International Educator Interviews: Jodi in Buenos Aires

Today’s interview features my dear friend Jodi whom I met during my time in Beirut. Jodi is actually not a teacher, but a school guidance counselor, and thus has a unique perspective on the world of international schools. I’m quite jealous of her current posting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a place I’d love to visit, if not stay for longer.

Where are you now and what are you currently teaching?

I’m finishing up my first year at Lincoln (Asociacion Escuelas Lincoln) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I work in the High School division, as the grade 9/10/11 guidance counselor.

Is this your first international post or is this one in a string of many international posts for you?

This is my second international stint. I was in Beirut, Lebanon, at the American Community School, for three years, also as a high school counselor.

What made you decide to teach internationally?

San Martin Plaza, Buenos Aires

San Martin Plaza, Buenos Aires

Downtown Beirut by Night

Downtown Beirut by Night

 I traveled internationally for the first time as a 10-year-old (a month-long trip to the UK with my mum and sister) and was hooked. My family had endured years of my chatter about traveling (I explored a bit but nothing too long-term) and living overseas until 2010, when, in the final months of graduate school, as I was applying to positions in Oregon, almost on a whim I decided to search internationally too, just in case anything was still available in April (at that time I had no clue about the hiring timeline for international positions). The position at ACS came my way and, well, here I am.

What’s challenging about working at a new school in a new country?

There are so many layers of “new” all at once: culture, language, school climate, and community… the list is endless. And usually wrapped up in the tangible of a new location and school are the intangibles of life abroad, such as communication with friends and family, which require tweaks with each move (time zone change, different routines, etc.). As well, there is an element of not being fully prepared, regardless of the best of preparations. I’ve been fortunate to be hired by schools that endeavor to provide good details and have put me in touch with current teachers pre-arrival. Yet, acclimating to a new context is personal, and even if another person is doing her best to be objective in answering my many questions about the school, city, and customs, the information is still coming through a subjective perspective that might not match my on-the-ground experiences at all. And as we deal with all this new and detail, we have been hired for specific roles and need to jump in professionally right away. Complicated, no?

Petra, Jordan

Petra, Jordan

How is counseling internationally different from counseling in the U.S.?

The professional community is near automatic with counseling in the US, and professional development is a bit more accessible. It is not impossible to find within the international community, but, depending on location, can require much more effort. That being said, the case load ratio is a dream compared to the often times gargantuan ratios of many U.S. locations. As well, depending on the school and its governance, there can be much leeway to implement new projects in a counseling program.

Exploring Angor Wat, Cambodia

Exploring Angor Wat, Cambodia

What’s it like living in Buenos Aires? What’s your favorite thing about being an expat there? What is challenging?

Buenos Aires is a massive metro area. Along with the city center, there is a formidable swath of suburban neighborhoods. In short, it’s a city with many hidden gems, few of which I’ve discovered yet. I do appreciate the copious amounts of green space and a relatively functional mass transit system. I don’t have a favorite aspect of life here quite yet, but hopefully in time. Challenging…. language for sure; it requires a daily humility to get by with my broken Spanish, knowing that I’m being gifted a lot of grace, or pity, by the Argentines I’m interacting with. There is also a different reality regarding personal safety here than what I’ve been accustomed to. In no way would I say that Buenos Aires is overly dangerous, but violence and crime do have a distinctly economic factor to it, and, as a foreigner, and so often seen as a lucrative target, that means needing to be keenly aware of surroundings most of the time.

Kayaking in Tigre, Buenos Aires

Kayaking in Tigre, Buenos Aires

What is a myth about your adopted country?

All Argentines eat steak, dance tango, and drink wine, Malbec specifically. And Patagonia is a weekend trip. In fact, Argentina is an immigrant nation, much like the U.S. Yes, steak is ubiquitous, but pasta and all foods Italian are even more typical, especially in the city proper where there is a historically Italian-European influence. It is common to meet individuals of Korean, Japanese, or Chinese ancestry who are fourth generation Argentines. And the country is massive. Not as big as the US, but many places, especially Patagonia and other southern locations, require several hours of flying to reach.

Smith Rock, Oregon

Smith Rock, Oregon

Bonte Beach, Sydney, Australia

Bonte Beach, Sydney, Australia

How do you spend your holidays? How often do you visit home?

I’m finding this is very location specific. I often traveled outside of Beirut for holidays due to ease of access to Europe and other Middle Eastern countries, and because I could explore Lebanon enough via weekends. Argentina is a bit trickier due to size and lack of proximity. I’ve stayed in the city a lot this year, or traveled within the surrounding provinces (an estancia in the northern province of Corrientes, and, most recently, a day trip kayaking in the Tigre delta), and, while in Beirut I went home for Christmas, that is our only long holiday in the school year and so has been used for non-US travel or longer trips in Argentina. I do go home, to Oregon, during the summer.

Do you still get culture shock? How do you experience re-entry?

Yes, consistently. And in the US, the most abrupt jarring is when I interact with individuals who are operating with false information or gross generalization about another part of the world and seem to have no interest in adjusting their misconceptions. I’m a bit shocked every time. Oh, and when I go to the grocery store and produce costs are double of my adopted residence and I can find every variation of a certain product known to man.

How do you go about making a new place your own? (That is, both your new accommodation and your new country.)

Buenos Aires apartment with a fresh coat of paint

Buenos Aires apartment with a fresh coat of paint

Succulents

Succulents

Home: Creating a space that I find restful is top priority when I move to a new location. In Argentina, that has meant collaborating with my landlady to update my apartment with new paint, bringing a few specific favorites from Oregon, and buying plants for the terrace space within my first few weeks of living here. It also means my French press and a half pound of coffee are in my carry on so I’m set for coffee as soon as I arrive.

Country: I am continually reminded to be patient with myself in creating routine and rhythm in a new location, and to go at my own pace. I want to play tourist right away and discover everything, but I have found there is wisdom in balancing exploring with the realities of acclimating to both a new country and school. I do try to learn about key historical details and take time to look over maps of both the city and country – it’s helpful when I can visualize how landmarks, streets, and neighborhoods interplay.

How do you know when it’s time to leave?

It’s part gut feeling and part consideration of the professional commitment I have made. I’m yet to meet someone who has a purely objective system of deciding this crucial detail of expat life, and it seems like in most cases there is a twinge of “what if?” but in the end, I think you just know. On the professional commitment side, for me the big question is, “Have I left a school better than I found it in some way?”

Sunset on the Corniche in Beirut

Sunset on the Corniche in Beirut

What has been your favorite teaching position/location thus far? Is there anywhere you are hoping to land a position in the future?

I very much enjoyed my immediate team, the expat community, and ease of access for travel in Beirut. I’d like to eventually make my way to Scotland, though perhaps not in an education role.

 How has living abroad changed you?

I’d like to think I am more discerning about how events, both current and historical, fit together. I think that understanding will continue to grow over time but living in varied locations certainly has been an accelerated course. I have, without doubt, gained a deeper appreciation for my community of family and friends, both those from Oregon and those I have met along the way.

Casa Rosada and Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires

Casa Rosada and Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires

What tips or advice would you give to others thinking about making the leap to a career in international teaching?

Keep in mind that you’re taking on two major life changes (career shift and new location) at once, and, thus, be patient with yourself. Also, don’t shy away from a school or location you did not originally consider; sometimes a well-managed but relatively new school allows for greater leadership opportunities or the ability to grow professionally. And you just might be surprised by the gems and unique experiences a location off the beaten path has to offer.

 


Find the full series of Interviews with International Educators here.


If you are an international educator and you would like to be featured on The Present Perfect, contact me at thepresentperfectblog {at} gmail {dot} com.

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