Sunday, December 28, 2008

Fun With Diane

I have two more days left in Buenos Aires, and then I return to San Francisco. I am looking forward to returning home.

My last week has been fun because my friend Diane is visiting. Tomorrow another friend arrives and also Diane's sister is coming to visit. I was Diane's tour guide, but she will be here for a whole week without me, so she is going to show her sister and our other friend around.

It is fun having people visit because it gives me an opportunity to speak a lot of Spanish and also to show them places I like. I took Diane to many different parts of the city. It was fun for me to go around one last time and see everything.

These days I am feeling very comfortable here and I feel like my Spanish is pretty good. There are still times I don't understand things, but I feel like I am understanding more than when I first arrived, and I don't feel so shy about speaking Spanish. I feel happy and satisfied with this trip now that it is almost over.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Back in Buenos Aires

Last week I left the hot city of Buenos Aires to go to the beautiful beaches of Buzios, Brazil. Buzios is about 2 hours north of Rio de Janeiro.

It was a nice trip. I went with my Argentine friend, Hernan, and we traveled with a group of Argentines on an Argentine airline with an Argentine tour company. The beaches we visited had people from many countries, but to the Brazilians and to the other people there, I appeared to be an Argentine.

It was an interesting experience. I didn't speak much English and no one knew I was American. I don't think there were any Americans in Buzios. It seemed like the area was mostly visited by Argentines, Germans, Russians and Brazilians.

There were some obvious differences between Buzios and Buenos Aires - the food, the language, the people. It was nice to get away, and it was also nice to return. When I came back to Buenos Aires, I missed Buzios, but I was also glad to be home, in my apartment that feels like home to me, in my neighborhood that feels like my neighborhood. It was nice to hear the bird that sounds to me like an ice cream truck, and to see the guy who stands on the corner on Sunday and listens to the soccer games on a small radio.

Yesterday I went sightseeing with my friends from San Francisco, Lorena and Tess, who are here to study tango. They are leaving on Wednesday. I helped them talk to vendors who were selling souvenirs. One guy asked me if I was from Argentina. I told him no, from the United States. He then said I must have been born here and then lived there. I told him no, I was born in the United States. What is happening to me? I think I am becoming an Argentine. When I return to the United States, I wonder if I will feel different from before I left. I wonder how I have changed and if the changes will be permanent. For now, I am happy to pretend to be Argentine.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My Teachers

I have three language teachers here in Buenos Aires. As a teacher myself, I am very critical of language teachers. I know what I want, I know what I like, but I am not always able to tell my teachers what I need. Even if I do tell them, sometimes, they are not able to do what I want them to. I try to be flexible as a student, but sometimes I get discouraged and don't want to study anymore.

My Italian teacher's name is Blas. He is an Argentine guy who is about 30 years old who studied Anthropology. He also went to Rome and studied Italian for 2 years and since he can speak Italian, he is teaching it here.

In the beginning I liked his class, but now I am beginning to feel uncomfortable. He is very loud and likes to laugh and joke. I don't always understand the jokes, and sometimes he makes jokes about me or the other students. I try to hide in his class and make myself invisible, but he always looks at me and calls on me (even though he doesn't do that to all of the other students equally). I like that he has us work in groups sometimes, but I don't like that there is so much conversation about things that we are not studying. For example, he always asks us what we did on the weekend, but we never studied the past tense, so it is difficult to talk about that. I am learning some things in his class, but I will be happy when it is over because I feel uncomfortable.

My Arabic teacher's name is Ybtisaam. She is originally from Syria, but has been in Buenos Aires for 25 years. She speaks Spanish fluently. Arabic is difficult because we have to learn a new alphabet. Ybti doesn't give us enough time in class to practice things. She goes over things once and then moves on to something new. I need more practice in class. I have to study a lot outside of class because many of the other stdudents in my class already know some Arabic. I felt like I was the lowest student in class. But I am learning. Ybti doesn't make jokes about me and I feel comfortable in her class most of the time. What I don't like is that sometimes she talks about another student when she is not in the room. I don't think it is good for a teacher to do that.

And finally, my Spanish teacher's name is Leo. I started having Spanish lessons in my apartment a few weeks ago. I found Leo on Craigslist. He is great. He is my favorite teacher so far because he gives me what I need the most - practice.

I have had many Spanish teachers, but most of them didn't give me enough time to practice speaking. My last Spanish teacher here in Argentina liked to talk. When I started speaking about something, she would get excited and interrupt me and start talking. I would spend most of our lesson listening to her. But Leo is different. He gets excited and likes to talk too, but he always remembers that I need more speaking practice than listening. After he talks for a bit (I like listening to him), he will always say, "excuse me I'm talking too much" and ask me a question to make me talk more. I am very shy about speaking Spanish and am afraid of making mistakes but he is helping me to have more confidence. We meet for two hours once a week and usually I speak for most of the time. I'm really happy I found him.

It is interesting how different teachers can be. Teaching is very difficult and everyone likes different things in their teachers, but I know as a teacher and as a learner, that practice is really important. I like teachers who give me opportunities to practice and who make me feel comfortable in their classes. Leo is the best teacher I have here in Buenos Aires, and maybe the best teacher I have ever had!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Happy and Sad

Tuesday night I stayed up until 3:30 a.m. to watch the end of the 2008 election, when President-Elect Obama stood in front of a huge crowd in Chicago and gave another inspiring speech. I cried along with everyone else who believed that the United States needed a new direction. The last 8 years have been a disaster for us and for many around the world. I am hoping that President Obama can end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, can begin to do something about global warming and can help keep people from losing their homes. It felt like a new era in the United States.

Before I went to bed, I checked the status of Proposition 8, which was on the California ballot. It looked like it was winning.

When I woke up on Wednesday morning, after only 4 hours sleep, I checked again. It looked like Proposition 8 had won.

Proposition 8 was put on the ballot in response to a recent decision by the California State Supreme Court that said it was unconstitutional to deny the right to same-sex couples to marry. Proposition 8 would change the constitution so that they did not have that right.

This is the first time in the history of the United States that voters have voted to change the constitution to take a right AWAY from someone.

There are many kinds of discrimination and prejudice that still exist in the United States, but it was ironic for me that on the day that the first Black man was elected President of the United States, California took rights away from another group of people.

I know many gay and lesbian couples who were so happy to be able to get married legally in the past few months. Even though I myself was not planning on getting married, I feel the pain that they feel now that this right has been taken away.

The United States is supposed to be the land of freedom, equality and justice for all. But on Tuesday, voters in California made a decision that will affect people for years to come. Their decision to take away this very important right sends the wrong message to people in the United States and around the world. I'm happy to have a new president who I think can bring positive changes to my country, but I am very sad about what happened in California on Tuesday.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Good Week

This week was good. I felt relaxed and comfortable here and I'm feeling healthy again after having some problems. I also feel like I got over a bump in my road to becoming more fluent in Spanish.

I like speaking Spanish, but I am very aware of my mistakes. One of my first Spanish teachers was very strict. He always corrected me every time I made a mistake. I was not able to finish a sentence without him interrupting me. Then he would make me repeat the sentence again. It was very frustrating for me and I think made me really afraid to make mistakes.

I was trying to find opportunities here to speak Spanish, but there were other opportunities that I had that I didn't take advantage of. I have a friend here, Hernan, who is from Buenos Aires. He speaks English pretty well, so we mostly spoke English with each other. Once he told me that if I want to speak Spanish with him I need to remember how difficult it is for him to listen to me! He was criticizing my Spanish. He has said many things like that to me over the time I've known him. I finally decided to only speak English with him.

Then one day I met his friend who didn't speak English. We spoke Spanish and I think Hernan saw that my Spanish was not that bad. After that, he started speaking Spanish with me, but I felt shy and didn't want to speak.

This week I started taking lessons with a new teacher. I told my teacher that I really need practice just speaking, because I don't speak enough. So, for two hours we sat and had our lesson and I did most of the talking. It was really good for me. I felt more confident after and I also felt like something in my brain had changed!

Later that night, my friend Hernan came over for dinner and started speaking Spanish to me. I responded to him and noticed that I felt really comfortable. We had a nice conversation and I only made a few mistakes.

I think my Spanish is improving. I know I have learned many new words since I came here 3 months ago. But also, my willingness to speak Spanish more is also improving. I'm less afraid and more willing to take chances. I think that things like my conversation partners and my lessons are helping, but more than anything, letting go of my fear of making mistakes seems to be helping me the most.

Today I want to post a video of an electronic tango group that I like. They are called Gotan Project, and they play a new style of tango. This song is called Mi Confesion (My Confesion) and is a mixture of tango, electronic tango and hip hop. I like it alot.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I'll Be Missing the Kissing

Last night, my good friend and wonderful colleague, Diane, skyped me from her ESL class at City College, Alemany Campus, where I also teach. It was great to see some of my old students and also some of my future students (maybe). It reminded me why I love my job so much.

The students had some really good questions for me, but I wasn't prepared to answer them and I was a little bit nervous. I think someone asked me what I would miss when I leave here.

Today as I was walking to the gym, I remembered something that I really like about Argentina that I won't have in the US - kissing!

Argentines kiss everybody, or almost everybody. It is a typical Argentine greeting. Men kiss women, women kiss men, men kiss men and women kiss women. I kiss my Arabic teacher when I go to class, and sometimes I kiss my classmates. I kiss my friends when I meet them and if I meet their friends, we also kiss. I kiss the receptionist at the chiropractor's office, but my chiropractor shakes my hand - we don't kiss (I don't know why).

I think the kissing is really nice and I will miss it when I return home. Maybe I can start a new tradition in San Francisco of everyone kissing everyone!

The other thing I will miss are the Argentine gestures. Argentines use their hands a lot when they speak. I think it is because there are so many Italians who immigrated here. My family is Italian, so these gestures remind me a lot of how the people in my family speak. Not all of the gestures here have the same meaning as Italian gestures, but I found this cute video on You Tube of a guy explaining Italian gestures.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cultural Adjustment

This week I felt like I moved into the best phase of culture shock - adjustment. This is the time that life in a new culture begins to feel almost like home - with good days and bad days. It is different from that time at the beginning when everything is exciting, and not the same as that time when everything is really difficult. I like the adjustment phase.

Today I went to the supermarket and felt very comfortable there. I didn't feel stressed out that I would not understand the questions the cashier was going to ask me. I wasn't frustrated that I couldn't find the things I was looking for. I didn't get upset because the lines were really long and moving slowly. Everything seemed normal for me and I felt very comfortable.

I'm also feeling comfortable on the street with the broken sidewalks and people blowing smoke in my face and all of the traffic and noise and dog poop and everything else. Today when I left my Arabic class and walked out on to the street at the end of rush hour, I felt the excitement of being in a city with so much energy. I was glad to get home to the quiet of my apartment, but I also enjoyed being out on the street with everyone else.

I think cultural adjustment is a difficult thing. I don't know if I will ever be fully adjusted to life here in Argentina. I think there will always be things that I miss about my home and things that I don't understand here. For example, I won't take the bus because I need to have change. The smallest bill here is a 2 peso bill. But the bus costs 90 centavos. So, to take the bus, you either need 90 centavos in exact change or you need a 1 peso coin. But nobody has change! In the cafeteria at my school they have a sign on the cash register that says "no coins". Because so many people need coins for the bus, it is almost impossible to find them.

I think this is crazy. I don't understand why they just don't sell bus passes. Some people take the same bus every day. It would make so much sense to just sell regular bus riders a bus pass every month, like our Fast Pass in San Francisco. So, because I think it is stupid that you need change for the bus, I walk or take the subway or a taxi!

On the other hand, there are things I like about living here that I know I will miss when I get back to San Francisco. A friend of mine who lives in Victoria, Canada, just sent me an article she wrote about reverse culture shock. This is what happens when you return to your native country. I was glad she reminded me about it, because I want to continue my blog after I am back in San Francisco so I can write about what happens when I come back.

Culture shock can be difficult sometimes, but in the end, I think it is a positive thing and I think makes our lives much more interesting!