Ups and Downs of life along el Río de La Plata

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It is early July, which means Buenos Aires has reached winter and I am experiencing a lack of snow for the first time in twenty-one years. Not to say it does not get cold, because it does, but it doesn’t get “snot freezing in your nostrils” cold. For someone who has lived most of their life in the Northern half of the US (not to mention a number of months in Spring-time Patagonia), cold weather is just a part of life, just as the months of ungodly humidity and mosquito breeding are a part of life. Buenos Aires certainly has the latter, but I’m yet to experience a true, winter. Porteños certainly believe very strongly in their winter. On the coldest days, people walk around with multiple layers and scarves pulled up to their noses. These are the days I’ll wear a sweater and throw on my jacket, usually zipped up. To me, forty degrees, just doesn’t merit a scarf up to my nose. I don’t even own any scarves in the States, much less in BA. I’ve had locals tell me that I must be freezing, because there are dogs more bundled up than I typically am. I laugh because Buenos Aires residents LOVE their dogs, (We’ll talk about the dogs that get walked in mass quantities while wearing jackets at a later date), and usually they are more bundled up than I am.

Buenos Aires does get cold, don’t get me wrong, but for someone who grew up waiting for the bus in the middle of winter in Upstate New York, or regularly went skiing at 10k feet in Colorado, or spent the better part of a season in Whistler, Canada, forty degrees is nothing. Recent days have been even warmer and we have more sun than rain as of late. Now that I’ve spewed all this criticism of the winter, we’ll probably get a record low cold-front, but in the meantime, if I want a proper winter, I’ll be hopping a plane to Bariloche or Las Leñas, or any of the other obscenely expensive ski resorts in Argentina. (Spoiler alert: Argentina does have mountains actually, they’re called the Andes). End sarcasm here.

On the note of expensive things, Argentina is an expert. Books are expensive, clothes are expensive, the delicious craft beer is expensive, and don’t even get me started on electronics. Seriously, everyone who is flying to Argentina should bring an iPhone with them, you will definitely make some serious money from selling it. Anyways, clothes are expensive, so when my upstairs neighbor in my last apartment decided to toss his still burning cigarette out his window and onto my jeans innocently drying in the window, thus burning a hole, you can imagine my annoyance. I finally brought them (today) to a modista (tailor), to be fixed. I know I ranted about the jeans in my last post, but, I’m still annoyed, they are my favorite jeans. Anyways, with those jeans still out of commission and a couple others getting dangerously thin in the butt area, I’ve been looking for others. Turns out quality jeans at a reasonable price are completely out of the question, so I’ve been wearing the same pair of black jeans almost every day, it’s a small price to pay to see the world, material products are overrated anyways. 🙂

Anyways, my father is visiting soon (YAAAAAY for a million reasons), so as soon as he confirmed his dates, I ordered a bunch of clothes online and shipped them to my parents’ house in Colorado. He works in various locations throughout the world, one of which is Santiago de Chile. We spent a week together in Santiago last September, so on this trip to Chile, he’s also going to spend a weekend in Buenos Aires with me. I am stoked to show him the city, all my favorite places (breweries), and more. He’ll be arriving in the dead of winter but lucky for him, he’s from colder places too. My mother and grandma will have their own trip in November with much warmer weather. Buenos Aires has become home for me and it is very different from the place I grew up in, I want my parents to see the city I live in, to better understand my life here.

One of the reasons I love Buenos Aires is the sheer amount of knowledge and culture this city has. There are more bookstores than I have ever seen in my life and universities are everywhere. People come from all over Latin America and the world to study here, thus creating a very worldly and educated population. I recently moved into a more permanent housing situation (one bedroom in a nine bedroom house) and my roommates are from France, Argentina, Finland, and Italy. I think there is a Belgian arriving within the next week or two. Perhaps the most exciting thing is THE CAT that lives here too.

The city is always advertising new museum exhibits, academic talks, university events, and more items of that nature. I cannot wait until my Spanish is at the level where I can truly appreciate everything that the city offers. It is also knowledge that is accessible to all the people. University of Buenos Aires is free for undergraduate degrees to everyone, not just Argentines. I may end up there myself eventually.

It is also one of the most visited cities in Latin America meaning the streets are often full of foreigners, many who look painfully obviously foreign (please try and blend in better so you aren’t a target to thieves). Luckily, the Argentine culture runs strong and is not lost amongst the tourism. My friends in Buenos Aires are a mix of foreigners and locals, and I have learned a lot from their diverse backgrounds. I love living with people from all over the world, it leads to a variety of opinions, experiences, and stories to share. And amongst all the differences, we realize that we are actually all very much the same. It makes the world smaller as it widens my mind. I have never considered myself to be un-accepting, but traveling as only made me more accepting. Peace will not come to those who sit at home with people who have all the same stories as them. We must push ourselves out of our the known to let our minds expand. If I have learned anything from my time abroad so far, it is that people are always the most important part.

My love for Argentina only grows, the beauty of Argentine men certainly does not hurt, and life is going well. I’m continuing to learn more about the history and complex politics of the country and I talk with as many locals as I can. I had a weekend in Uruguay recently, and although I enjoyed a peaceful, quiet night away from the city, surrounded by the hippies of one of the most progressive countries in the world, I was happy to get on that boat back to the madness of Buenos Aires. My life has been nothing but abnormal so far and I love where I have ended up. It gets tiring to always be the foreigner, the outsider, the one who’s different, but I would not give this up. I am right where I should be. I never would have guess that I would have ended up here, but life is funny, we never end up where we expected we would.

Plane tickets to Buenos Aires are expensive (imagine that), but nonetheless, I invite all friends and family members to visit me here. Good luck leaving though, people seem to get stuck in this city.

One week of life in Buenos Aires

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It’s a rough life here in Buenos Aires.

What does a typical week for me look like in Buenos Aires?

Well, when you are a freelance ESL teacher in the so called Paris of South America, there are no typical weeks.

Mondays are mostly a day off for me. At the moment, I only teach one 1 hour class and it’s in the late afternoon, so Mondays have become a planning day for me. It is a day to buy some groceries, catch up on sleep, straighten the apartment, and plan lessons for the week. There are often some hours spent writing at a cafe as well. For those who don’t know, I am in the very early stages of writing a novel. Come back in a year or two, (or three) and I’ll have a finished novel. Monday nights I try to go to bed early to start my working week on a well rested note, but in a city that doesn’t eat dinner until 10pm, that can be hard to do.

Tuesdays start early, my alarm blaring before the sun rises so I can get up for work. Twice a week I work at a U.S. originated company located outside the city. My first class is at 9am, so with an hour to get ready, an hour and a half of travel time and a fifteen minute walk from the station to the office, I’ve already been awake for three hours by the time I start teaching. Although awake may be a bit of strong word to use. Eyes open, clinging to my mug of coffee may be a better description. I’m home again in the late afternoon and I currently don’t have any other classes on Tuesdays, so *hint hint* if you know anyone that is looking for a once a week and after work English lesson in Buenos Aires, send them my way. As for dinner, sometimes I cook, sometimes I order take out, and sometimes I’ll meet up with friends, it all depends on how the week is going.

On Wednesdays I am up once again before the sun to make it downtown by 8:20am to start teaching. I spend two mornings a week teaching at a language school by the name of Elebaires. This is the school I became certified at, more information on them later. Wednesday afternoons are sometimes free, depending on the week, though that time is filling up quickly. Sometimes I meet with my various bosses but often I have a couple free hours to run home for lunch and errands. On my most recent Wednesday, my favorite pair of jeans were hanging out the window to dry when I suddenly smelled smoke. My jeans had a hole burning in them after my upstairs neighbor so nicely dropped his still burning cigarette out his window and it landed on my pants. They were perfect jeans suitable for everything from work to going out on the weekends. I am hoping to patch them as clothes are quite expensive in this city, however, sewing is not one of my skills. It’s been almost a week and I am still bitter about the cigarette burning my favorite jeans incident.

Wednesday evenings I have a Spanish lesson with a good friend of mine. She’s Argentine and we met through our ESL certification class (she’s bilingual). I am trying to continue to improve my vocabulary and speaking fluidity with Spanish. I have learned over time that language is not something that comes natural to me, Spanish is something I have spent a lot of time and effort learning. It’s been a marathon, and I still have a ways to go. No matter though, I’m in the right place to be learning.

Thursdays are my longest days as I start by working five hours outside the city, and I end with two more hours downtown. Seven hours itself is not very many hours for one day, but I end up being away from my house for about twelve given all the commute time in the middle. Though tedious, the commutes allow for time to read and take naps, which I greatly appreciate. Last Thursday the bus I usually take to work was on strike so I had to take an alternative, which was much slower. Strikes are so common here that people don’t even ask why they’re happening. The answer would always just be “because Argentina.” The woman who hired me for the position suggested I have an alternate bus in mind to take in the event of strike because in Argentina they aren’t a question of “if” but rather “when.”

Either way, life stays interesting. Freelance teaching has a lot of unpaid time put in and it’s not something I want to do my whole life, but I’m 21, making a life for myself abroad, and figuring out what I want to do longterm, so for now, it’s perfect.

Usually by Thursday nights, my roommate and I are exhausted by the early mornings and rush hour commutes. We’ve started a habit of going out for dinner on Thursdays and treating ourselves to a couple glasses of wine. It’s that little boost to Friday we often need.

Fridays are busy, so they pass quickly. I spend the day going from class to class, leaving my apartment in Recoleta at 7:45 bound for Downtown, then to Palermo, and then back to Downtown. But by 18:30 I am free and the weekend can start, which I usually start by laying on my couch bed in the living room watching Netflix until proper Buenos Aires dinner time begins.

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Partially eaten plate of brunch

Argentines are inherently social people and weekends are for friends and family. Though I have no family here, so my weekends are for friends exclusively. My most recent Saturday was spent with my roommate. We started the day with a noon brunch, followed by some (window) shopping, book store browsing, and afternoon beers. We caught the extreme end of the Madrid game while getting pizza for a late lunch/early dinner at a bar around the corner from our apartment, we had arrived just as it ended and fans either rejoiced or lamented, depending on where their loyalties lie. We went home to relax and change before going out to meet up with other friends for a rooftop birthday party in Palermo.

Sundays are often my favorite days in Buenos Aires. They are often lazy days spent watching movies and football games with cups of tea. Traditionally, Argentines spend Sundays with their families, so I follow tradition and usually call home. My roommate and I often order delivery (which 90% of the time is sushi) and watch Netflix until our eyelids are heavy and we’re falling asleep, ready for yet another week of madness in the city I have made my home, Buenos Aires.

Welcome

To the invested readers of my last blog, chloeseestheworld, welcome to “Chloe runs out of money and needs to get a job.”

After several months of being lazy and avoiding to add new posts, I have decided to start a new blog. This one will be focused on my day to day life in Buenos Aires. Now that I have settled down (temporarily, I am sure), my life is not the same as it was when I was freely traveling from hostel to hostel and city to city. Now I’m packing myself like a sardine into train cars during rush hour and waking up before sunrise to arrive to work on time. My life is less glamorous than it was, but I ran out of money, so I have been forced to get a job and be a productive member of society again.

I have found work as an English teacher and currently teach around 22 hours a week. I have approximately 30 students and am doing my part to impart the knowledge of English on them. I have found that it is improving my Spanish vocabulary as well, which is always a plus. I make sure to inform all of my students that I am speaking gringa Spanish out on the streets of Buenos Aires, embarrassing myself, so they should never be nervous or self-conscious when speaking English with me. I strongly believe that to be an effective (affective? I should know this) language teacher, you must be studying a foreign language yourself. I tend to learn at least one new word a day just from life experience, but I am also about to hire an Argentine friend of mine to give me weekly lessons again.

As previously mentioned, this blog will be focused on my everyday life in Buenos Aires. Traveling in hostels is a lot different than actually living in a foreign country, looking for work, grocery shopping, paying bills, etc, so I will be sharing my experiences. For example, the greatest challenge of this week so far has been finding two peso coins so my roommate and I can wash our clothes. The two peso coins are not in wide circulation and yet, the machine will not accept one peso coins, which I always have plenty of. In the meantime, I have been washing my socks in the sink. I have about two pairs of clean underwear left, so soon they’ll be getting washed in the sink too.

I love living in Buenos Aires, but at times it gets tiring always being the foreigner. A little bit of background on terms, a gringo is anyone from an English speaking country that is in a Spanish speaking country, sometimes Europeans that are not native English speakers also get put in this group (the Dutch, Germans, etc). A yankee is a term used in Argentina to describe people from the United States. The accent of Buenos Aires pronounces “y” like “sh” so here I am a shankee. I appreciate the term given that I am a seventh generation New Yorker. Also, “american” is not typically used to describe people from the United States because you are American if you were born anywhere in this hemisphere, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. So, Argentines are Americans too, as are Peruvians and Mexicans and Cubans and so on and so forth. In Spanish, the official term for people from the United States is “Estadounidense” (Estados Unidos=United States).

My Spanish ability has progressed fairly well over the months. I place myself in the intermediate category, I can have full conversations and I understand even more than I speak, but, I still make lots of mistakes and my overall vocabulary is limited. I always tell people that I am a lot smarter in English. They usually believe me. I am fully embracing the local accent and slang, so my Spanish is far different from anything I was ever taught in the States, but at least I don’t speak with a lisp like they do in Spain. Embarrassingly, I still cannot roll my r’s. One of my students is 11 and she thinks it’s hilarious that I lack the skill. Every time I see her, she asks me to say the word “perro” (Spanish for dog). Every time I remind her that I cannot say it correctly, but I always attempt it anyways, she always laughs. My only hope is that my Spanish mispronunciations will encourage my students to speak more English. Ten months abroad, more or less, and I still cannot pronounce the r’s correctly, perhaps there is something wrong with my tongue. Too bad.

Buenos Aires has its flaws like any other place, but for the most part I absolutely love the city. There are tons of parks, the buildings are beautiful, and craft micro-breweries are the latest trend. Spanish speakers can never pronounce my last name, but I inform them that it is the greatest last name to have, Brewer. The culture of Argentina is part of what I love so much about this place too. The Argentines are outgoing, friendly, and love to have fun. I have been brought into families and friend groups here without question and treated as if I have always been there. My bosses feel more like surrogate family members and my students are becoming like friends. When you are five to six thousand miles away from your real family, you have to find family wherever you are.

I also have quite a few friends who are also foreigners. We bond over the shared experiences of being expats and the struggle of learning Spanish. My roommate, Addy, is from Portland. We share a one bedroom apartment to save money and take turns being the one to sleep in the living room. We often fantasize about what our apartments or houses will look like one day. I picture a huge loft overlooking a city with tons of books, art, plants, and natural light. I imagine a balcony and my own washing machine so that I don’t have to track down uncommon coins. I imagine my own bedroom with a giant fluffy bed and a kitchen with knives that cut and pans that don’t act like glue. But I am 21, so really, sharing a one bedroom apartment is the only place I belong at this point in my life. It’s a small price to pay for happiness living abroad.

Tragically, my US bank account is almost completely empty, so I am making the full switch to pesos. I am technically working illegally, so I am also adjusting to a fully cash based life. Within a couple months, my savings account will be an envelope full of pesos shoved in a hole I’ll have to cut in my mattress. Again, I am 21, it’s the only way I should be living right now.

Above everything else, I am really happy here. I feel like I belong here right now more than any other place in the world. I have found my people and if that means that I have to wake up at six am to take a bus outside the city to teach at a U.S. based company, then that is what I’ll do, because happiness is more important than just about anything else.

I’ll be trying to keep this blog updated, so check back often for more stories of my life being a gringa abroad.

Chau! (spoiler alert: most of South America doesn’t say adios)

Chloe