, I've met most of the actors I've seen previously in Improlucha and been behind the scenes for the shows, helping out. I don't know how funny or quirky this seems to you, dear reader, but to put things into perspective, here's the conversation I encounter every time I meet an actor or festival worker or patron:
Person: So, you work with Gustavo?
Me: Uh, no.
Person: Oh, you're performing!
Me: Me? No.
Me: I helped out with the workshop earlier, I took some photos.
Person: So you're a photographer?
Person: ...what are you doing here?
Me: ...me encontré acá por casualidad. I'm just here to help.
Friday: Las locuras siguen y me convertí en (casi) una cordobesa
I return to the hostel home base Friday afternoon for another day of undetermined festival madness, my only instructions from Gustavo, "Talk to Jill."
Jill, an American improv performer from Minneapolis, arrived Friday morning at 5 am after a two day hold-up in Lima. I find her eating ravioli with the rest of the actors, smiling and nodding at the mix of Spanish and entry-level English spoken to her. She speaks some Spanish and has a lot of gusto, but I thought it might be nice for her to have a fellow estadounidense to help her out with little things. We spend the afternoon together at the hostel, chatting. Then around five, Gustavo appears, asks Jill if she's ready for her interview, turns to me, and says, "You're coming, right? You can translate." ...Why not?
Jill and I follow Gus to Teatro Real, where a group of six teens/adults are waiting for us. We join them, sit cross-legged on the studio floor, and start a Spanish discussion about improv. Gustavo represents Team Festival and does most of the talking, but the students are eager to talk to Jill, too. I get a little practice with translating, and Jill's elated to get to explain improv and why she loves it.
And then Gustavo leaves to take phone calls, leaving Jill and I with six Argentine actors. They turn to Jill expectantly, Jill turns to me, and I whisper to her, "Did you bring any games?" And Jill exclaims, "Games! Juegos! Si!" So we play improv games.
And, you know, one of the games involved hiding and turning inanimate.
By the time the workshop ends, everyone is laughing and jumping around and giddy with improv fever. One thing I learn is that improv is universal; there's definitely a language barrier between Jill and the students (and I'm no gold-medal interpreter), but it doesn't matter. Everyone understood the games, and everyone participated. Nothing kills improv like the one person that doesn't want to do something silly, but these students gave it their all. This is their first time with improv...and did I mention that Jill taught the workshop her first day in Córdoba after a two-day headahce in the Peruvian airport?!
But of course the story can't end there. The workshop ends, the students thank us, and then Gustavo reappears to take Jill to her sound check...because in addition to arriving two days late and teaching a workshop, she has to get ready for her own improv show due to start in about 2 hours. Actors, man. I don't know how they do it.
Although it appears they do it like this.
After seeing Jill's sound check and running around with Gustavo for some more miscellaneous errands, I head home for the night, more than satisfied with Day 2 as assistant/culture guide/walking buddy/translator. By now, I've refined the What are you doing here? conversation down to, "I'm not an actress and I'm not really part of the festival. I'm Gustavo's friend and I'm here to help Jill and do whatever." Everyone seems pretty okay with this.
Sábado: Güia y actriz de improv, nivel básico
Saturday afternoon, I meet Jill at the hostel. She has a few hours to kill before a workshop she wants to attend, so I adopt the role of Cordobesian and take her out to see the sights. We don't have a lot of time, but we make it to the rings at Parque Sarmiento--a perfect photo op and demonstration of Cordoba's uniqueness.
I suspended my immersion status in favor of some touristy fun.
After seeing Sarmiento, we head to the workshop in Luz Urbana, the same building where the English Talk group I go to meets every week. Jill and I arrive about twenty-five minutes early, walk into Luz Urbana, and see Gus giving improv lessons to a few students. We do not see Juan, the Colombian who's giving the workshop. After a frenzied schedule-check, we see that the workshop is listed at a completely different building; my spidey-senses were wrong. My only job for the day is to hang with Jill and make sure she's in the right place at the right time, and I've already managed to fail. Jill and I flag a taxi and make it to the listed venue, only to stand outside, again Juan-less. A man and woman approach us and ask if we're here for the taller, and we tell them we are and that we're not exactly sure what's going on. Suddenly, I remember that I have the phone number of a festival coordinator, so I call him. "¿Estás en Luz Urbana y no hay nadie?" He asks me. "No, we're on Roca, where the sheet says to be," I tell him. "No, el taller está en Luz Urbana," he insists. Cool. Well, at least my sixth sense wasn't out of whack. Jill and I find the two Argentines who were also waiting, I explain what's going on, and thankfully, they offer us a ride back to Luz Urbana. We make it in time for the taller, and the Colombians are excited to see Jill stepping up to the plate and doing a workshop in Spanish.
Arturo, Julio, Juan, (happy Colombians) and Jill.
I sit the first few activities out, but Gustavo pushes me into the mix after the name game icebreakers are over (I am nervous as hell, but thankful that I skipped the name game icebreaker. Those are not my favorite).
The next two hours pass quickly in a rush of lucha libre fighting (an old woman takes me down with impressive timing), swordfighting, yoga, calisthenics, vocal activities, and reflex games. For Jill and I, the taller is also a Spanish lesson, because all the instructions and explanations come delivered en español. One of the last games we play is a cirle-rhythm-say it fast or you're out game that went like this:
Person 1 says a day of the week, a number, and a month.
Person 2 responds with the previous day, number, and month (all within a three-beat count).
Persona 1: sábado, el cinco de noviembre.
Persona 2: viernes, el cuatro de octubre.
Easy, right? This is how it goes for a Spanish immersion student who finds herself in an improv workshop por casualidad:
Juan: jueves, el veintiocho de abril.
Ally: *juevesjueves what day comes before* uh miércoles, el veintisiete de--de-- *Diosmio abrilabrilabrilmayo?!no! marzo.
Seriously. I know people who have trouble counting months backward in English, and here I attempt the feat in Spanish. But again, my flukes don't matter; everyone is patient, I play plenty of games that don't demand excessive mental overload, and I laugh, jump around, and sing fearlessly with South Americans. And now I know a few more Spanish theatrical phrases.
The woman in the red and white stripes was my lucha libre partner. She took me down faster than you can say how-in-the-world-did-I-get-to-a-Spanish-improv-workshop?
Instructor Juan and I
By now, it's seven o'clock and time to head to the 8 o'clock función, the Mexicans' show at Teatro Real. I head to the theater with Gus, Jill, and the Colombians. While we walk, they ask who I am and why I've been tagging along with the company for the past two days. Finally, I get the chance to explain myself clearly, doing away once and for all with the I am not a performer, instructor, or festival worker, I just kinda wandered into this explanation. I also get to hear the Colombians' stories; how they travel for shows and festivals, the founding of their company Si! Solución Improv, and their impression of Córdoba. They've been in town for six days, and I'm finishing my eighth week. Compared to them, I'm quasi-Cordobesian.
The Mexicans' show is the first time I see long-form, dramatic improv. I've seen my fair share of Whose Line and been to a Second City show in Chicago, so I'm used to short, guffaw-producing scenes, but this show is different. The girls had audience members write words on a chalkboard before the show, and they use those words to create three distinct stories that interweave and join at the end. Their only props are a ladder and two chairs.
From Teatro Real, the group, a mix of Mexicans, Argentines, Colombians and Statesians, walks to Okupas, a resto/bar that's hosting the last festival show of the night--Late Night Show Incredible Mix. It starts around midnight and follows the familiar Whose Line setup.
The Colombians & Juli, a Cordobesian, doing their thing.
Domingo: El fin del finde
Sunday was a day of relaxation after a week of exciting locuras. In all reality, I spent Sunday as a festival patron. Jill and I walked around a pit before the Colombians' show, and then we experienced Ritus, un viaje al más allá.
Solución Improv finishes the dress rehersal and gathers for a powwow before the show
he show was in the playback style
of improv, another first for me. It encompassed drama, comedy, and genuine emotion...I guess that's the best way I can describe it, and you can check to link above to get a better idea. The house was full, the audience was satisfied, and the Colombians delivered an amazing closing show to the festival.F
ollowing the wrap up and tear down, the Colombians, Gustavo, Jill, and I headed back to home base hostel, where we got ready for the long-anticipated fin del festival asado
. After a few hours of cooking and grilling and waiting and talking about how hungry we were, everything was prepared. Then I had to go home before I could eat (8 weeks in Córdoba and STILL the asado evades me!), but I know the Colombians and all the workers from the festival had a hard-earned celebration!
Me with the asado that I actually didn't eat. Life, thou art cruel.
Before I left Wartburg, I remember my advisor telling me I would have crazy, once-in-a-lifetime adventures. I consider myself adventurous, but I'm also pretty skeptical and not one to hop blindly into endeavors. ...Always listen to your faculty advisors, kids. They know what they're talking about.
My week as an honorary improv assistant was, without a doubt, the most memorable thing that's happened to me throughout these two months in Córdoba. For the first time, I was around people that I knew--lots of people that I knew--lots of native Spanish speakers that I knew--speaking Spanish 24/7. It was 100% language immersion, but I felt comfortable enough to express myself (and sometimes it was necessary that I expressed myself, when interpeting for Jill or helping out the actors).
It was something rare, something incredible, and something muy, muy chevere.
As I expected, this week went smoother than last week. This week also passed much more quickly, probably because a steady routine builds momentum. But then again, no week in a study abroad program is complete without a few surprises.
Right now, my only class is an intensive Spanish course that lasts through March 13 to prepare me for all the other classes that I'll take. In addition to taking classes through PECLA, the study-abroad program, I have the option of taking classes directly through the university. In order to get into university classes, though, I have to pass a standardized test: the CELU, or Certificado de Español, Lengua y Uso. It's a two-part exam with written and oral parts, and with a score of intermediate or advanced, I can get the green-light for university classes.
I knew from my first day of classes that I'd have to take the CELU in March; I didn't know the format of the test. On Thursday, I had an informational meeting/practice CELU, and it gave me a little culture shock. You know how US standardized tests (ACT, SAT, GRE, etc) are mainly multiple choice exams with minimal or optional writing portions?
CELU is nothing like that.
The CELU has two parts: written and oral. The writing portion is composed of four activities that involve creating different types of writing; prompts include things like "write a letter to the editor concering x---- news article" or "write an email to your friend about your vacation to x--, describing x---." The writing portion also contains a section of listening to a recording and producing a written piece based on that info.
The oral part of the test is a twenty-minute interview-style interaction with two proctors. The first five minutes are a brief introduction. Then I'll get a laminate sheet with information to look over & answer questions about. And the last part? An interactive role play between me and one of the proctors.
But not this kind of role play.
Yep. Part of my certification for speaking Spanish will be based on roleplaying.
The CELU is this Thursday, and I'm stuck between knowing I want to study and knowing I don't quite know how to. So far, I've asked a few Spanish-speaking friends if they'll just speak paragraphs to me sot that I can get accustomed to attentive listening.
...And if you get an email from me pertaining to a vacation we've never taken, that is also just practice.
I've only been in Argentina for three full weeks, so it's not surprising that almost every day, I eat something new. Most of the time, I can relate my new foods to something comparable from the US. However, a few of my culinary encounters this week have been, um, genuine.
Pastel de polenta con carne:"Polenta is coarsely or finely ground yellow or white cornmeal boiled with water or stock into a porridge and eaten directly or baked, fried or grilled before serving. As is common with many foods, the term may refer either to the ingredient or a cooked dish made with it." (Thanks, Wikipedia).
Tuesday night, Betty cooked pastel de polenta with a beefy sauce to put on top. The texture was unlike anything I'd ever tasted; it was too light to be cornbread, but too dense to be...I don't know, corn fluff. It was odd.
"Gnudi (pronounced "nu-dee") is a type of gnocchi
made from ricotta cheese
and a little bit of flour. The result is a dumpling that some describe as "nude" ravioli, or filling without the pasta — that is to say, light, fluffy, and creamy." (Thanks, yumsugar.com)A
t a restaurant on Friday, I opted for the vegetarian plate, and this is what I got. At the time, I had no clue what I was eating; I assumed at first glance that it was shell-noodles in tomato sauce. My first bite was incredibly soft, and I thought, Huh. The noodles must be cheese filled.
Someone sitting near me told me I was eating gnudi, and after a Google search a few hours later, I sat back in my chair, bemused. Huh,
I thought, I just ate about half a pound of pure cheese.
No complaints here.
Thursday after class, I was sitting in a park near school with two friends. A woman and her daughter were selling these little desserts, and we bought 4 for $8 (pesos). I can't remember what they're called, but, like most desserts I've tried here, they're amazing. You can see that they're fried, flaky pastry-type things; what you can't see is the sugar glaze on top, the sprinkles on the bottom two, and the fruit filling inside. Rico!
Best surprise all week!
On Thursday, la casa de Betty accepted a new member! Betty casually mentioned to my housemates and I Tuesday night that there'd be a new girl moving in on Thursday. Thanks for the heads up, host mom!
Irene is from Ecuador, and she's moved to Córdoba to take classes at the university to pursue an especialidad in literature. Instead of doing an intercambio portion for part of her college career, though, Irene is here for five years to complete all of her schooling. I admire her determination and bravery to come from home for such a long time. And it's great to have a new friend at home :)
Surprise #4--Jonas Brothers?!
So, chances are that if you're reading this blog, you might not know who the Jonas Brothers are. Go ask your sisters/cousins. Alright. Good. You're in the know.
Oddly enough, the brothers Jonas came to Córdoba on Saturday for a show; also, oddly, it was held in Parque Sarmiento...for free. Much to the chagrin of my friends in the States, I went. This article confirms what I've just written.
And just in case you're as skeptical about these things as my dad is about everything, here are 25 seconds of Jonas gold for you, taken with my dinky Nikon.
There are many surprising elements of this concert: One is the sheer coincidence that the Jonas Brothers and I both wound up in Córdoba, Argentina at the same time. Another is that they decided to play a show here, as Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, isn't too far away. And the fact that The Jonas Brothers played for free? ...that's just strange, and kind of funny, when I thought about how expensive JoBros tickets are in the States.
I'd never listened to a single Jonas Brothers song by choice before Saturday, but I went to the concert anyway, partially because it was free, but mostly because this will make a great story in a few years.
This photo also serves as proof (or damning evidence, I suppose) of my JoBros experience.
Week 3 flew by--class kept me busy all day and long runs in the afternoon mixed with errands and homework and shenanigans busied the night. Friday was a tourist day in Alta Gracia, a nearby province. My group visited La Estancia Jesuitica, remains of a Jesuit community, as well as Che Guevara's childhood home. Sunday, I enjoyed tea time with Irene and even managed to get some writing done.
Things are easier and calmer now, and I have a nice routine in place. Of course, that doesn't mean that I'm used to everything...as the blog for this week demonstrates, there's always going to be a surprise or
Last week, I was homesick and lacking a lot of self-confidence with my Spanish. This week, I got out of the house and into a routine. Every day I take a pass through the city after class, try a new food, and take a new photo. Here's a summary of my week:
Sunday, a friend and I met at Patio Olmos, a mall in Córdoba. We walked around the city, looking for landmarks (and my bus stop). Eventually, we sat down on some steps; this is the street view of Av. Colón.
Monday, class began for real. Right now, I'm in an intensive Spanish class (5 hours of the same class) to prep for the actual classes that start in March. This is my classroom--it's in the economics building of the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba.
Tuesday, I stopped by the bakery near my house after school. This dessert cost 2 pesos ($1 USD = 5 pesos!). In the US, I'm used to going to Walmart/ Target/ Schnucks/ Walgreens for whatever I need. In Córdoba, every store is particular: there is the panadería for bread, the heladería for ice cream, the papelería for school supplies...you get the gist. While it sometimes seems like a hassle to visit multiple stores for multiple things, the advantage is that the bread and pastries at the bakery are Always fresh!
Wednesday, I discovered that licensing agreements prohibit Pandora from functioning in Argentina. My favorite part of this very professional apology is the second paragraph; the founder of Pandora cautiously accuses me of living in Argentina.
Thursday, I went into the city and grabbed a picture of this huge Christmas tree. It's in the Plaza España, and a week ago, the cinderblocks in the photo were decorated to look like Christmas gifts. This is just one of the many nifty pieces of art in the downtown area...it's also close to the university, so it's a good landmark for me (it's Really hard to miss the giant Christmas tree when you're looking to the horizon for directions).
Friday, I will admit, was a boring day. There are no classes at the university on Fridays, and I'm still trying to adjust to a three-day weekend (I would be jumping for joy for three-day weekends at Wartburg). Anyway, I went to the super near my house and bought two pens. Turns out the bottom utensil is actually a green marker.
*Culture difference* In Córdoba, many items in grocery stores are kept behind a counter, similar to the way alochol and cigarettes are in gas stations...only here, things like paper, notebooks, binders, pens, and school supplies are also roped off to civilians. Getting these writing implements was a comical scene as the somewhat exasperated worker would reach for a pen and I tried to explain, "No! A la izquier--derecha! No! Izquierda!"
*This is not my photo because I didn't take my camera to town on Saturday night.*
Saturday night, I went with a friend to walk around town. We found a street full of craft vendors and, around midnight, sat down at Buen Pastor. At 12:00, a water/light/music show started with the fountains in the front of the place. It felt pretty magical. The rest of the people around us must've known what was coming and were hanging around Buen Pastor because of it, but Megan and I were caught completely by surprise at this moment.
Sunday, I went to this park for a bit in the afternoon. I don't know the name of the park and my Google skills aren't up to par today, but this park is located near Parque Sarmiento and is also close to good 'ol Plaza España. The park is full of these nifty ring sculptures that remind me of the Olympics.
So this is the Caholic church that I go to; it's a five-minute walk from my house. It's small, simple, and awesome.
Things feel more familiar to me now, and I think I'm getting used to living in Córdoba. One major difference between life here and life back in the US is that literally every day, I try something new:
-el colectivo is the public bus system in Córdoba. The buses are infamously unreliable for steady schedules, but for only $4.1 (pesos) a ride, it's cheap transport.
-Walking. I walk to and from school every day, and it takes about half an hour one way. If I have a lot of motivation, I walk home from the city. I don't have a pedometer, but I know I'm racking up the miles.
-Taxis. Taxis are more than preferable after dark; they're recommended. Unfortunately, snatch-and-run robberies are common in Córdoba. Walking around solo at night isn't an option, so if I don't have a group to walk with, I take a taxi. Driving. In. Argentina. Is. Not. Like. Driving. In. The. US.
-Cuidate! It means "take care of yourself," and I think including a little about street smarts is relevant. As I mentioned in the taxi note, ladrones are common in Córdoba; they'll grab bags, purses, and vulnerable valuables. If I'd grown up in a city, the adjustment to personal safety here wouldn't be too difficult for me. As it its, though, I'm from a small town in Missouri and my college is located in small-town Iowa. Nevertheless, I've got enough skepticism and level headedness to stay safe and comfortable in this mammoth of a ciudad.
Week 2, my daily life ignited; I was past the trying phase of getting lost all the time and stuttering literally every time I asked a question. This week, classes and that annoying "buckle down" sense of education set in, I made new friends, I went to an intercambio
mixer sort of thing, and I found a great volunteer group to join.
I went from having no social life to creating a new one; I haven't felt this sort of social combustion since freshman
The ground here is not actually orange.
Preface: By the way, I've moved to South America until July for study abroad. My new home is Córdoba, Argentina.
Where I am: Where I'm from:
City/Country: Córdoba, Argentina City: Waverly, Iowa
Population: 1.3 million Population: 9,876
My school: PECLA-- Programa de Español My school: Wartburg Collegey Cultura Latinoamericana, a part of La My home: A very small campus.
Universidad Nacional de Córdoba.
My home: I live with a very nice woman named Betty.
Living Abroad: They Forgot to Mention...
I have a few friends who have already participated in this study abroad program in Córdoba, and they recommended it to me when I had to choose (Argentina v. Spain v. Costa Rica). Of course, the stories I heard before leaving were brief snapshots of iconic parts of Argentina--mate, the favorite drink of the Argentines, meeting people from all over the US and from other countries, and the chance to travel until my suitcase falls apart from heedless baggage handlers at the airport.
So I left the US on February 10 and arrived in Argentina on February 11 after layovers in Florida and Chile. For the past week, I've been to a few orientation activities, taken a placement test, started a month-long intensive Spanish program, and tried to adjust to living in a new place.
All of the friends who recommended this program to me told me I'd love it and that it would be the best decision of my life. They obviously had amazing semesters, learning great Spanish and meeting people. Six months is a few years short of a long-term move, but five months long of a vacation. By the time my friends arrived back in the States to rave about Argentina's infamous asados, they'd forgotten the pangs of homesickness and culture shock that came with their arrival in Córdoba. There were a few things they forgot to tell me about, little aspects of daily life that you wouldn't think would make a difference in the long run, but really seem to matter the first few weeks.
Forgetful by nature, I lacked both the correct adaptor for this outlet and, at first glance, the ability to realize that you plug things in here.
On Day 1, when all you want to do is plug your computer in and Skype with your mom and boyfriend about how weird everything is, outlets are important. Trust me.
Electricity conservation is pretty important here.
And house keys look more like castle keys.
This doesn't seem saludable, but so far I haven't gotten sick from sketchy eggs.
Poco a poco
My first week in Córdoba has felt as though it's lasted ten years; everything is new and unfamiliar, and the simplest tasks are now pretty challenging. As you can guess, speaking Spanish with native speakers is A Lot different from speaking Spanish in the classroom. Buying credit for my pay-as-you-go phone, asking for the bus stop, and sorting out paperwork to get my student visa are formidable tasks as I get tongue-tied and frustrated.
The good news, though, is that things will get easier; I'll get a routine, I'll meet new people, and everything will be fine
"Broke down and got a Snapchat,"
Tweeted a classmate of mine a few days ago. "Add me."
This media message summed up my experience with the app rated "better than Instagram" and "better than Facebook because it's NOT Facebook
"--until I reread this Tweet and decided to delve into what Snapchat is really about. The verdict? Probably sexting, but also for the freedom that comes with sending a fleeting photo.
(For anyone over age 22)Snapchat: Free app for Apples and Androids that allows you to take a photo and send it to a receiver of your choice. They see it for a limited amount of time (1-10 seconds; you choose) before it self-deletes off their device. Because viewing the image requires finger-to-screen contact, they can't take a screenshot. Except most people have two hands and have figured their way around Snapchat's weak 'security.'
Almost as adorable as a Playboy cover girl.
I did a Tumblr search for Snapchat, and the results weren't shocking. Of the photos tagged under "Snapchat," there were 5 categories:
Vagina or Chin Fat? (only 1 of those at a quick glance, but I couldn't resist giving it its own slot on the board.)
I know, I know, I know. You also Snapchat photos of your cat(s).
I suppose the appeal of Snapchat is the freedom felt in sending a photo--be it risque or Instagramesque or feline--and knowing it's only temporary. But why should a sender feel relieved that their photo will only exist for 10 seconds? I know I'd only hold my breath about the length of a photo's existence if it happened to portray my, uh....sister’s rabbit; he's really shy and doesn't think any of his photos turn out well.
On the other hand, you only have to endure this for 10 seconds before you can try to erase the mental image and unfriend Rudolph.
Or perhaps Snapchat feeds the feeling of whimsy inside us--it's one more fun, quirky, activity accessible on the phone, perfect for the short-attention span people we've become. After 5 failed attempts at Temple Run, taking an adorable selfie that your bff will only see for 7 seconds is the only logical thing to do, right?This Forbes article
slates Snapchat in a more positive light: Basically, people try to make their online image perfect, a portfolio of red-carpet profile pics that let any potential partners or stalkers believe they've got a real catch on their screen. Employers scope the Facebook pages of their applicants, which means those silly photos from Cabo last spring break have to go. Snapchat, then, is a way for users to express themselves as they really are--silly, weird, random (and nude), without having to fear future repercussions in the form of scathing Facebook comments.
Of course, Snapchat users have found ways around the mortality of a 10-second pic. Snapchat co-creator Evan Spiegel admits that the "no-screenshot" feature isn't foolproof, and it's not meant to be. Again, from Forbes
, "The goal, says Spiegel, isn’t to eliminate the possibility that someone could make a permanent copy of a private photo, but to set transparent expectations around the conversation. 'A little friction is powerful,' he says."
Beware, Snapchatters: There might be friction between you and your crush when you screenshot their hoohahs.
I successfully guilted you into only peeping for 10 seconds, right?
The megaminds at Snapchat also say through this CNN piece
that "We believe in sharing authentic moments with friends," it read. "It's not all about fancy vacations, sushi dinners, or beautiful sunsets. Sometimes it's an inside joke, a silly face, or greetings from a pet fish."
These things the Snapchat bigwigs hold in esteem--jokes, faces, and pet fish--seem pretty inclusive to me. I don't share inside jokes with outsiders, and NOBODY gets their hands on a photo of my beta without my say. So, Snapchat gives a way to share comfortable, real moments with the people to whom we're comfortable and real; so comfortable and real that we can't have them see our photos for more than 1/6 of a minute. I understand completely.
Nobody trusts you with their 'real' moments.....or their genitals.
The Bottom Line
The largest swatch of Snapchat users are between the ages of 13-24, which prompts and perpetuates an immature, easy-to-maneuver app. This is the one app that parents won't invade (except for Anthony Weiner). Ghostface Chillah, the adorable mascot wallpapering every tween's mobile screen, promotes a few things:
1. Unaccountability: I feel no shame. Oh, they'll only see this picture of me for a few seconds. It really doesn't matter that I'm sending this intimate photo to someone I'd be embarassed to fart in front of.
2. Unity Via Technology: I am feeling bored and lonely....I know! I'll send a photo of my bored and lonely face to my bff. Knowing I'll be their sole focus for 4 seconds makes me feel better already.
3. Unaccountability: It's your fault! Yeah, I know that you can take a screenshot by using your free hand to press "menu, take screenshot," but I trusted you not to! Does our friendship mean nothing?
4. There's An App for That. When every media article about Snapchat first has to address how it's NOT made for sexting before telling the reader what it IS made for, there's dissonance between what the creators wanted and what the kids are doing. Now there's a colorful, friendly, seemingly hitch-free way to sext.
All you can do is hope that your viewer will be too lazy to screenshot your junk (or too awed by its glory to do anything but stare). Say cheese.
I, personally, am hoping that Snapchat usage creates subliminal messaging in the minds of its users; deja vu for everyone! Tyler Durden would be proud.
Did I really see a picture of a dick, or am I just craving bratwurst?
There is something to be said for college students: they are poor, and more importantly, industrious. Let's face it: the average meal plan gets you, the undergrad, what? 15 or so meals in the campus caffs every week. Out of those meals, how many do you find a) healthy, b) tasty, or c) worth the swipe of your ID that it takes to get you into the buffet style, lamp-heated showcase of mass-produced foodstuffs? Exactly.
What are your alternatives? The microwave and mini fridge in your apartment can only get you so far. That, and your part time job barely gets you enough gas money, let alone dough to splurge on groceries. We have a culinary dilemma here.
Needless to say, you will become a microwave chef by the time you graduate. As you walk across the stage at graduation to receive your BA, they might as well hand you a golden spatula as well to signify that you can feed yourself and your friends edible food from the rawest forms of food life.
When you turn eighteen, you inherit the new food pyramid.
If You Can't Be Rich, Be Creative.
I figured that it might be worthwhile to give my own insights on college cooking. If you can't be rich enough to buy turkey arugula wraps to accompany your lunchtime fair trade organic blend coffee with cactus sugar, you'd better get creative. Or you'd better develop a taste for cafeteria-made lukewarm, overcooked spaghetti.
You don't have to be this much of an engineer.
1. Be an Engineer. Don't rely on frozen dinners or all-in-one dry food packets that require two tablespoons of margarine and a cup of water. Buy staple ingredients that you can keep on hand. Then, when you buy your fresh fruits or veggies, you can create your own meals. Noodles, beans, or rice go good with just about any vegetable. Don't be afraid to create your own dishes. Even if things head south in the kitchen, remember: it will make a great story when you reminisce about your undergrad days.
I could live on white rice if I have enough spice. And lemon.
2. Don't Forget The Secret Ingredient(s): Spaghetti may not sound interesting, and rice with broccoli won't be knocking anyone's socks off anytime soon. However, the cheapest secret ingredient that's guaranteed to make your food pack a punch (in a good way) is at your fingertips: spice.
Garlic powder, oregano, cumin, red pepper, tumeric, paprika--even salt--you can buy these herbs powdered for about a dollar each. It's well worth the investment. I'm steering my college cooking away from the recipe book and more toward a "do what feels right" approach, so I offer the same advice to you. Buy what smells good. Season your chicken, your veggies, your pasta, your rice--season everything. That's what makes a meal taste good.
"These were white when I bought them...last semester."
3. Think About Quantity. Chances are, your college years are the formative times for you to figure out how much 1/4 pound of beef is and the magic of cooked/uncooked rice servings. When you are buying perishable foods, factor in how many people will be eating it and how much time you have before it'll grow spots or a beard. Keeping milk in a fridge won't preserve it forever. You can have a free-for-all when spending on dry cereal and granola bars, but watch out for the perishable stuff.
If you've got it, flaunt it.
4. Share the Love. If you can cook, reveal your mojo power to your friends. They will revere you for your skillz, and you won't have to eat alone, watching reruns of Battlestar Galactica on Netflix. If you're a guy, this advantage doubles for you, as many of your counterparts claim to be terrible cooks. Women like men who can hold their own in the kitchen, trust me.
5. Buy The Necessities. If you plan on cooking your way through four years of college, I recommend you buy a few appliances to make your experience a little less painful:
-a crock pot
-a casserole dish
-Tupperware. LOTS of Tupperware.
The only thing in college you can abandon for 6 hours without ruining your life.
Remember: Your college years are not defined by the food you eat, but by the friends you nearly break the law with and the tests you ace by God's grace. At some point, you'll cook something fancy and impress everyone, yourself included. At some point, you'll slurp Ramen noodles and lay on your futon, moaning about your paper due for X---- class due in eight hours. Keep a contingency plan. Save money for pizza. Be like Justin, this site's head editor--develop a deep, abiding love for PBJ.
Should we need to pay for downloading or obtaining music these days?
A friend posed these questions to me in his vlog this week, expecting me to answer in a similarly visual manner. However, his questions are deep. They are complicated. They delve into the particulars of copyright law, cultural values, and moral fiber. Rather than subject you to a ten-minute rant (and subject myself to the subsequent comments of YouTubers), I'll give you a few facts as well as my opinion on the matter. It's better this way. My argument will make more sense written down--and I don't have to wear makeup to blog.
The How & The Why
You probably don't recognize these.
Thanks to the internet, finding free music is as easy as "right click, save target as," but that's nothing new. Whether you remember the early days of Napster, fueled your middle school days with the tunes of LimeWire, or navigated the dark tunnels of the internet for sites like this
, you're familiar with how to get the goods with minimum hassle. Digital music, saved in Itunes or begging for your one-click download, is here to stay. And is that a bad thing? No! Why should you pay $12.99 for an album at Walmart when you can download it at home for free.....wait a minute....
Downloading music off of a public domain IS illegal-we'll establish that right away. If you don't take my word for it, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has summarized copyright law infringement
in non-lawyer speak. True, the summary doesn't directly cite the law--it merely summarizes. To satisfy my own curiosity, I delved deeper and waded through some U.S. copyright law. Mostly, though, I did it for you, the reader, because I figured you'd want proof. "Anyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner as provided by sections 106 through 122 or of the author as provided in section 106A(a), or who imports copies or phonorecords into the United States in violation of section 602, is an infringer of the copyright or right of the author, as the case may be." Copyright Law of the United States of America and Related Laws Contained in Title 17 of the United States Code (Ch 5, 5.01) Why Do We Do That?
1. We'll also establish that, for most people, downloading "Wonderwall" so that you have a song to sing along to while sobbing gently into your beer bottle doesn't FEEL illegal. [We will also, ALSO establish that I'm not lecturing you. I'm not innocent in this massive sin pot.] And since it doesn't feel illegal to download music, people don't If listening to Oasis is wrong, then I think twice about doing it. Therein lies the don't want to be right!!" problem, I suppose.
"Gee Barney, thanks for this copy of Big Band Classics!"
2. Obtaining music for free has happened for a long, long time, and it started long before Napster went online. My dad mentioned that in the 70s, you could record songs from an album to a cassette (the pre-CD burn). Incidentally, the practice of obtaining music illegally has wiggled its way into our culture not as something unlawful, not as a vice...more as something that you "just do." Like declining to leave a tip at a restaurant. It's impolite and you know you should leave a few bucks on the table, but you'd rather finish your soda and leave. It's a little social faux pas that most people won't comment on.
Probably prompted the creation of Limewire.
3. Blame Computers. When you download an album illegally onto your laptop, you're essentially* stealing that album. Thank goodness you don't have to saunter into Target, snatch the jewel case, place it in my oversized purse, and whistle tactlessly until you make it to your car!
No, really. Getting your music from the internet makes the interaction feel strictly one-sided: you and the computer. For many people, there's a distinct gap between the virtual world of the internet and the 'real world' that encompasses it. If your computer click causes something catastrophic for another computer user thousands of miles away, you might not care. You probably won't notice, and you can always claim that you had no idea what effect your actions would cause.
4. It's not a shocker that you probably won't be held responsible for your actions
. Regulating what happens online isn't easy, and there are more important crimes that need the attention of the law. Although there are consequences of illegal downloading outlined in copyright law, most people still download illegally. (Most people probably don't know what those consequences are, but you can thank the good people at the RIAA for letting you know
Just be thankful, U.S. citizens, that Congress hasn't adopted the British tendencies. Due to start in 2014, British citizens suspected of uploading or downloading media illegally will have to prove their innocence to the media companies accusing them...and also pay a £20 fee. Internet service providers will send warning letters to customers suspected of illegal uploading/downloading, and if customers receive 3 letters in a year's time, they must provide adequate proof that the media in question wasn't obtained / given illegally. For more information on the crackdown, read this Dailymail.co.uk
article from June of this year.
The average Joe downloading the latest Katy Perry single probably won't be prosecuted. We all believe this. Maybe that's what makes the well-meaning anti-download ads retrospectively funny.
I laughed the first time I saw this.
Should we? ...probably not.
I can think of a few good reasons we shouldn't get all the music we want for free besides
the whole 'against the law' thing (hooray for white collar crime!)1. Music is a good. We have this curious system set up in the US where in order to use goods, you have to pay for them. Crazy, right? You pay for the Ipod you play your music on, you pay for the headphones, you pay for the pants that have the pockets that you place the Ipod and headphones in.2. Most people are not serious musicians. Therefore, spending money on music helps to support the serious musicians who need to pay for new guitar strings and booze and exclusively red gummy bears. Seriously, though. Musicians have a talent that you don't possess, and paying for their creative work shows your support.3. You buy it = you value it more. In June of this year, 20-year old NPR intern Emily White wrote that of the 11,000 songs in her music library, she's only paid for 15 CDs' worth. [
Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven frontman David Lowery's response here
] I bet she doesn't listen to most of those songs because she didn't spend the time and money to select and buy the songs individually.
Concessions & Closing Comments
1. There are many, many facets of the debate that I didn't touch here. I'm not an economist, a label rep with accurate information, or a musician.
2. Music downloading is popular because it's easy. If you could steal a car with the ease and anonymity that you could steal music, would you?
3. But Radiohead let customers choose how much they wanted to pay for their seventh studio album, In Rainbows! Radiohead is successful enough to make this arrangement work.
4. It all goes to the music executives and record labels anyway. Don't hate someone for being rich. Hating someone for being rich is as immature as hating someone because they're skinny or left-handed.
5. Why should music be free? Is music an unalienable right, akin to liberty and pursuit of happiness?
6. You have YouTube, Spotify, Spotify mobile, Spotify premium on your computer desktop, and independent music stores to support. Aren't you satisfied? ...I won't even mention the radio.9