Monday, March 19, 2012

Greetings from Salta!

I left the States a week ago and after a four day orientation with the Fulbright Commission and the Ministry of Education in Buenos Aires, I embarked on a twenty hour bus ride to Salta. I'm writing now from Salta La Linda (Salta the Beautiful), a city of about 500,000 people in northwestern Argentina, known for its perfectly preserved Spanish colonial architecture and lively folk music, surrounded by lush mountains, colorful desert valleys, and wine-producing vineyards.

Although I haven't had a chance to take photos, I snagged a few from the internet so you can get a sense of my new home.

I'm living in a neighborhood north of the city center, at the foot of steep green hills that mark the city's boundaries. It is a lovely neighborhood, with comfortable homes and flower-filled yards, densely populated but still green. Mirta, a friend of my mentor, has welcomed me into her home. She's 63 years old, with grown children. Her husband passed away in 2003. Since then she's hosted several exchange students from Germany, and she tells me she loves other cultures, languages and traditions, as well as the company of international students. She was a student at the Profesorado (teaching college) where I'll be working, and now tutors a few students each day in her home. My bedroom is comfortable, with two single beds (visitors welcome!!), a bathroom and a patio. She's invited me to use the kitchen as I please, as well as the courtyard (designed to host oh-so-popular asados (barbecues)) and the swimming pool. As far as I can tell, this is the perfect arrangement for me - I have the freedom to come and go as I please and eat as I wish, along with the the company of an Argentine mama and the comfort of a lovely home.

I begin my work this evening at the Profesorado Superior de Lenguas Vivas de Salta, Salta's teacher training college with majors in English, French and tourism. I'll be assisting professors in the English program, leading book discussion groups and sharing insights about the US in general. Professors could ask me to prepare a lesson or unit on culture, politics, environmental movements, geography, history and more, so, ironically, I think I'll be learning a lot about the US while I'm here. I'm in the process of adjusting to a much later schedule than I'm accustomed to - I'll be working from 6:30 PM - 11:30 PM, Monday - Thursday. Most of the students work during the day and attend class at night, so to make sure they stay awake and engaged I'll have design fun and dynamic lessons (and tap into my deep reserves of enthusiasm!).

So, what will I be doing during the day? There are several options. First, as part of the Fulbright application I proposed a supplementary project researching climate mitigation and adaptation strategies in rural Argentine communities. This was a shot in the dark, because I can only do this if I find partners at the University of Salta who are interested in investigating the same topic, to help me connect with rural communities, develop questions and methods of measurement and assessment, and interpret the data. I'll be reaching out to folks this week to see if this will be possible; however, it's likely that I'll have to redesign the project, and conduct informal interviews with environmental leaders in Salta, such a professors in the Natural Resource Department of the University, and administrators of the Ministry of the Environment, as well as students and other people with less overt pro-environmental inclinations, to learn about perceptions of climate change here. This could be very interesting and informative, if not genuinely scholarly, and may inform a future project in graduate school.

Another activity I could pursue is volunteering in primary- and secondary-level English classrooms during the day. The Ministry of Education strongly encouraged us to do this, so I'll probably will, one or two days per week. Lastly, I'm looking in to auditing classes at the University! Some previous Fulbrighters said that auditing offered an amazing opportunity to learn about subjects they never studied in college and get a sense of Argentine perspectives on politics, economics, international relations, and other contested topics. They also became friends with their classmates, who tended to be more academically-inclined than the students at the Profesorado. I'm really excited to make this work.

My mentor, Belen, has been extremely welcoming and supportive of all the things I hope to do while I'm here. But, she advised me to put aside my American work-hard-and-work-a-lot ethic, and embrace the Argentine way, which is much slower and relaxed. I'll do my best! After all, in Salta siesta is from 1 - 5 each day, so I'm bound to take more naps than I ever have before!

Before I sign off, I want you all to know that you're welcome to visit me anytime! These first few months, in particular, are wide open. Come July and August, I'm expecting my parents and Mark; then Maeve might stay with me for the fall. Just a friendly nudge to come to a gorgeous country; eat delicious empanadas, famous Argentine steaks (if meat is to your liking), Italian food on par with Italy's best; dance cumbia and tango; drink good, cheap wine; and explore the beautiful provinces of northwestern Argentina!

Chao until next time.