Reflections on a Year in Argentina

Now that we’ve left Argentina and are spending a surreal week at a resort in Brazil, it’s a good time for Erica and I to finally reflect on the impact this year has had on the two of us.  It’s hard to imagine that in less than a week we return to the US after a year away.  We’re already going through some stages of grief as this stage in life ends before the next begins.  This year seems to have passed so quickly that we haven’t spent a lot time analyzing what it all means yet until now.

What did we learn?

As one of my Spanish teachers graciously pointed out as I was struggling, not only were we learning a new language, but also an entirely new city, community and way of life.  It was a lot to process initially.  We learned how to navigate a foreign city without a car.  We learned a new neighborhood, where to buy whatever we needed, how to get money and how to rent a house.  No small things.  We learned more about each child than we could have imagined and witnessed the incredible adaptability of children.  We gained a new sense of patience and confidence as we navigated Argentina and achieved an audacious goal.  We managed to see a lot of Argentina in our travels, while also learning about its history, people and culture.  I learned how to blog, how to plan complex travel logistics and how to budget for a complicated international adventure.  I learned the art of making an asado and hope to carry this tradition home with us.  Erica learned a huge amount about teaching English and building lessons plans for non-native speakers.  As we transition now, I’m learning an incredible amount about a job search and interview preparation.  This year pushed us all in many ways and provided the education of a lifetime.

This is Erica, and I’m going to write in italics so that Rob and I can each post on the same blog, but so it’s also easier to see who is writing what.  For me, I don’t think I’m going to “see” all that I’ve learned in one unique moment or time.  I feel like this is something that will be revealed to me in pieces and sections. In a lot of ways, I don’t feel like I have enough distance from this experience to really answer this question.  My typical response (which drives Rob NUTS), is “I don’t know.  Ask me later.” But that’s not really fair to Rob because he’s been so dedicated to making sure that we post on the blog, and he has been much better than I have about sharing our experiences via the blog. I guess I would say that mostly I learned that my kids are way more adaptable that I ever gave them credit for being.  Throw them into an unfamiliar situation, and with a little encouragement, they are pretty good at just “going with it.” I have also learned that I am a decent actress.  An air of confidence in a foreign country can go far.  It would be impossible to count the number of times we’ve been in a situation (looking for a specific location in a new city, driving around in circles in a taxi, listening to directions in a foreign language) when I have survived merely by appearing to understand and know what is going on.  I don’t doubt for one second, though, that we have missed out on some awesome stuff for this exact same reason.  Maybe they were giving out free ponies that day at preschool when I had no idea what the teachers were telling me.  Poor Molly!  She would be so disappointed if she knew, but really, what would I do with a horse? And then, of course, I cannot for one minute fail to mention that I learned to simply sit and enjoy someone else’s company.  I thought before we lived in Argentina that I knew how to enjoy time spent with friends, but I never truly appreciated it. To just spend time with someone sharing a lunch, a dinner, a drink, a warm fire is a fine art, and one that I think many Americans (myself included) have not mastered.  As Americans, I think we are often thinking about “What’s next?”  “What do I have to do when I get home?  What do I have to do this week?  When should I leave?  What are we going to have for dinner?  I need to send that e-mail when I get home, and start some laundry.  When is that project for Kid X due?”  How fantastic is it to just spend time with friends and have no agenda beyond enjoying each other’s company.

How did this experience change us?

We believe that the great thing about extensive travel is that it always changes you somehow.  This is a hard one though, since I don’t think we’ll really know for sure how it’s changed us until we return to our post-sabbatical lives.  I like to think it will give us a sense of peace and confidence as the rest of our lives unfold.  Time will tell.

I’m not in a big hurry to answer this question.  I don’t know.  Ask me later!  I hope it has made me more open, and willing to open my life and family to others who might not share the same language or culture.  Maybe our friends and family will be better at answering this question than we will.

What was difficult?

Easily the most difficult part about Argentina was access to money.  As we’ve elaborated in previous posts, part of the Argentine-experience is learning the various workarounds that Argentines and expats devise in order to keep pace with inflation, devaluation and a controversial government.  While we learned a tremendous amount about living within our means using cash alone this year, we’re very happy to return to a country where access to money and paying for items becomes simple and straightforward. We had plenty of concerns about security, but in the end we passed the year without incident.  We leave missing just a video camera and a GPS.  Petty theft was certainly an issue, exacerbated by the wealth disparity in the country, but we heard very little about violent crime in comparison to the US.  We found many Argentines to be exceptionally cautious and vigilant in personal safety, far more so than Americans.  This was certainly disquieting for us coming from lil’ old Portland, Oregon. Homeschooling the boys was much harder than we expected.  We also felt helpless at times in our inability to understand and help Elliott with his school assignments.  We can’t help but still wonder at the long-term impact this year might have on his education and learning. Living for a year without a car was both liberating and difficult.  We owe our combined weight loss this year to the tremendous amount of walking we did despite helado and asado intake.   Sin auto, we saw less of the city and surrounding region than we could have had we had a car. Given a variety of tax and import difficulties, Argentina tends to lack a lot of creature comforts that we all came to crave and appreciate.  Cooking according to our tastes tended to require careful examination of ingredients to determine what spice of key component could be found in Argentina.  We relied on family visitors to lug in peanut butter, salsa and maple syrup in large quantities.

I didn’t realize how much the kids and I would miss living in a neighborhood where kids don’t really run from house to house playing.  We were/are spoiled in our Portland neighborhood.  Even if the kid playing outside isn’t your first choice for playmate, at least SOMEONE is out there.  For security reasons (real or imagined), kids in Argentina who don’t live in “closed” or “private” neighborhoods don’t play outside freely with their friends.  There are plenty of arranged playdates, but without a car (as we were for this year), that takes a lot more arranging.  The kids enjoyed a lot of time having friends over, and going to other kids’ houses, but it’s not the same as zipping across the street by yourself to see who is home. The language barrier was definitely hard.  Needless to say, I’m much funnier in English—unless I’m making a mistake with my Spanish, like when I asked our first neighborhood guard if he had a dress, when I meant to ask him if he had a uniform.  He laughed and told me that he most definitely did NOT have a dress that he wore to work.  But even that became less of an issue.  I haven’t laughed as hard as I did recently while spending an afternoon with our friends Manolo (pictured above with the boys), and his wonderful wife, Silvina, and that afternoon was primarily in Spanish.  To be fair, they were telling the jokes, and I was just enjoying them. But we’ve spent many evenings and afternoons like that, and let me tell you that Argentines are some funny people.  Maybe it was just the wine, but they have some good stories to share.

What did we enjoy the most?

Easily the best part of our year abroad has been the relationships we formed and the people we met.  We hoped to get invited to an asado on occasion, but we never dreamed we’d integrate into the community and be so accepted.  The quality time spent with friends around food, wine and mate was a wonderful part of the experience. I loved planning our trips, large and small, during our year in Argentina.  I enjoyed logistics behind making a travel plan work and of course the actual trips themselves.  We love to travel and we certainly got our fill over the past year. I spent more time meal planning and cooking for my family than ever before.  I became a much better cook this year and loved the feeling of putting together a meal for my family each night. While spending such an intense amount of time together as a family was stressful at times, it was also one of the most memorable parts.  I loved having the opportunity to change roles with Erica, if only for a year, and stay home full-time with the kids and get to know them so much better.

Without a doubt the thing I enjoyed most about our year was, like Rob said, forming the relationships that we formed.  Meeting the families and friends, that, despite the language barrier, were willing to give us their precious time and open their lives to us.  Through tears (so I can only imagine how it came out in Spanish), I recently told our friends that it meant so very much to us that they would make the effort to include us, and welcome us into their circle.  Families everywhere are busy.  We have houses, jobs, kids, families, and lives that keep us occupied.  The fact that these friends would make space in their busy lives to include a new family who was only going to be in town for a year, and a family in which the adults didn’t even really SPEAK SPANISH for gosh sakes still blows me away.

What regrets do we have?

We have very few regrets this year other than not seeing more.  While we managed to travel extensively throughout Argentina, we never visited Chile.  We would have loved to see other parts of South America as well.  I had faint hopes of climbing a peak in the Andes which never materialized.  We both wish that we’d been able to become fluent in Spanish rather than just scraping by, in my case.  Erica’s Spanish is amazing by the way.  Amazingly enough, we never saw a tango show!  It would have been great to be able to visit Bariloche or Mendoza in the winter and ski in the Andes. Travel can be an obsessive pursuit sometimes with the endless destinations and possibilities


I agree 100% with what Rob said above (expect for the part about my Spanish and him climbing a peak).  It seems crazy to say that I wish we’d traveled more, but I do.  I would have loved to see Peru and Chile, but somehow, the year got away from us.  Next trip, I guess.  Like Rob said, “travel is an obsessive pursuit.”

Would we do it again?

In a heartbeat.


Los Niños

In 2 weeks we leave Córdoba for the final phase of this crazy adventure before our next one begins!  We will spend time touring Iguazu Falls, Rio de Janeiro, and Manaus in Brazil before touching down in Seattle at the end of July.  Before saying goodbye to so many wonderful new friends in Argentina, it’s time to dig into the impact this parenting experiment has had on our kids.  Deciding to turn our lives upside down for a year and move to Argentina was done so partly out of a selfish need for adventure, but primarily as a gift for our kids.  The time we’ve spent together and the shared experiences are priceless.  It has been both incredibly rewarding and difficult to watch the kids adapt, react and grow over the past year.  We asked the kids to share some of their experiences in Argentina, while Erica and I have summarized our thoughts on how each of them have changed before our eyes.


Best memory?  All the asados we went to with friends.

Favorite food?  Costilla (ribs).

What I will miss most?  My friends and all the people.

Favorite place?  Going to Bariloche because there was lots of chocolate, beaches and dogs you could take pictures with, and our house we rented we really fun.

Hardest part?  School and tarea.  The way they do division in school because it’s backwards from how we do math in the United States.

Of all the kids, Elliott seems to have adapted the best to Argentina.  He’s always been a very positive, easy-going child.  He embraced this adventure early on and has seemed the least homesick.  Elliott’s met lots of new friends and integrated wonderfully with a new social circle, thanks in large part to the gracious Córdobeses.  It’s been hard to watch him experience frustrations in school this year.  We fear he’s started to dread school already and worry about the long-term impact this year might have on his academic confidence.   Erica and I take solace in the fact that his spoken Spanish is terrific.  He’s a kid who has always loved sports, so it’s been wonderful to see him embrace rugby.  Elliott never seems more focused or free than when he plays sports.  He’s completely in the moment and engaged.  Joining Club Bajo Palermo (rugby) was a game-changer for all of us, providing an incredible link to the community, new friends and a great way to learn the language for both boys. We’ve also watched Elliott approach adolescence before our eyes in Argentina as girls have shifted from annoying to intriguing!  Of course the smell and drama factors have changed as well, not for the better.

Bariloche made an impression on the boys

Bariloche made an impression on the boys


Best memory?  Going to Bariloche with Grandpa & Grandma.  There was really good chocolate.

Favorite food?  Chocolate & matambre empanadas

What I will miss most?  My friends & rugby

Favorite place?  Bariloche

Hardest part?  Having a broken collarbone and not being able to play rubgy.  Being a long ways from Chase, Charlotte and Wyatt (cousins).

Ben has always been a home body in many ways.  To this day, he insists he’d be perfectly happy in the same house and same neighborhood in Portland forever.  He’s a kid who needs to know the plan at all times and can be a bit anxious.  Needless to say moving to Argentina has served as forced therapy of sorts for Ben since even the best laid plans don’t count for much sometimes here.  He’s been forced to accept a level of uncertainty and has become more easygoing and flexible over the past year.  It’s interesting that although he’s clearly the most homesick, his language has taken the biggest leap forward.  Ben had only completed one year of Spanish immersion kindergarten when we arrived.  Now he’s easily the most fluent in the family.  His accent and use of local slang marks his Spanish as distinctly Córdobese and seems to come utterly naturally.  Ben has never had the interest or commitment in sport as Elliott, but his experience with rugby this year has definitely fueled his confidence as his height skyrocketed.  This year has highlighted just how different our boys are in school as well.  Despite not being the social animal that his brother is, Ben has excelled in school with almost nonchalance.  For the most part the boys have been a mystery to their teachers in many ways.  The idea of teaching a non-native Spanish speaker is completely foreign.  We might as well be from Mars, but Ben has integrated himself in the system and kept pace at every turn.


Best memory?  Friends like Maria Lourdes, Sofia, Josephina

Favorite food?  All the pizza, helado y galletas y chocolate and candy.

What I will miss most?  My friends and Violetta and going to kiosco to get Violetta cards.  Also we won’t have a swimming pool in Portland.

Favorite place?  Bariloche because I had my birthday there.  I liked Mendoza too because we cooked pizza and we painted wine.

Hardest part?  I’ve missed my friend Inez and my cousin Charlotte a lot.

Physically, Molly has grown the most since we’ve been in Argentina.  When we got here, she was a 3-year-old.  3-year-olds are babies!  Molly slept in a crib up until we left for Costa Rica last July (mostly because we didn’t want the hassle of buying a bed that we would soon have to store).  She is now a very sassy 4-year-old who sleeps in a big-girl bed, and has told us in no uncertain terms that she expects a blue, pink, and purple big-girl bike with a basket, bell, and ribbons from the handlebars upon our return to Portland.  Molly has grown out of more clothes that I thought was possible for one child in the course of a year.  When we arrived Molly spoke almost no Spanish. We enrolled her in a half day Pre-K nearby for the dual purpose of forced immersion and social interaction.  She wasn’t a big fan of school at first, given the fact that none of her classmates or teachers understood a word she’d say.  Nine months since she began, her comprehension is terrific.  Early in the year she began to constantly ask how to say certain words in Spanish, illustrating her interest and learning process.  When put in a situation where she’s playing with a non-English speaker, she now jumps right into Spanish with no problem.  Molly has always had a strong personality, but we believe this experience has only enhanced her confidence.  In fact we’re a bit worried about her reaction when we return to the States and total strangers no longer refer to her as “princesa,” “preciosa,” or “hermosa!”

While the kids have undergone a tremendous amount of change and growth this year, so too has my own parenting style.  I’m closer to my kids than ever before and I’ve had lots of practice this year learning what works and what doesn’t.  We’ve had plenty of rough moments as we’ve spent an intense amount of time together this year, but our bonds as parent-child and siblings are stronger than ever.  Erica and I hope that the challenges and experiences we all went through together will only serve to make our family stronger and closer as we look to the next phase in our lives.


While reflecting on recent events here in Argentina and considering how I might describe them in a post, I started considering how we as a family have been dealing with varying levels of uncertainty throughout this adventure.  As many Argentines will tell you, fiscal and economic uncertainty has seemingly always existed here.  I’m not sure we will ever grasp Argentina politics or the economic upheaval, but like many times during this journey, it continues to be an education.  This is a part of the world in which most houses have a rooftop water tank, because on occasion, the water system fails.  Accepting a level of uncertainty is part of life here and was instrumental in making our dream become reality.  Adapting to life in Argentina also serves to remind us of how stable and certain our lives in the States are.

When we stopped dreaming and started acting, the level of risk and uncertainty we needed to accept exponentially increased.  I believe that the biggest obstacle holding others back from a sabbatical or long-term travel is fear of the unknown.  Deciding to quit a good, stable job with 3 kids and one income and forsake our financial security was no small matter.  While Erica and I had dreamed of dropping our safe, consistent American lives for many years in order to live abroad with the kids, it was not until we accepted that we could not plan or foresee every detail.  As the consummate planner, this was exceptionally difficult for me.  The number of questions that loomed were endless and remain so.  How long will it take to get another job?  Will it pay as well and will I like it?  Will a gap year hurt my career?  Will we have to move to a different city when we return to the States?  Will we run out of money?  Do we have enough budgeted for when we return?  Are we jeopardizing college for our kids?  Will the kids fall behind in school here? What grade do the boys go into when we return?  Are we hurting their development?  Will we like Argentina?  How will the kids adapt?  Will we be lonely and isolated?  How safe will we be?  Eventually, Erica and I decided that we had an opportunity before us that we could not pass by and that the risk was acceptable.  I could not plan every detail and know for certain that everything would be all right as much as I wanted to.

Now that we are here, life in Argentina continues to be an exercise in both patience and uncertainty.  When we left we had neither rented our house in Portland nor had we found a rental in Cordoba.  We were not certain the boys could enter the local school.  It has been a challenging year even by Argentine standards.  Earlier in the spring a police strike here in Cordoba initiated a nationwide strike and subsequent looting.  December and January have been the hottest months in 50 years, causing electrical outages in parts of the country.  President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her administration seem to revel in uncertainty.  Recently she made her first public statement in 40 days.  Currency control policies seem to change week-to-week, inflation is rampant, and no one seems to have any idea how far the peso will fall or what the government will do next.  A major devaluation occurred several weeks ago, with the peso destined to fall further against the dollar.  Changes in the peso and currency regulations mean that we are never quite sure how reliable our supply to pesos is.  The rate we change dollars into pesos has undergone tremendous change in the course of our time here, as has inflation, impacting our budget.   For example, today Erica bought Ben’s asthma medication as a local pharmacy.  Last month it cost $180 pesos, today it costs $360.  The school year ended for the boys 2 weeks early unexpectedly, and we have very little idea when school will resume due to a teacher strike.  Despite all of this uncertainty, we have tried to mirror the Argentines we have met, and simply roll with it over the course of the year.

One of the aspects that we enjoy most about living abroad for an extended period of time and total immersion is the window that opens to a whole new world.  We try to treat each difference between Portland and Cordoba as a learning experience rather than complain about it.  While our time here is limited, we find ourselves wondering how Argentines manage to live indefinitely with constant change and uncertainty.  Here in Argentina, on the eve of my 40th birthday, there are very few things that I’m certain of.  I hope it all turns out, that the kids thank us someday, and that we are doing the right thing.  I do know that I could not be more excited by the uncertain future that waits for myself and my family in the next 40 years.