Sunday, May 29, 2011

The PERFECT apartment....

I found it! It's the perfect apartment!

It's located in Recoleta, the most beautiful part of downtown. There are lots of schools and university buildings around as well. I wanted to be in the center of the city, but all areas close by are either too dangerous or too expensive. This one is neither!

It's got the perfect roommates - two Brazilian med students who speak Spanish perfectly. The one who showed me the apartment was SO nice. I think we would all get along fantastically!

Of course, with every apartment, there is a catch. The one here is that:
There is no furniture in the apartment...yet (besides a mattress in my bedroom).

It does however, have a fully loaded kitchen. That's all a cookin' girl needs, right? A kitchen and a cushy mattress to rest my head at night.

Somebody please tell me that it would be ridiculous to move into an empty apartment for two months! I kid you not...I'm seriously considering taking this one. As much as I like being around my new friends in the hostel (who are in the same precarious position as I), I really want a place where I can unpack my bag. I guess this apartment really wouldn't be the place to do that because I wouldn't have a wardrobe. *Sigh*

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Education Situation: Technology

Having finally figured out the logistics of my stay here (lodging, the bank card situation), I found a chance this morning to open up the Argentine daily, Clarín, for the first time. The front page offers a “Theme of the Day,” which today was, appropriately, education. The subtext outlined that over half of Argentine primary and secondary students not only lack a computer and internet at home, but don’t even have your basic living room library either. Though it offers statistics on books as well as computers, the article is truly focused in the medium of computers and internet as the primary learning necessity. The author goes even further to say that internet access at home is not just a necessity, but a right.

In education reform class with Don Ernst this spring, one of the major themes that outlined many class discussions was what factors had most influence in the achievement of students. Was it the teachers? The parents? The financial situation? Research done by University of Washington professor Dan Goldhaber outlines that 66% of the variance in student achievement outcomes depends on the socio-economic status of the student. Of course, this intangible concept is incredibly difficult to measure, so let’s just say that a big chunk of what determines student achievement may rely on resources (in the United States), according to one study. The other factors are largely unknown, though the Goldhaber study determines that 8% of the variance is encompassed in teacher quality.

The experts being interviewed for the Clarín piece seem to agree with the notion that resources play a large part in student achievement. It seems as though Argentine urban areas have a similar problem that America’s urban cities do – many people who can afford it are going to private schools, leaving the public schools with less social investment.

In order to even the learning field, the government of Argentina has started an initiative called Conectar Igualdad that has already put 567,000 computers in the hands of high-school students. They have a goal of distributing 3 million computers in the years to come (doesn’t specify how many years).

This reminded me of one of our public programs – the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative – and had me wondering why it didn’t exist in Argentina. It seems like this country is ready for it because it already has infrastructure and intelligence to support OLPC systems and troubleshooting. So I looked it up.

It turns out that President Kirschner was indeed considering piloting OLPC in 2007, right after it was being implemented in Uruguay and other Latin American countries. With a little more scouting around, I found that in 2010, OLPC was implemented in a region called La Rioja, giving kids laptops in both rural and urban schools. The Clarín article actually did mention the success of laptop distribution in La Rioja, but did not attribute it to OLPC. Nonetheless, it did say that not only was the initiative a success for students in that province, but it was bringing families together around the pedagogical opportunities offered by the OLPC program specifically.

That’s because Intel and OLPC (with Windows interface) teamed together to outfit the computers with functions that promote learning outcomes. In other words, they are not just a medium of technology; rather, the computers were created from the ground up to foster creativity and exploration. This is done through software called “Sugar,” geared towards primary school students.

This very small bit of investigation this morning has brought me to reflect upon my own project here in Argentina. I still haven’t found out exactly what services are being offered through the High School Support Program with which I’ll be working directly. But the idea is similar to OLPC in that resources equate to better opportunities for students. However, OLPC starts with the resource which is a means to better education, whereas CruzadaArgentina (my partner org) starts with the schools (which are nuclei of rural society in Argentina) in order to promote a better work ethic and give opportunities for sustainable economic growth.

All this is really just to say…I’m really excited to start work on Monday!

The Articles:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Flashback: The First Impression

You guys keep asking what my first impression of Buenos Aires has been. I usually respond something like, "It's great, but it certainly won't be the last impression."

Here are some photos to give you a preview of my first weekend here. The couple I stayed with took me on a mini-vacation to their weekend home on the river. We had a relaxing fall evening complete with my first, true parrillada, or Argentine BBQ.

So, this is not a representation of the typical Buenos Aires. Soon to come are pictures of the bustling, cosmopolitan city so you can see how diverse this place really is!

Argentine flag that adorns the stern of every boat.

La vista - The view.

Los veleros - Sailboats.

El crucero - The speedboat that transports us from the marina along the canals to the house. It's name is "La Pepineta."

Los colores hermosos del otoño - It's fall in Buenos Aires, and the trees are changing color!

Tayson - Tyson. The dog we rented for the weekend. Yes, that's right. We rented two dogs to play with from a neighbor down the canal.

I wish I could remember the word she told me for mimosa flower. They remind me of our old house in Austin, TX, that had a mimosa tree in the backyard.

La Casa - Before we ever arrived at the house, I was playing the "What If..." game with them. I basically described this house perfectly as the one I would want if I had my own place on the river: small and white with a huge deck to sit outside and read.

La Parrillada - the Argentine BBQ. The true parrillada is done with no seasonings or extra flavorings. It's only the meat flavored by the fire from the grill. And it's delicious! We had chorizo (Spanish sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), chinchulin (which I'm pretty sure is the intestine), pork ribs, lamb, and the finale - Argentine beef (not sure what cut). And, yes, I ate it all.

Luz de la Luna - They named their cottage "Moonlight."

Arcoiris - The early morning rainbow that accompanied me back to the city.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Heart AR!

Yes, I heart them both!

This is a picture of HelpArgentina's logo - the organization that matched me with my IPSP partner organization.

It reminded me of the joke that I have with the couple that I've been staying with for the past five nights.

On our first night at dinner, the señor asked me if I knew where the name of my own state came from. I told him 'no' with a little hesitation. He told me that it was named for our mutual friend, Sr. L, who lived in Argentina for a while before moving to the States. So, the United States has a Kansas, yes. But it also has an ARkansas, or Argentina's Kansas!

I told him, as an Arkansan, I never knew that. But that it must mean he and I have something in common! It may not be the funniest joke out there, but it was the beginning of several that we've shared over the past five days, so it's my favorite.

I'm so fortunate to have been able to stay with a family for a few days while I got acquainted with the city. It was nice to have people fuss over me and look after me like a grandchild. I'm so thankful for them for opening up their home to me, and to Sr. L for introducing us!

A Rainy Day in B.A.

Tuesday. May 24, 2011

All of you who know me at all know that I tend to be a spastic person. Normally, my head is so high in the clouds, I miss 50% of what's happening in front of my eyes. Well, today was a pretty cloudy day in Buenos Aires - literally and figuratively speaking - and I was as clear-headed as ever! It seems as though I pull myself together best when most people tend to fall apart - in times of chaos.

I started off the day lost after taking the bus without knowing where to get off. Nervous that it was going to take me somewhere far away from downtown before realizing it, I prematurely got off and took the subte, or subway, the rest of the way. With only a few glances at the map in inconspicuous locations (to avoid looking too much like a tourist), I found my way to an internet cafe, to the Western Union, another internet cafe all before noon. Then I successfully found the apartment that I made an appointment to see. Afterward, I got myself back to downtown for a cafe con leche and empanada all in a few hours!

Why all the running around? I LOST my debit card yesterday :( So, in addition to my scheduled apartment hunt, I had to figure out all the logistics of dealing with a lost card. And I had to do it all before the close of business because the 25th of May is Argentina's Independence Day (or one of them, anyway). I would have been sin dinero and sintecho (homeless) if I didn't get it all done!

What surprised me most was not that I was prepared for the worst in the first place. Rather, I went through all the motions of the day very calm and collected. As if it were business as usual. I couldn't figure out why, at first, I wasn't in a panic. But, like a good Clinton School student, I reflected on it a while and figured it out.

It was all those other bad days I've had. Days for which, today, I am very thankful! Not because it takes the bad days to know the good ones, though that's true. Rather, surviving the bad ones gets easier each time.

I'm thankful for the time someone robbed my passport and ID card in Madrid because it assured me that even in the worst situations (without identity or without money), there's always a solution.

I'm thankful for the time I walked a couple miles from the bus stop in Portugal before we realized the hostel was right there. Okay, okay...I'm thankful for all the times I've been lost in foreign cities - You all know there's been a few! Because today I was able to navigate the streets like a pro (or a Porteña)!

And I'm thankful for the seventy-somethingth day of rain in Jerez last year when Barbara and I were sitting at the eatery 100 montaditos. We had permanently soggy feet and were on the verge of tears, but refused to let the rain break us. Because today, I walked 16 blocks home in the rain and didn't melt!

With a little luck and little experience, I made it through the day with success! Without the bad day that had come before, the ominous gray clouds would have got the best of me. I wouldn't have been able to see the silver lining, which is best expressed in the words of little orphan Annie:

"The sun will come out tomorrow!"

Wednesday. May 25, 2011

It's true. The weather forecast called for 50%+ chance of rain all day. However, there wasn't a drop that fell or a gray cloud in the sky.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

So what happened was...

...I arrived at the airport and, to my simultaneous dismay and relief, they told me I should probably wait until tomorrow to leave. Chicago was not only windy, but rainy as well. I would have missed all my connections and had to stay in a hotel room at my own expense. Also, (and here comes the relief part) my bags were twenty-five pounds overweight ($200 fee)! Are you kidding me?!

So I went home and took everything out of the big red suitcase. Now, after a couple of hours and a glass of vino, I'm all re-packed and ready to go.

Packing check-list:
-Brand new, Razorback red digital camera? CHECK
-TOMS shoes? CHECK (bonus points b/c they say "The journey is the destination." What great travel kicks!)
-Reading material for the 7-hour layover? CHECK
-An appetite for Argentine gelato and street pizza? CHECK
- Map? Yeah right. The best part about a new city is how much fun you have getting lost!!

I leave Adams Field at 12:25pm and arrive in BsAs (Buenos Aires) at 9:20 the next morning. Believe it or not, I'm looking forward to last year's films, bad airplane food, and the hustle and bustle of the Houston airport. Anything to get me to Argentina!

MISSION: Buenos Aires or BUST

Attempt 1: Fail.

Weather undesirable for flying. Regroup for a second attempt tomorrow.

Attempt 2: To be executed Thurs, May 19 - 12:25h

Expected to arrive at destination at 09:20h on 5/20. Continue mission as planned.

Over and out.

Friday, May 13, 2011


New post, New country, Same ol' blog.
This time, I'm leaving the jamon, flamenco, and Castilian Spanish behind and headed a new direction: South. I'm gonna live in the big city, bigger than New York in fact, and learn my way around some good beef, the tango, and the Argentine dialect! My world is going to be turned upside down, literally. It will be winter in Argentina instead of summer. I've heard that even the toilets flush the opposite way (I'll have to remember to check on that)! In any case, it should be a good time, and I invite you to follow my Argentine adventures here.

What am I doing there?
I'm completing a requirement for my master's degree in public service. I'll be working for a non-profit organization called Cruzada Argentina. The organization does rural development work through schools in the impoverished northern areas of the country. I'm really excited to be working with their newest initiative - The High School Support Program - that provides vocational classes and other skills to give kids a better opportunity after graduation to enter the workforce.

The adventure starts May 18! Stay tuned for what is sure to be buenos tiempos (good times) in Buenos Aires.