Monday, September 29, 2008

Loving What Is

I was sick most of this past week. In addition to the cold, I get attacks of vertigo from time to time. The vertigo makes me dizzy and sometimes I get nauseous and vomit. It's a terrible thing. I am lucky that I am not working, and was able to spend a lot of time at home resting.

I think that these health problems I am having are due to stress. It is difficult living in a foreign country and trying to speak a new language. I thought it would be fun, but in fact, it is very difficult and stressful. Plus, because I am not working, I don't see people every day. I have a few friends here, but I am kind of isolated and don't have interaction with students or co-workers like I would if I were working. I realize how important it is to be around people, but right now, I don't know how to do that.

When I read other blogs by other foreigners living here in Buenos Aires, I find that many people have the same problems as me. They have trouble communicating and adjusting to the culture. A lot of people complain about things. Everybody misses the way things were back home.

It's funny because I don't hear my students in San Francisco complain that much. I wonder if maybe they don't complain to me, but complain with each other. Or is it because I, and these other foreigners are spoiled and are so used to having conveniences and luxuries that most people don't have?

Last night I went for a walk. It had been raining all day. I thought the sidewalks would be nice and clean and everything would be fresh because of the rain.

Instead, the sidewalks were very dirty and muddy. Why? Because the sidewalks here are made from tiles. The government is not responsible for the sidewalk, but private citizens are supposed to take care of the sidewalk in front of their home or business. But people don't have the money to do this. So many sidewalks are missing tiles and the dirt is exposed. Because of the rain, this dirt turned to mud. So when people were walking down the street they stepped in the mud and this mud covered all of the other tiles on the sidewalk. It was a big dirty mess.

A few years ago a friend introduced me to a woman named Byron Katie. Byron Katie wrote a book called "Loving What Is". Her idea in the book is that we can not argue with reality, and if we try to, it will make us crazy. So, the easiest and most peaceful thing we can do is to accept things the way they are.

These broken, dirty sidewalks are a good way for me to practice "loving what is". I could walk down the street and criticize and think 'these sidewalks should be clean', or I can see them the way they are and just accept them.

I think a lot of my stress about living here, and a lot of the stress that other foreigners are feeling comes from wanting things to be different than they are. But I think the secret is learning to accept things as they are and just loving that.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Honeymoon is Over

I just finished reading some of my blog from last year, when I first came to Buenos Aires. On my first trip here, I LOVED it! I was excited about everything and it seemed like this place was magic. I was excited about learning Spanish and meeting people and doing new things and the weather seemed beautiful to me even though it changed often and sometimes got very cold. It was fun reading about that time because that was the honeymoon. I know that with culture shock, as with everything else, the honeymoon doesn't last forever.

It is clear to me that the honeymoon is over. When I read other blogs from other foreigners living here, I can tell if they have been here for a long time or not. If they are fairly new here, they still have that excitement that I felt last year. If they have been here for longer, they usually are complaining about things.

I don't have many things to complain about here. I have a fairly good life, and I am glad that I don't have to work and I have a flexible schedule that allows me time to relax if I need it. This past week I had a cold, so I didn't do anything besides going to my Italian and Arabic classes. If I was working, I probably would have had to take some medicine so that I could go to work, instead of stay home and recuperate.

But, I don't have that feeling of excitement that I felt when I came here for the first time. I remember being excited with every new thing - going to the supermarket, using the ATM, finding a store that sold seafood! It was all new and exciting. Now, I know that the supermarkets are not that great, and I miss Trader Joe's. I don't use the ATM because my bank charges me a fee, and the seafood store is kind of scary for me because I don't know the names of so many fish in Spanish.

I am no longer on my honeymoon with Buenos Aires. I'm not in the worst part of culture shock either - the part where everything is awful. I am kind of in the middle. I can see the good things about being here and I can see the bad. I am glad I will get to return to San Francisco for a short time before coming back here again next year.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Am I Learning?

Learning is an interesting thing. Sometimes we are learning but we don't even realize it.

When I first came back here in August, I felt like I was learning and improving in my Spanish on a daily basis, especially with all of my interactions at the supermarket. But even outside of the supermarket, I was speaking a lot of Spanish with conversation partners, friends, in all of the classes I am taking, and with people in other shops. It was very exciting and I was feeling like I was improving very quickly.

But now I am involved in learning other things. I'm feeling like I am getting better at tango, after a VERY difficult beginning. I'm starting to be able to read in Arabic, even though I had no confidence that I would be able to do that. But for some reason, I am feeling like my Spanish has stalled. I don't feel like I am speaking as much Spanish and don't really feel like speaking Spanish with people. I am very aware of my mistakes now and there are so many things I want to be able to say that I can't. It's not as exciting as it was in the beginning and is beginning to feel like a lot of work for me.

It will be interesting for me to see what happens with the other things I am studying. Maybe one day Arabic is going to feel like work and not be fun, or I am going to feel like my tango dancing it not improving anymore. My guess is that when we learn something new we go through different phases and that sometimes these phases are fun and exciting and we can see our progress, and other times these phases are not so exciting and we feel like nothing is happening.

Whatever the case, I think it is very important to continue. I read somewhere that people often give up when they are learning something new because they stop feeling excited about it. I guess this might be what is happening with my Spanish. I still do something every day to try to practice, like watching the news or reading the newspaper. And even though it doesn't feel as exciting, I feel like I am still learning, though maybe a little more slowly now.

I think it is good to stop every now and then to think about how I feel about learning. It is good for me to recognize that I am feeling a little bored with Spanish right now and I am feeling like I don't want to speak. I think a good thing for me to do would be to try to find a way to get excited again. I'm not sure what that is, but asking the question is a good way to begin.

Friday, September 5, 2008

One Month

One month has passed already since I arrived. Time seems to have flown by very quickly. I'm feeling pretty comfortable - not totally, but better than the week of culture shock I experienced.

On Wednesday I had a private lesson with my tango teacher Marcelo. I had my Italian class in the morning. When I first saw Marcelo, we chatted a bit, I think about my Italian class or what I had been doing since I last saw him. He told me he thought my Spanish was improving. I thought it was interesting that he said that. I think it is improving too, at least it is becoming more fluent. Having more opportunities to practice really helps me. I have to say things beyond things you say when you first meet someone, or asking for things in a store. Telling stories and having conversations with people requires some advanced grammar and vocabulary, and putting myself into situations where I need that helps me to put into practice some of the things I've studied in my advanced level classes. It's all starting to make sense now and I'm feeling more comfortable using things like the subjunctive and conditional.

What I found interesting though was that I felt my tango had improved. Even simple things like walking, which Marcelo has me do as a warm up, felt more comfortable for me. I felt like I had better balance, like my walk was more confident and like I was walking in time with the music better. When I danced with Marcelo, I was leading, and I felt like my lead was strong and clear. Marcelo didn't say anything about any of that, but even so, I noticed an improvement and I felt good about it.

Learning is interesting for me, but I think it is important for us to take time to recognize the progress we are making. Sometimes we might feel like we are not improving at all and that can be frustrating. But when we feel our improvement, whether or not someone tells us they see it, I think it can encourage us to keep trying, even though things might be difficult.

For me feeling like I am improving as a tango dancer and as a Spanish speaker encourages me to keep going out and looking for opportunities to practice.