Tuesday, July 31, 2012

En Mendoza!

Finally the big day arrived for the quick flight to Mendoza and Spanish 24/7. Jose, our program director, has quite the system for delivering us to our families at the airport. No really. He calls himself a stork. This is how it all happened…

…We picked up our bags from the carousel and stacked our various pieces of luggage on the trolley carts, which are free in the Mendoza airport. This was quite the adventure for the other passengers on our plane who then had to negotiate a sea of trolley carts, luggage, and nervous American students speaking Spanglish. After all the other passengers had cleared the area, Jose instructed us to get in line to put our luggage through a screening process (customs in country?) then one-by-one, he delivered us through the sliding double doors to our hungry host families craning to see us from the other side. I’m sure the whole time they were thinking “is that one mine? Maybe that one?” as we struggled with our luggage and nerves.

Needless to say, it was quite Harry Potterish as we all stood in line with our trolley carts waiting to be delivered. From my point of view it looked like Jose was instructing each student with their trolley cart exactly how to run at the brick column to get to Platform 9 ¾ and when the glass doors opened it really was magical hearing the cheers and hollers from the host families excited to claim their students.
I was towards the end of the line (second to last actually) and when I reached Jose he informed me that my host family wasn’t there yet, they were stuck in traffic, which keeping with my Harry Potter simile was like finding out I’d been mistaken for a wizard when in actuality I was just a muggle. I was definitely bummed. But never fear! Because when my host brother arrived he was very apologetic and so, so nice to me. I was instantly ecstatic once again to be in Mendoza and (incredibly) speaking Spanish!

For the past few days now, I have been speaking 90% Spanish with my family, friends, IFSA folks, and Argentinos. The first day especially this was very exciting, but has since become exciting and extremely exhausting. I think I’ve been traveling too much recently because I can literally feel my brain booting up like a plane’s engine, slowly gaining power as I register words and complete sentences and speak my thoughts until… MALFUNCTION! and everything shuts down. My subconscious comes over the intercom and informs my neurons, “we’ve got a very difficult verb construction here, looks like it may be a few moments before we can prepare for takeoff” at which time I stare blankly at my host mom or friend utterly confused. It’s frustrating, but that’s just how it’s going to be as I climb basically the Longs Peak Diamond Face equivalent of a learning curve. Oh well, c’est la vie! 

Crap. That was French.

-Lisa en Argentina
P.S. Best mess up moment so far = I pointed to my head saying “cerveza” instead of “cabeza” thus calling my brain a beer. My brother loved it. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Sights of Buenos Aires

IFSA Butler planned two days for sightseeing in the city before we leave for Mendoza so we can relax and get to know the culture and history of this beautiful city. Naturally I took my camera everywhere and was quiet the gringo tourist, but I’m so glad I did! The city is beautiful and I was happy I got to capture some of its famous attractions for myself.
For example, we saw the inside of the Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires, which just about took my breath away. The mausoleum of San Martín (Argentina’s national hero) is here and of course I had to take a picture with one of the guards of his army (a more ceremonial army than active) which as you can see in the picture at right, he thoroughly enjoyed. Below are a few of my other favorite pictures from the church. The left is one of the many chapels. This one was called the Capilla de San Luis Gonzaga. The middle picture is from the mausoleum of San Martín. And the last photo is the main alter of the church, which was so beautiful, but very hard to photograph.


We also went to La Boca, a neighborhood near the mouth of the River Plate (boca is Spanish for mouth). The immigrants that lived there built their homes from the dock after it closed. They couldn’t afford bricks so they bought the paint that others discarded for cheap. Hence you get yellow, green, blue, and many other colors on the metal buildings. Some people still live in the apartments, but it’s mostly a tourist attraction now with shops, restaurants, and many locals dancing the tango for donations.

After lunch and all this touring, a group of my new friends and I went to a cute little wine bar in a different part of the city. Yes, I drank a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, which was very difficult to order not because of my aversion to alcohol so much as my inability to use anything but a Spanish accent when I’m speaking and thinking in Spanish. Luckily the waiter forgave me. :)

That night after orientation, we had dinner on our own, so I went with another group for pizza at a restaurant close by. Afterwards, we determined that we only had one night left in Buenos Aires, so better make the most of it! Argentine time is very different than the United States when “going out” for the night, as in clubs don’t open till 2:00am. Like total champs though, we went to a bar at about midnight where we met some nice local Argentine men (who my more advanced Spanish-speaking friends totally chatted up). They eventually used their connections to get us into Club Kiko with VIP access and no cover charge. We danced until after 3am when I finally went back to the hotel. We had a 7:30 wake-up call the next morning, but it was incredible!
The next morning was more sightseeing with a slightly less active crowd than the club the night before at the Recoleta Cemetery and Nuestro Senorá del Pilar Church. The church is the oldest in Buenos Aires, founded in 1732 and was so beautiful. The cemetery was incredible also. I hadn’t ever seen anything like it! We saw the mausoleums of multiple Argentine presidents and other famous Argentines. One very creepy story was that of one girl who was buried in a coma. She suffocated of course, and when they reburied her they put a statue of a girl in nightgown trying to open a door with no handle (see below) Worst nightmare anyone? I tried to be artistic with my pictures in the cemetery, because it was so beautiful and ornate. Definitely an incredible place!
After lunch, our time in Buenos Aires was over and we headed to the airport for Mendoza. I’ll never forget this city and all its sights and history. Now it’s on to the real challenge, Spanish 24/7 and living with a new family for five months. It still hasn’t hit me that this isn’t a vacation, it’s a new life in a different country. I’ll let you know when that moment does occur, but for now, I’ll leave you with just a few more shots of the beautiful capital of Argentina!

-Lisa en Argentina

Thursday, July 26, 2012

!Estoy Aqui!

I have arrived in Buenos Aires after a long flight of 8 hours and restless sleep. I met up with the other folks in my program, about 30 students from around the country, and were thrilled by how much in common I have with a lot of them. We’re all fast friends in the making!


I was particularly lucky to meet a fellow who has been in Buenos Aires for about a month now and was happy to get the rest of us oblivious gringos around town sightseeing. The architecture here would thrill Aunt Holly and I love the beautiful façades and rising spires. It’s winter here in Argentina, yet the day felt like it was in the low 60s and thus was pretty comfortable. Definitely a nice change after 100 degrees in Colorado.

The highlight of today was visiting the Plaza de Mayo where the madres de la plaza meet every Thursday to protest the human rights abuses the military regime of Argentina committed from 1976-83. Around 13,000 people disappeared. The demonstration was a powerful symbol of the turmoil still felt by many Argentines about their government, their country, and the future of both. The woman I managed to capture in this picture is a somber reminder of the struggle this country has had to face in its efforts to present itself on the global stage. She and the other mothers quietly chanted the names of those who had disappeared while slowly circling around the Pirámide de Mayo in front of the Casa Rosada where the President has her offices.

Today we also learned in orientation all about the amazing opportunities that we’ll have in Mendoza, including free gym and library access, free theatre passes, Argentine cooking classes, and of course access to some of the most beautiful mountains around (after the Rockies of course). While we’re here in Buenos Aires our orientation is in English so we don’t miss any critical information and can relax and be tourists before the challenge of full-emersion begins in a couple days. I find myself so excited to learn Spanish now that it’s all around me, and I can only hope I can keep my patience and not get too frustrated as I try to become fluent as fast as possible. The brief times I do communicate with Argentines I get flushed and excited, seemingly one step closer to being part of this amazing culture.
I sign off for now, and leave you with a wonderful picture of Argentine empanadas. Yum! The food here is definitely delicious, albeit they do serve dinner around 10pm.

Love you all!
Lisa en Argentina

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Note on Airports

I’m currently sitting in MIA in the land of palm trees and humidity levels best described by Dave Barry as feeling like someone has “thrown a wet towel over your face.” No really, it almost feels hard to breath.
But as I sit here waiting for my plane to Buenos Aires (4 hours and counting!) I decided I had to write a little blub about the hilarity of airports. Perhaps I’m just overly excited about my destination and that has made this trip far more thrilling and funny to me, but ever since Mom and Dad dropped me off this morning at DIA, I’ve been finding entertainment in just about everything.
For starters, as we climbed out of Denver headed for Miami, I noticed that we seemed to level off sooner than I expected, headed straight for a cloud which I think we could have easily cleared had we gone just a bit higher. Of course entering this cloud resulted in turbulence, and I couldn’t help wondering if the crew up front was pulling a move like the Gary Larson cartoon shown at right. I’m no pilot, but it would seem to me that flying straight into a cloud would be great cover for “more turbulence.”
Next, I had to pull out my Sky Mall magazine, which always entertains me. Here are some of the more hilarious of the items available for purchase:
  • ·         Bling Dental Products: The Diamond Ultrasonic Toothbrush – My favorite part was the before and after photos of a woman who had used the product. The only difference was that she was wearing bright red lipstick in the “after” photograph. Nicely done Bling Dental.
  • ·         LitterKwitter: “Potty train your cat faster than most people can potty train their kids” – I’d like to think this advertisement is claiming as fact that cats are indeed smarter than humans.
  • ·         Hot Dog Leash: “It’s funny even if you don’t have a weiner dog. If you do, then it’s hilarious!” – No comment
Then I entered the part of the magazine which uses “The” in front of every article, as if you should have heard of the product a million times and its world-wide famousness and usefulness is obvious. For example “The Genuine Navy Seal Watch” which would probably stand up to this description if not for the next item, “The Genuine Bamboo Tiki Bar,” which sort of steals its thunder.
My favorite item though? “The Peeing Boy of Brussels” Statue & Fountain. I would attach the picture, but I’m sure your imagination is doing far better.
Finally, flying into Miami, I noticed Floridian civil engineers have thought it smart to paint “Merge” with large arrows pointing to which lane motorists should change to on their highways. I couldn’t help but wonder if this novelty would be affective in California. What do you think Jim Parker?
In all seriousness, I’m so excited to be in Miami especially because so much Spanish is already happening all around me! I’m thinking it will be a nice transition. The next time I post I’ll be in South America! Can’t wait!
Lisa en Argentina
P.S. A quick shout out to the big burly black man who shared a row with me and is the proud owner of a pink and purple flower print JanSport backpack. You don’t know me, but you’re my hero.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Introduction

Heart pounding, eyes wide, I put down the phone. The timer on the digital display says 22 minutes and I'm all smiles. I just had my first conversation with a local Argentine, my host mom Dina Hernandez, and for 22 minutes! This would be superfluous of course if it didn't come with a) a heck of a phone bill, and b) the fact that it was all in Spanish, which is my main motivator for traveling south of the equator for five months.

Ever since my first mission trip, which was to Juarez, Mexico, I've craved to be fluent in Spanish. I love the Latino culture, I love the beauty of the language, and more than anything, I love the idea of being connected to another community through a common identity of communication. Thus, my dream of fluency blossomed via DU (University of Denver) where 80% of students study abroad. You see, I do this thing where I set a goal, in this case full-immersion Spanish in my study abroad program of choice, then go through all the paperwork, red tape, long nights, etc. to set myself up for it, somehow all without consciously realizing how tough the final challenge will be. So now, after applications, essays, and two years of college level Spanish instruction I find myself heading speedily towards my final goal - full-immersion in Mendoza, Argentina. Suddenly my brain seems to be questioning my tough determination all those applications so long ago, can I really do this?

22 minutes later I'm beginning to think I can, and it's lifted me to a whole new level of excitement. Aside from full-immersion Spanish, including classes at the local university with other Argentines and staying with Dina, I'm also in one of the most beautiful places in Argentina. Mendoza is in wine-country in the foothills of the Andes on Argentina's western border and is a hot tourist spot for many Latin Americans. (For proof, see photo above). Activities nearby include hiking, whitewater rafting, zip lining, and mountain climbing (Aconcagua is not far from Mendoza) not to mention bike and wine tours and innumerable cultural and historical opportunities. In short, the community I'm about to be a part of will provide its challenges, but will also provide incredible opportunities for learning, growth, and discovery and I plan to take full advantage of them all.

Through this blog I'll relay the challenges and adventures that I'm sure to experience for the next five months, along with a multitude of pictures so be sure to check in often! :)  Also, if you would like to send anything, the address to use is:

Lisa Parker
c/o José Mostafá
Rivadavia 122 7˚76
5500 Mendoza

To everyone that's helped me get to this point, thank you so much for your support and encouragement. I couldn't do it without you!

Let the adventures begin!
- Lisa en Argentina