Monday, August 11, 2014

On Friday the 25th, we had an asado (barbecue) to celebrate tío Federico’s (uncle Federico) birthday. His nickname is an endearment; he is a family friend. The asador (cook) prepared it in a brick oven to perfection. The process (in this case) involves heating charcoal, placing the charcoal under a grill, and then placing the food on the grill to cook it. Chorizo (sausage) and Morcilla (blood sausage) are made first. Different cuts of meat, such as Costilla (ribs) and matambre (a thin cut of beef) are subsequently cooked. The next day, Flavia, Gustavo, Flavia's boyfriend, and I went to a family party held for a relative of Gustavo. I spoke with many people and even had a parrot perch on my shoulder.
Lucio, Flavia’s brother, returned from a month long trip to Germany. He is a skilled guitar player and historian, but he is still deciding his career. On Wednesday, I finally was able to speak with him one on one, but I did not get to speak with him for long, because I had to leave to go on a trip with a Hernán, who is a student at English in Rosario. He picked me up at three, and we drove to the Independence Park, which was inaugurated with a celebration on January 1, 1902. We walked through the park and then entered the Museum of Provincial History, where I saw many historical items, including firearms, standards, and paintings. A 5-meter tall statue from Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital that fell in 1521 to Spanish Conquistadors, caught my eye. After the museum, Hernán and I went to the Flag’s Memorial and then walked through the nearby park, along the river. In the park, I spoke with a man who sold toys. He asked me odd questions and was expressive of his political views, but I did not feel threatened or insulted. Both of us being exhausted, Hernán drove me home, only to pick me up two hours later for his friend’s goodbye party. There I met a man who had lived in the country for five months and was, like me, learning Spanish. It was a relief and nice sanity check to be able to speak with someone who is experiencing the same difficulties as me.
View from the Flag's Memorial
Last week I began private Spanish lessons, which have gone well, as I enjoy being able to have one on one conversation. I also had a lesson with a new teacher, Debi, because Marcela had to take time off due to health issues, but she is better now. Unfortunately, for my lessons on Thursday and Friday I was nearly falling asleep because I was out late the nights before. Wednesday I was at the goodbye party and Thursday night I ate at Helena’s (mother) house again.

On Friday, several family friends came over to eat burgers. After dinner, we all played a game of Taboo (Tabu in Spanish). During your turn, you receive a word that your team must guess, but you are not allowed to say certain words. I was horrible, which was a given because I was the only non-native speaker playing. José, a close family friend, began to talk about a man who had “escaped” his wife. I guessed pirata (an unfaithful man, similar to player), a slang word, within seconds. The entire room erupted in applause because of my correct guess. That was my achievement for the night. Afterwards, we played Clue in Spanglish, which was quite a challenge. This all ended at about 3 AM.

On Saturday, Flavia and I attended a Tango concert (not a dance) performed by the Orquesta de Señoritas at the ECU (cultural space for university students). My first impression of this formal event was that I would not enjoy it, because I do not listen to orchestra music and had understood the word “tango” as being a dance. In reality, it is a dance and style of music. The women shattered my preconceptions when they began to play. The orchestra consists of six young women: a pianist, a bassist, a viola player, two violinists, and a bandoneon (similar to an accordion) player. For some of the songs, a man sang in a broken and sorrowful tone. Tango is about loss and remorse, and the Señoritas captured that essence skillfully. After the concert, Flavia and I walked over to one of her friend’s apartment, where we enjoyed homemade pizza and relaxed with her friends. (Good food and company seem to be a theme in this blog.) We returned home at about 1:30. It was a good night.

Today, we had another excellent asado at the house. Afterwards, José, Flavia, Flavia’s friend Ana, and I went to la Feria del Bulevar, the biggest flea market in the city. They had toys, wallets, belts, purses, etc. My favorite booth had small metal figurines and statues, as well as old trinkets. I also saw a sword that I wanted to buy but could not practically take home on my return flight. I bought a leather belt for 120 pesos, which is a little less than $10 with the unofficial exchange rate. I did not buy anything else, though I will return because it is a great place to buy presents for my friends and family.

Note: I plan to publish two more posts in this blog. My next post should be published around Thursday the 20th. I will write and publish my last post in the U.S. after I have had time to reflect on my trip.

25/7-8/3 (July 25th-August 3rd)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Let me begin by acknowledging that I have not updated this blog for a while. I have been busy, sick, and [insert excuse here]. To keep a consistent schedule and produce enough content, I plan to publish a post every Monday until I leave.

So far, my trip has been great but it has also been stressful. I have been spending my time doing many fun and exciting things and meeting a ton of people. Adjusting to a new culture is stressful, regardless of how many great people I have to meet and beautiful places I have yet to see.

On the ninth, I watched the Holland versus Argentina game in Fenicia, the bar mentioned in my first post, with my friends. It was an intense game with no goals scored, ending with Argentina winning in penalty kicks. This time around, I was more immersed in the game and my cheers were more in harmony with the locals.

Four days later, on the 13th, I watched the World Cup final. This game was unlike the other two games I had seen. The other two games were tense and emotional, but the pressure of it being the final game compounded these effects. A man tripped over a dog that was lying on the floor, resulting in a spilled drink. That was the only break in the palpable tension of the game. The dog then proceeded to lick some of the beer off the floor. The man apologized, and everyone returned to watching the game almost immediately.

Argentina scored a point that the referees deemed offside and Germany scored with minutes to go in extra time. Immediately upon the Krauts scoring this point, the mood dropped. Because I had only been in the country for about ten days, I did not empathize with this well. I was also awestruck at the goal that Mario Götze scored. It was an amazing feat to score a goal like that while not even looking at the goal.

Several days later, Flavia, brought me to an amazing meal of fondue with her mother and sister, Helena and Virginia. Flavia's boyfriend, Gustavo, and Virginia's boyfriend, Aníbal (aka Hanni) were also present. It was an amazing experience, even if I could not understand everything that they said. Everyone asked me questions about things such as U.S. history and my musical taste. The U.S. Civil War came up. For the first (and likely last) time in my life, I was able to show off that I know Johnny Cash’s birth year (1932). That night was fun, not only because of the amazing food and company, but also because of the cultural experience.

In my last post, I wrote about culture shock being a wonderful and euphoric experience. In contrast, shell shock would have been a more appropriate term for about ten days after my first week. (My research revealed that both are typical stages in culture shock.) Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines culture shock as 'a feeling of confusion, doubt, or nervousness caused by being in a place (such as a foreign country) that is very different from what you are used to.' It is about having to think about how you cross the street and every other mundane detail. It is about missing your old routine and the familiarity that came with it. It is also about overcoming the anxiety brought on by the language barrier. Your first instinct is to shut down and be quiet when you move to a foreign country with limited abilities in the native tongue. It is tricky to overcome this overpowering and counterproductive response. While experiencing those feelings over those ten days, I became physically sick. It was tough to handle because adjusting to Rosario had already made me exhausted. I saw a doctor last Saturday and got a prescription for an antibiotic. I now feel better, which will enable me to move on to learning more Spanish.

The chief purpose of my coming to Rosario was to learn Spanish. I am currently taking classes at Spanish in Rosario – the name is self-explanatory. (Thanks to Stephanie for being in contact with Heidi to help coordinate my lessons.) I have two teachers, Federico and Marcela. They are both fantastic teachers that have been immensely helpful. They provide me with a structured approach to learning the language and a place where I do not feel overwhelmed by the language. I have 90-minute blocks with each of them five days a week. I had class with James, an Irish political science major who is currently working on his dissertation. The structure may change a little because he is no longer taking lessons, but I doubt I will ever remove the traces of his Irish accent from my Spanish.
Federico, Marcela, and I
These blocks consist of conversation, grammar, and engaging exercises. For example, we watched a creepy (Did you know that “creepy” has no direct translation in Spanish?) video, titled Alma (Spanish for soul), about a young kid who decided to go into a doll shop. We practiced the conditional tense by writing what-if statements. I wrote, “Si Obama hubiera escapado de la tienda, él habría llamado a la policía.” That means, “If Obama had escaped the store, he would have called the police.” (My brother says, “Let's be real here. He would have nuked the place.” I would not blame Obama.)
The interior of Spanish in Rosario

I have made a lot of progress with the language so far; I practice vocabulary daily from my several vocabulary sheets that I aim to master. Out in the real world, I practice the skills that my teachers (that include Señora Green and Señora Fernandez, my high school Spanish teachers, whom I have not yet thanked) have given me to cement this knowledge. I am becoming more fluent and more able to think while speaking.

The locals, or rosarin@s, have a distinct accent. (In modern Spanish, the @ symbol indicates gender ambiguity.) It differs considerably from Castilian Spanish, or castellano, the dialect from central and northern Spain. Castilian is also the Spanish dialect most taught in U.S. Spanish classes. The locals say the letters ll and y with a “shh” sound and sometimes drop the s’s at the end of words. I will use the sentence, “she gave me a horse yesterday, and I told her ‘thank you,’ ” as an example. That translates to “ella me dio un caballo ayer y yo le dije ‘gracias.’ ” Spelling that sentence phonetically to reflect the local dialect would be challenging. Instead, I will point out the big differences from castellano. A native would pronounce the ll in ella and caballo and the y in ayer and yo as “shh.” They would either drop the s in gracias or barely say it. Upon my arrival, the accent caused great confusion. Even now, the local dialect and rate of speech still confuse me.

Teaching English has been an easy job so far compared to what I anticipated. Hector, the father, and I talk about politics and current events in English. These talks are good for me because I get another perspective on the world. Flavia and I speak in English and Spanish (and Spanglish). My questions to her are simple, generally about phrasing. She asks me more nuanced questions. A few days ago, she asked me how you refer to a sink handle (faucet). She asks me questions that make me think. Her level of English is impressive to me.

My world here is the house with Flavia and Hector, wherever my friends and exchange family take me, and Spanish in Rosario. I have not toured the city as much as I would have liked to, but I will. Fortunately, not only do I feel much better, but also the weather is now much better for photography. I will take advantage of this.

It would be impossible to name everyone that has helped me, so a blanket thank-you will have to do, at least for now.  I am grateful for everyone who has showed me around, helped me with the language, or provided some other form of hospitality. Thank you for everything.

I plan to make the rest of my trip fun by going out and practicing as many of the things I have learned in class as I can. These three weeks have felt long due to all the things I have been doing and people whom I have met. I have learned many things. It would be easy for me to write travel and language learning advice, but I will save that for later. I look forward to the rest of my trip and, because we have fresh helado (ice cream); I am going to stop writing and enjoy a local delicacy. Life is good…
José sure loves helado

P.S. These posts are not current. To determine when a post is written about, check the dates at the end of the post.

7/7-24/7 (July 7th-24th)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

My name is Samuel Bakken, and I am 18 years old. I am currently doing an exchange trip to Rosario, Argentina. This trip is through the English Conversion Volunteers Abroad (ECVA) program and is my senior project.

Before writing about my experience so far, I would like to thank several people that helped make this trip possible for me. I thank my parents and grandmother for financing this trip and Heidi Smith for coordinating this trip. I thank my brother, who will be give blogging and ESL (English as a Second Language) advice. I also thank my Aunt Lynda for helping me find a project mentor and my mentor, Jesse, who teaches adult ESL classes in Spokane. His experience will tie in with my project. Lastly, I am grateful for the hospitality my host family, the Piccolis, have shown me. I am supposed to teach them English, but my job is easy because they already speak English at a conversational level. I will also be taking adult Spanish classes and for the rest of the time I have free roam of the city.

Many things that I have encountered have been strange to me, and I am sure that I will encounter more things that puzzle me. I should note that I am far from the stereotypical person from the USA, who is ignorant of other cultures. I lived in Kongsberg, Norway and attended a public Norwegian school in the 2nd grade. Through that almost complete experience of immersion, I became fluent in Norwegian. My father’s Norwegian university students could not detect a foreign accent after the year ended. My father is a self-described 'language romantic.' He has helped me travel to several European countries, but this is my first time in South America. It has been quite an experience so far.

My first bit of culture shock in Argentina was the driving I saw on the buses I took from EZE airport near Buenos Aires to Rosario. In the U.S., all but the rudest drivers leave space between cars. The driving I saw was not like that at all; everyone was aggressive and left little space between vehicles. Moreover, drivers treated the lanes and stop signs as mere suggestions. After realizing that I was not going to die in a fatal car accident, I dozed off on the bus. I was picked up at the bus station and driven to my host family’s home.
Buenos Aires from a bus window
After 30 grueling and stressful hours of traveling, a hot shower, a meal that wasn't airport food, and a warm bed felt marvelous. The rest of the day I unpacked, relaxed, and got to know my host family. I am living with Señor Piccoli, a German professor with an extensive background in linguistics. His daughter Flavia also lives in the house and will soon have a degree in environmental sciences. At 8 o’clock, after I learned a little about my host family, we ate dinner – which was early for Argentineans. At dinner, we got to know each other a little more and talked about the World Cup. After that, I slept like a baby.

Flavia with a hammer- frightening
If you are ever in a foreign country and wish to learn curse words, I suggest that you go to a local sports bar and watch a World Cup game. The next day I went to the Argentina versus Belgium game (1-0 Argentina) at Fenicia, a local bar, with Flavia and some of her friends. I was also exposed to Argentinean greetings. When I greeted the women, we kissed on the cheek (just touching cheeks and making a smooch sound). I shook hands with the men, but men that are close kiss on the cheek. I did the same thing when saying goodbye.

After the game, my new friends and I took a drive around the National Flag Memorial, a plaza in honor of the creator of the Argentinean flag. The locals flooded the streets and displayed Argentinean flags in celebration of the victory. There was a cacophony of car horns. After observing this commotion, I watched the Costa Rica versus Holland game with my new friends. They taught me another Argentinean tradition: mate. Mate is like tea, consisting of yerba mate (a South American shrub) leaves with hot water.  We all drank mate, passing it around the table, then I returned to my host family’s house for a tasty dinner of fish and salad.
The celebration at Flag's Memorial
My trip so far has been fun, and I have learned a lot. The phrase culture shock doesn't come close to describing what I am experiencing. Everything is disorienting and foreign, but also new and exciting. Despite taking three years of Spanish, I still feel overwhelmed with the language. Everything is strange and new, but I hope to improve my skills in Spanish and gain a greater understanding of this culture. Having experience with immersion, I believe that I will be able to accomplish those goals. Only time will tell.

Thank you for reading, and I look forward to posting more updates. If you have any feedback, please do not hesitate to email me.

3/7-6/7 (July 3rd-6th)