Sunday, July 17, 2011

One Year

I sit at the airport preparing myself to return to Buenos Aires for my 2nd year of teaching abroad. I have been in the United States for 5 weeks, traveling all over Tennessee and North Carolina visiting friends and family. I was in Nashville for 2 weeks getting my Level I Orff Certification at Belmont University (big accomplishment for me). Hopefully I can explain more about Orff later.

How different I feel this time! How scared I was a year ago, going to Argentina with my dog in the belly of the plane and all of my belongings in suitcases or left behind in storage. My life was drastically going to change and the airport was the place of transition. Today I am excited to return to BA. I feel a strength I didn't have before. Not because being in BA easy or simple, but because I overcame a challenge almost insurmountable for me a year ago. My friends who are international teachers seem to strive under these stressful conditions. They love the excitement of the transition. I don't think I'll ever enjoy the transition, but I've viewing it differently; more positively.

It is obvious the love and support I have at home. A crew of strong and big hearted people who trust me in my decisions. There were many doors open to me and many beds offered since I was floating around with no solid place to land.

I get to return to what is now a new home. I haven't looked at BA as home before, but now I do. I have Henry for now, friends, and a really fabulous and challenging job.

Henry stayed in BA for these 5 weeks with a young lady who teaches at my school who bunked up with him in my apartment. All she asked is that I bring her back some chocolate from the states. I found that funny since Argentina is known for it's chocolate! But, my bags are stashed full with chocolate for her and Cheetos for my dear friend and teaching partner from Venezuela. And organic dog treats for Henry!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Sad Morning Walk - Stray Dogs in BA

Every week day morning (around 5:30am) Henry and I walk down to the river so that he might do his business before I leave him for the day. This is usually a very peaceful walk. A quick "Buen Dia" to the security guards who watch over the school, a little fresh air, and then we are home so I may begin the daily grind. A couple of weeks ago, however, we had a bit of a surprise on our walk and I thought I would share my experience so that I might confess my guilt and also earnestly ask for advice on what to do next time.

There is no doubt that Buenos Aires is a pet-loving city. Many families have dogs. There is a veterinarian or two in every province. I have noticed, however, that many Argentines like to walk their dogs on busy city streets without leashes and even worse (in my opinion) that there are dogs all over that are "let out" the front gate to return after they have explored for the day. These dogs seem to be much wiser then Henry in regards to crossing the street (which I might add is dangerous even for humans). So, if I see a dog roaming the streets, it is quite possible he has a loving home, he is just on a walk-about.

This was not the case however for two puppies that found Henry and I one chilly morning a couple of weeks ago. No more than 4 weeks old, these two little guys were desperate for help and they whined and followed us on our walk as I contemplated what the heck I was going to do! As Henry and I approached the school where I work (the two puppies close behind) a couple of security guards approached and offered to help and they made a phone call as Henry and I headed back home without the little guys. I never asked them who they called or what happened to the pups. Truthfully, I don't think I want to know.

Just a quick note that Buenos Aires seems less flooded with homeless animals then other places I have visited. In the town of Bariloche (a small village in Patagonia), wild dogs over take the streets running in packs and chasing cars. It isn't nearly as bad here. I would guess it is because many loving hearted Argentines take these stray dogs and cats into their homes.

Update! I have found that there are services for stray dogs and cats throughout the city. They are all private and support foster programs.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Challenges

I think it is only fair for me to discuss some of the challenges I am facing since my move here to Argentina. I in no way want to complain, but I do think anyone considering overseas teaching should understand that there will be difficulties.

The biggest challenge I face, by far, is the language barrier. Truthfully, I just feel rude when someone speaks to me in Spanish and all I can do is ask them to repeat themselves or say that I speak only a little Spanish. What right do I have to be in their country and not speak their language? This really bugs me.

I blame no one but myself for my inability to speak a 2nd language. I was never motivated enough in school to fully learn any of the languages I studied (Spanish in HS and French and German in college). And now that I'm an old dog trying to learn a new trick...well, let's just say it isn't going too well. I enjoy using Rosetta Stone and I had a nice once-a-week tutor, but it isn't "sinking in". I haven't been forced to immerse myself into the language since I speak English at work and most of my friends here are English speaking. Time to pick up the pace with that for sure.

Food. My first six months produced the classic "freshman 15". Well, I got the "freshman 10". Here is my issue. Argentines are, by habit, creatures of the night. They eat late and party late. They also eat heavy. I'm talking large portions of steak, pasta, cream sauces, cheeses, and lay-it-on-me desserts. So, if you want to enjoy a nice Argentine dinner, expect that pretty much all restaurants open after 8pm and you may begin to eat around 8:30 or 9 (and that is EARLY). Now lets add in the abundance of fabulous Malbec wines, weekly social functions and people wanting to try new restaurants and hello....the "freshman 15". So what have I done about this to regain balance? Well, I pretty much prepare all of my own meals now (like I did in the states) and try to only go out to eat once a week. I'm drinking very very little (I know, a shame to miss all that great wine, but it must be done) and I have a better exercise routine. The "freshman 10" plus some is officially gone and I feel SO much better, but it has been a serious struggle for me. Just walking by the bakeries and ice cream shops (on just about every other street corner and I'm not joking) can make a sweet tooth like mine go crazy!

Loneliness. Yes, this is a major factor. I didn't come here with a husband or a partner, it is just me and Henry. I feel a sadness being so far from friends and family. It effected me the most when I returned from my holidays in the states. I had a bit of a melt down. Perhaps I felt I was in limbo? Wanting to go, wanting to stay, wanting to feel I belong in either place and feeling I don't belong in either place. But, I realized if I didn't have some of those feelings I'd be a pretty big ice queen. So, I let the emotions wash over me and I eventually got over it. I still feel lonely, but the meltdowns are at a minimum.

Other basic things that bug me. People that don't pick up dog poop in places it is rude to leave it. Tons of litter and don't get me started about how gross the Rio de la Plata is! The machismo whistling from the local "boys". How long it takes to get anywhere here using public transportation. The lack of change here and how even at grocery stores they ask for "mas chico" if you produce a large bill. Sugar in the coffee grounds...really...why?

Experiencing these things are why I'm here. If I wanted to have it like I had it in the states then I should have just stayed home. So, I walk around the dog poop and at least pick up my own. I say no to some dinners out and stay at home to call my friends and family. I hoard small bills and coins like all Argentines do and I buy the "purple coffee" which is azucar libre. And what do I do about the whistling machismos? I bite my tongue!

The picture is from a tango show I attended in San Telmo. You arrive around 9:30, eat for an hour and a half, then the show starts. I've never seen such fabulous shoes and what an amazing band! I have a new found respect for the accordion.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Iguazu and Gratitude

I wish I could tell you that I give my due diligence to daily prayers. My mother told me when I was a little girl to say my prayers before I went to sleep. This was excellent advice, and when I was younger, her reminder helped to give my thanks and ask for things that I felt I needed routinely. Now that I'm older, I don't have that evening reminder and I fall short. Oh yeah, I also forget to say thanks before my meals. Disappointing.

I'm not trying to be disrespectful and I'm not wanting to be sarcastic, implying that praying is something for children. I'm really telling you that I'm disappointed in myself. The amount of things I have to be thankful for are innumerable. It would be nice if I could send some positive appreciation back to the Creator.

I'd say that my prayers have been fleeting. A quick "thanks for the opportunities", a request that my family and friends remain healthy and then my mind thinks of something else and I "hang up" on God. I'm usually so wrapped up in myself, I have a difficult time feeling "blessed". I'm just trying to make it through the day.

So...a smack in the face. A literal wet smack in the face from a waterfall in the Northern part of Argentina had me thinking about what I'm lacking when it comes to praise and gratitude. This world holds such beauties that I will never see. What an honor to be able to experience even one of these.

Seeing the Iguazu Falls was a spiritual gift. I will not spend time describing this place, I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves. I will not describe how it made me feel, because that is just a bit too "touchy-feely" for me. Sit on a bolder about a 1/2 mile from these falls or get on a boat that drives you into Devil's Mouth and you'll understand what I mean.

Life, love, beauty and the time to experience them are all gifts. The transition I'm hoping to make here is one of consistency. I want to see and feel that waterfall everyday in different ways. I want to do more than just religiously say a prayer out of routine. Since I don't have Mom here to tell me to be thankful, I need to regulate myself. I want to really appreciate what I've been given. Even those things that don't necessarily seem like blessings at first. Then, send a "shout out". And, I want to do it everyday.

Henry's Vacation:
Henry had a vacation of his own while I was at the falls. He spent time with our most lovely neighbor, who babied him, snuggled him, bought him organic dog treats and a new super bouncy blue ball. He could not have had a better time. So while I have a new found gratitude for life and beauty, Henry found his blessings on the 8th floor of our apartment building.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

They Say October Equals Depression

So as soon as I got here they (the almighty guides who first help you with your visas, set you up in your apartments, and then take you on tours) warned us that we will go through 3 phases. First is the Honeymoon phase. Please feel free to guess what that means. Then we will have a drastic plunge into a sad, homesick, "I hate it here, you can't get that here like you can in the states" phase. This is supposed to happen in October, funny enough. Then you even out into a place in the middle. They don't give you a month when that phase begins, but they say sometime after the holidays. This is a place of contentment where it doesn't feel like vacation anymore, but it sure does feel exciting most every day. Now, those of you reading my blog will want to know about how I have dealt with these phases, and even more of you will want to know how Henry has faired.

I never had a Honeymoon. Not the kind you get after you walk down the aisle or the one you are supposed to experience when you first move to a new country. Instead, I woke up every morning surprised that I was in South America. I just kept trying to function and stay "real". That sounds silly, but let me clarify. I knew I was in a new country (this from a girl who got her first ever stamp in her passport) and that was enough for me. I didn't have to soak everything in. I didn't have to paint the town. I just wanted to be here. Understanding that I actually had the balls (excuse me if that is crude to you) to do it. So there was no high for me.

Now here comes October. The month that most ex-pats (if you aren't familiar with the term it means ex-patriot ~American who lives fairly permanently in another country) plunge. Here is how I feel.

I miss the Fall in the High Country. Pumpkins, Fall Festivals, leaves changing, apple butter. That makes me sad, and I knew it would! Self fulfilled prophecy I tell you! I love the Kruger Brothers and their song "Carolina in the Fall" and I knew that sometime during the month of October I'd listen to that song and dry a few tears. But do I miss the mammoth supermarkets, driving a car all over town, eating at my favorite Mexican restaurant as much as I'm supposed to? Not yet. I do miss my Sweet Heart of a guy, random visits with my folks and canoe trips down the New River. Those things I miss and October does make it a bit sadder.
Now the last phase approaches for me, maybe a bit early. There was no big high for me, and no big low, so I think the last phase might have been my phase all along with little spikes here and there.

And Henry, you ask, has been in phase 3 since....maybe the second day of our time here. He was really ready to get out of that kennel!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Preparing For And Going To The Hiring Fair

Anyone who knows me knows that if I decide I'm going to do something, come hell or high water I do it. I made up my mind that I was going to teach internationally, so all of my energy went into this. Nothing half way. I say this because if you decide to do this, you can't go in half heartedly. This is a trying, life changing, excruciating process.
Awhile ago I said I would describe the hiring fair I went to in Cambridge, hosted by Search Associates (I'll refer to them as SA). Before I do that, I'd like to describe how I prepared myself for this crazy 4 day whirlwind experience.
After I became a candidate through SA I started my research. School's websites, blogs, country profiles, asking questions of friends who have traveled, etc. I joined International School Review and Joy Jobs. (International School Review is the worth the money, Joy Jobs is not in my opinion). You have to have 4 on-line evaluations by administrators or former student's parents. Then you can begin your communication with schools.
Around November you will start getting emails about positions you may be interested in from SA. Everything about you that a school wants to see is on-line. Resume, picture, educational statement, and evaluations. You can contact the people in charge of hiring right away by email and don't be surprised if you get an email from a school who wants to recruit you. This is very cool and exciting. Especially when you are safe and sound in your home country dreaming about how nice Morocco really could be...*sigh* Then reality sets in and Rabat wants a phone interview and you begin freaking out saying, "I don't want to live in Rabat!" (Although I'm sure Rabat is a wonderful place, that was my childish reaction)
The Hiring Fair (cue music from "The New World Symphony" here)
This is a competitive, intimidating, and inspiring experience. Now I've been to my share of cattle calls, auditioning for musicals and operas. But, nothing like this. These teachers are fierce and ready (and don't even get me started on the teaching couples). Portfolios in hand, dressed to impress, and very worldly. Boy did I ever feel like the biggest Yankee Red Neck around these folks. Many were younger than me and have been to 2 or 3 different postings (schools in different countries). I was impressed for sure. The cool thing was that everyone was supportive, fellow teachers included. You have a SA advisor that you can meet with and discuss schools. These guys either personally know the schools or know someone that does. They will be honest about whether or not the school is a fit for you.
It is best to stay in the hotel where the conference takes place. Book your room way in advance. You are going to be in that hotel non-stop for 4 days going from interview to interview. This is where all of the schools are staying as well. This is where they hold the interviews. It makes life so much easier.
Part one begins at 7am. With a cup of coffee in hand you walk through a ball room with big pieces of paper hanging on the wall with names of schools on them and a list of positions they are hiring for the upcoming school year. There are jobs you expected to see listed and there are many surprises. At 8am the schools come in and set up at various tables ready to accept interviews. Then you go stand in line at your school of choice and kindly ask for an interview. Some schools say, "get lost" (a bit nicer) but some hunt you down before hand and say "come by my table" and tempt you with chocolates and pens. When you leave this affair, you may have anywhere from 3 to 10 interviews set up. Then there is a whole other round of this craziness because there are over 100 schools at the fair.
Round 2 is your interview. You give your best interview possible even though you are in a hotel room with a principal, a bed, and a micro-fridge. It is awkward, but you get the job done. Usually there is not an immediate job offer, but you may be asked for a second interview. By day two of this, things start happening fast. You may get offered a job at your 2nd favorite school and have a 2nd interview with your 1st favorite school within hours of when you are to tell your 2nd favorite school if you will take the job....huh? I know...right!
But, if you are lucky, by the end of this fair and this crazy four days you will have a job. Hopefully you have done your research and you are getting a fabulous package (salary, housing, travel expenses paid, yearly travel home, etc). Hopefully you are going to live in a place where you will feel blessed to live for at least two years (it is customary to sign two year contracts). Hopefully you have found a job like the one I landed.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Henry's First Month

Henry and I have been here a little over one month now. Time for a quick update.

The Good (Actually Great) ~We LOVE it here. It is beautiful, convenient, and challenging in positive ways. This is a doggie town for sure! The door man loves Henry, people in my apartment are thrilled to see him (not to many dogs in my building surprisingly) and he is making friends with the locals (both dog and human alike). Still not too great with cats however.

Henry loves walking down by the Rio De La Plata which is one block from my apartment. I have a great new "walk to work" lifestyle that is such a blessing for me and for Henry. There is a pet store two blocks from me (note: pets are a big deal here, so you can find a pet store or two in every neighborhood) and a vet two blocks in the other direction. We have the option of hiring a professional dog walker (very inexpensive and a great social opportunity for H-Dog), but so far I've been too lazy to set that up. Also, I love walking him everyday because it is gorgeous around here:) Henry also enjoys sitting on the balcony of my apartment so he can watch people, cars, and other dogs go by.

He sometimes gets to play with Pumpkin, a female black lab who belongs to a co-worker/friend. They have "play dates" occasionally. Very cute.

The Bad~ No Newman's Own organic dog food. No more high quality Earth Fare doggie bones and treats. No more Maggie, our fabulous holistic vet in Boone. No more open the back door and let Henry run without a leash to do his "business".

Also, I don't see Henry getting back into that kennel anytime soon. Will I ever have the heart to put him through air travel again?

The Ugly~ No BFF Cody. It gets lonely when you are the only dog.