Back to Work

Truth be told, I didn’t think it would be January before I was able to write this post.  Like everything else we’ve experienced since our adventure together began, the job search has been a journey.  Yes, I have a job!  Thus closes the symbolic loop since we cut ourselves loose from a stable income and reliable lifestyle 18 months ago.  I start work as Director of Marketing Communications for a local university this month.

Voluntarily leaving a solid career as the sole breadwinner at age 40 with 3 kids was scary.  However, fear of failing to land a job upon our return was terrifying.  Our adventure would not be complete or considered a successful experiment until I managed to land a legitimate, prosperous job.  Doing so was the final piece of the puzzle for us.  As such, a summary of the job search process and conclusion seems appropriate as our blog comes to a close.  One of our goals for keeping a blog was to inspire other families to break loose and create their own adventures, however brief.  After our own experience returning from a sabbatical and conducting a lengthy job search, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of planning, preparation, realism, perseverance and a strong network.

Before we left for Argentina, Erica and I made a deal that I would wait until April to even begin thinking about the job search and what comes afterwards.  Our trip became reality as a result of my planning gene, but my wise wife recognized I might begin planning our return the moment we arrived in Córdoba.  As it turned out, our life down south was a whirlwind and we all became absorbed in our new lives, making it easy to forget about impending reality for a time.  However, once we passed our self-imposed moratorium I threw myself into the process of preparing and searching for a job.  Having spent over 12 years with my previous employer, I found the experience fascinating, frustrating and a valuable learning experience.   Returning to the workforce following a sabbatical can make for a unique search and challenge, so here’s what I’ve learned:

Steps to take while still abroad:

  1. Preparation:  Use this time wisely.  I found it difficult to make much meaningful progress when I was still in Argentina given time and distance.   Therefore I immersed myself in job search and interview preparation.  Find a resource or expert that works for you (Mine was, beef up your LinkedIn profile, rebuild your resume, and get job boards set up.  This is also the time to research a new career path or focus.
  2. Study:  While it certainly signaled the impending end of our time in Córdoba, I spent the final few months writing and studying.  I developed answers for behavioral interview questions and worked out key accomplishment answers.  I spent hours memorizing answers to these as well as my “elevator pitch” before we returned.
  3. Warm up the network:  Like any relationship, your network takes work.  Don’t wait to ask for help or a job until you’re back in the States.  Keep in touch rather than going completely dark.

What I wish I knew earlier:

  1. Be focused and specific:  In hindsight I approached the search too broadly.  I found myself interested in a number of different roles and industries that made it difficult at times to concisely pinpoint my target to recruiters or companies.  While I’m thankful for the experience and happy with the result, my task would have been easier if I’d had the ability to identify the exact job and sector I was interested in pursuing.
  2. Career accomplishment documentation:  Keep a consistent record of accomplishments for each job WHEN YOU HAVE THAT JOB.  Building a great resume off memory is hard!  Consider buying this product too.
  3. Career Tools Interview Series:  A premium product from the guys at Manager-Tools.  I found this series of podcasts to be enormously helpful in interview preparation.
  4. The power of a network:  As a career salesperson,  I was conscientious of the value of a strong network, but only now do I really appreciate it.  I wrote a post on LinkedIn about how grateful and humbled I’ve been by the time and energy given by so many.  Build it, nurture it and repay it.


  1. Use your time wisely while still abroad
  2. A job search is a job and that job is sales:  I found myself leaning on my sales experience to keep grinding away.  Read my post about this on LinkedIn.
  3. Be intentional:  Develop your network now with thoughts to the future.
  4. Be ready to pay it forward:  I can only hope someday to offer others my time and energy as others have done so with me.  Start by asking each person how you can help them someday and thanking them.
  5. Stay balanced:  There are a lot of highs and lows in a job search.  Erica did an amazing job of supporting and counseling me throughout.  As in sales, it can be hard to keep grinding away and be “on” day after day.


  • Perceptions: I encountered a variety of reactions during my job search to our story, many very positive.  Our experience was actually a plus for some hiring managers who recognized it as accomplishment.  Goal setting, planning, organization, execution, and perseverance all were obvious skill sets I could point to as a result of our trip.  I was able to build a significant key accomplishment out of our experience abroad.   However, a sabbatical can also put you at a disadvantage in some cases.  As one recruiter pointed out, technology and the workplace changes rapidly, and a year + out of the game can give hiring managers pause.  Additionally, stepping out of the workforce mid-career is not a concept that most people can easily relate to.
  • Budget:  We budgeted for 1 year abroad and 6 months searching for a job back in the States.  It’s going to cost more than you thought so pad the budget!
  • Taking a step backwards:  A distinct possibility we considered when we jumped into this was that I would have to take a step back in career and pay when we returned.  This would be a natural sacrifice for our experience that we accepted should it occur.  I feel very fortunate that in the end I was able to transfer my skills and experience into a marketing communications role with a great organization and avoid a career hiccup.  However, consider the possible ramifications and be realistic.

The search will always take longer than expected.  Each major step in the hiring process seemed to take a month in my case.  Opportunities appeared and faded.  It’s a roller coaster.  I couldn’t help but become vested in a company during the pursuit.  My search for the right fit and role took 6 months.  It was a fascinating education in its own right as I learned a tremendous amount about numerous companies, the hiring process, interview preparation, and significantly expanded my professional network in the process.  While we did budget for a 6 month search, we didn’t expect it to take the full-time period and we budgeted too conservatively.  Despite considerable expense and stress, we have zero regrets.  We could never put a price on our experiences together.


Manager Tools

Tamara Murray:  Author of a number of relevant posts on LinkedIn well worth the read and perspective.

Job Boards:  I found these to be more targeted and useful than the big boys like Monster or CareerBuilder

  • LinkedIn:
  • Indeed
  • Zip Recruiter
  • Glassdoor
  • Simply Hired


Back to school in the Pacific Northwest

Back to school in the Pacific Northwest

As we close in on a month since we moved back into our house in Portland and enrolled the kids in school, it seemed time to review how the kids have reintegrated.  We get a lot of questions about how the kids are handling coming back from Argentina after a year. So far it’s been amazingly easy for everyone.  They seem to just roll with all of these changes so getting them to articulate how the adjustment has gone tends to be difficult.  Coming back to a familiar place and familiar faces certainly seems the easy part for them.

The boys are back in the same immersion school a few blocks from our house.  Molly is at the same preschool that the boys attended.  While the language barrier with teachers is behind us, many of the same daily struggles with kids and school exist equally in Portland as they did in Córdoba.  The boys have commented several times about the differences between Spanish in Córdoba and here.  Ben’s teacher shared a great story about how Ben has been so helpful to a new student from Mexico recently.  We like to think that his experience as a stranger in a strange land built this empathy.   All three are in soccer given the shortage of youth rugby leagues in Portland.  Our neighborhood is filled with kids of the same age running free in the afternoons. The kids have thrived in an environment that allows them to play outdoors, climb trees, ride bikes and generally run amuck.  This level of freedom just wasn’t possible in our barrio in Córdoba security and safety concerns.  Unpacking and moving back into our house has seemed like Christmas at times for the kids.  A year with minimal possessions may have taught them to value what they do have, at least for now!  Toys and books forgotten have been rediscovered as we opened boxes over the past month.

Molly loves her new preschool!

Molly loves her new preschool!

In their own words:

What have you been most surprised by?

Elliott:  By how big all my friends have grown since I’ve been gone.

Ben:  The Spanish because it is very different than in Córdoba.

Molly:  By my school because I love it so much.  I didn’t think I would like it but I do.

What do you miss the most from Argentina?

Elliott:  I miss the people, my friends and the ribs.

Ben:  My friends.

Molly:  My friends and my school there.

How is school different here than in Argentina?

Elliott:  Here there aren’t as many recesses and there’s no kiosko and the Spanish at Beach is completely different.

Ben:  There isn’t a kiosko and there is only one recess.

Molly:  I went to school longer in Argentina.  Here it’s shorter.

Riding bikes to school

Riding bikes to school

From the kids’ perspective, we’re simply back after a long trip.  They are pretty unfazed when telling anyone about where they’ve been.  The last year has reminded us just how incredibly resilient children can be.

Nomads in the USA

We touched down in Seattle a little less than one month ago after an amazing exit tour through Brazil.  Since we returned to the Pacific Northwest, we’ve traveled nearly 1,400 miles in a borrowed Suburban visiting friends and family and adjusting to life post-Argentina.  With our home in Portland occupied by renters until the end of August, we’ve travelled up and down Oregon and Washington hitting family gatherings and making the most of the end of a wonderful summer.  Couch surfing with friends and family prior to employment and the beginning of school has provided a great way to ease back into life in the States.  However, this nomadic lifestyle, while far from hard living, hasn’t been without its challenges.  Our family of five have now spent 6 weeks living out of suitcases since we departed Córdoba.  While this period of transition might not offer a true perspective into our reintegration until we’re back in our house, it’s been interesting to observe nonetheless.

After a year away the little things become much more profound.  We were all struck by the blunt language and behavior of the TSA employees in Miami when compared to the Argentines, but that might just be standard for the TSA.   As expected, we had instant sticker shock from our first “American” breakfast in the Miami airport.  I still can’t help but convert costs from dollars into pesos in my head and feel sick.  Adjusting to American tipping standards has been a tough pill to swallow also.  We couldn’t help but notice the number of obese people as we walked through the Dallas airport.  As we flew into Seattle, Ben spied an American football field and could not have been more excited.  Not hearing Spanish continuously has been strange and sad for Erica and me.  My first visit to a shopping mall in Gig Harbor, Washington was a shock.  So many people seem to take for granted the abundance and variety of products available to Americans.  We are still amazed at the cheddar cheese, salsa and peanut butter at the tips of our fingers.  The size of vehicles is another reminder we’re not in South American any longer.  Just like fast-food, cars and trucks seem super sized.  The caution and generous attitude displayed to pedestrians by American drivers is amazing!  Drivers actually come to halt at a cross walk!  The kids initially were confounded by what to do with toilet paper, but have quickly been assured it’s safe to flush here.  Erica and I are still occasionally surprised to see glass doors and windows without iron bars.  Everyday it seems we see or hear something that reminds us we’re not in Argentina any longer.

Reunited with cousins!

Reunited with cousins!

Despite all of the driving, it’s been wonderful to see old friends again and visit family.  The cultural differences between Argentines and Americans in terms of greetings and familiarity has been striking though.  After a year absence, a handshake or a quick hug between longtime friends would be considered cold and distant in Argentina, while being the norm in the US.  We seem to be torn between two very different worlds at this point.  Erica and I certainly have mixed feelings about returning.  We’re not yet settled into our old lives, and not entirely sure we want to drop back into them.  Erica and I miss speaking Spanish and try to speak often to each other and the kids.  The kids ask often when we are going back to Argentina.  We miss besos and the extraordinary affection we experienced in Argentina.  We miss our wonderful friends and asados every Sunday.  I’ve tried to reproduce asado for family and friends a few times, but so far it’s just not the same.  Someday we hope to build our own quincho and parrilla but obtaining the same cuts of meat will be a challenge.  It has been sad to read from a distance the continuing financial issues facing Argentina.  The recent default and sky rocking blue rate remind us of the real impact on the Argentine people.

The kids have had differing reactions to reentry.  Molly and Elliott don’t seem as phased as Ben.  Ben has always had a more difficult time with change.  Ben’s reaction as we arrived in Portland to be reunited with family was to burst into hysterical tears.  The moment and emotions were just too much for him.  As parents, we try to remind ourselves that we’ve put them through an enormous amount of change that calls for additional patience and latitude.  They are all clearly tired of living out of suitcases and driving.  Although normalcy is still a ways off, I’m sure they will love returning to our old house, neighborhood, and regaining a sense of familiarity.

We look forward with a touch of anxiety to watching the kids begin school again in Portland next week.  The job search continues for me.  Our uncertain future is both terrifying and exciting.  We plan to write more about the kids reintegration into school, the job search process and our lives after this adventure as we learn together where it all will lead.

Brazilian Bucket List

A distant view of Iguazu Falls from the Argentina side

In our advance planning for our year abroad we never spent much time thinking about how we’d return to the US from Argentina. We intentionally left this minor detail open as long as we could because we didn’t want a return date or route to influence our desire to approach our life down south with a total open mind. We left entirely unsure when we’d return other than our initial one-year budget. With no small sense of pride and wonder, my budget came miraculously close to the mark, so back we go to begin earning a living again, and to start the kids in school in September. Deciding on an exit through Brazil came about after prioritizing our bucket list destinations. It’s a big world and a short life. We decided to go home with a bang as long as we were so far south, not knowing when and if we’d ever make it back to Brazil.

Side view of the Argentine Falls

Side view of the Argentine Falls

We spent 2 weeks traveling from Córdoba to Seattle by way of Brazil. It’s a whopper of a route, but could not have been organized, priced or planned better by the travel magician, Brad La Nasa. We can’t recommend Brad and his company Pangaea Travel highly enough. His expertise on travel logistics, airlines and all things Argentina for expats was invaluable. Brad, his wife Lisa, and their two girls served as our inspiration and an Argentine reference library of sorts. We could not have done it without them. Their own blog details their amazing adventures.

Spectacular and wet catwalk on the Brazilian side

Spectacular and wet catwalk on the Brazilian side

We started our trip home by flying to Puerto Iguazu to see Iguazu Falls. As one of the 7 wonders of the world, Las Cataratas certainly didn’t’ disappoint. Some of the viewpoints and catwalks on the Argentine side of the Falls remain closed after extreme flooding earlier this year. We glimpsed battered remains of some catwalks hundreds of feet below on the riverbank. From a planning and pricing perspective, it only made sense to spend a day touring the Brazil side of the Falls as we traveled northwards.

Brazilian views of Iguassu are more panoramic while Argentine tend to be more up close

Brazilian views of Iguassu are more panoramic while Argentine tend to be more up close

After so long spent in Argentina, it was fascinating to cross into Brazil and immediately notice some differences. Food was spicier and available in greater variety. The kids celebrated after finding Goldfish Crackers in a grocery store. It’s the little things sometimes. Although our time in Brazil was brief, we found Brazilians to be less patient with children as compared to the endless reservoir of patience we witnessed in Argentina. Dinner comes earlier in Brazil and siestas seemed rare. The ever-present Argentine greeting, besos, seemed to sadly disappear as soon as we crossed the border. Brazil is significantly more expensive than Argentina. We could afford no longer than 2 weeks in the country, especially considering our trips and lodging. We also felt less safe in Brazil. The resort we stayed for a week south of Rio had armed guards patrolling the grounds night and day. Hiking outside of the grounds wasn’t allowed without a guide. In our final night in Manaus, as we exited a restaurant, to be told by the armed guard outside to wait inside while he called a cab. We watched inside as he checked the cab credentials before he signaled us that it was safe to enter the car. Incredibly, most Brazilian bathing suits are actually smaller than those of Argentines! Brazilians possess an incredible well of self-confidence, as demonstrated by their beach apparel. We all found the transition to Portuguese from Spanish difficult. The languages can be both similar and incredibly different, but we all found ourselves starting with Spanish over English, despite the fact that many people we encountered didn’t speak Spanish.

Rio das Pedras south of Rio de Janeiro

Rio das Pedras south of Rio de Janeiro

After a wonderfully relaxing week at on the beach south of Rio where the kids made some great new friends, we continued north to the Amazonian city of Manaus. We spent 3 amazing days touring the Rio Negro and Parque Nacional de Anavilhanas on the Lo Peix with the owner, Jordi.  Seeing the Amazon wrapped up our bucket list trip (for now) and was a surreal way to end our travels.  We kayaked and swam in the Rio Negro, fished and ate piranha, caught baby crocodiles by hand, fed monkeys, and walked in the Amazonian jungle!

The Rio Negro at dawn

Acidity, temperature, mineral content and water speed create the Econtro das Aquas, where the Amazon and the Rio Negro converge

Acidity, temperature, mineral content and water speed create the Econtro das Aquas, where the Amazon and the Rio Negro converge

We landed in Seattle today, by way of Miami and Dallas. We’ve spent 2 weeks hauling 9 huge bags plus carry-ons on 7 flight legs, countless van and cab rides over 8,777 miles. We’re all exhausted and more than a little shell-shocked to be in the Pacific NW just one day removed from a boat on the Amazon River.

Feasting on piranha caught in Parque Nacional de Anavilhanas

Feasting on piranha caught in Parque Nacional de Anavilhanas

The Lo Peix on the Rio Negro, Manaus, Brazil

Soon we’ll return to Portland where I’ll get the job hunt going in earnest. We’ll move back into our same house, put the boys back in the same neighborhood school, and try to resume our lives following a life changing experience. I think there’s a few more blog posts to be had out of our experiences reintegrating in life and work as we move ahead. More to come.

The adventure continues

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.


Chau Córdoba

Our final days in Córdoba were incredibly emotional for all. Although one of our primary factors in moving to Córdoba in the first place was the people, we leave amazed at the depth of the friendships we formed in just a year. Leaving such tremendous families who opened their entire lives to us for the year has been terribly difficult. I can’t imagine how strange our appearance must have seemed initially. An American family pops up in the barrio with no jobs and speaking little Spanish. We’ve had plenty of practice trying to describe the concept of a sabbatical. But this hasn’t truly been a sabbatical because there is no promise of a job upon our return, as there would be in a traditional sabbatical. There is nothing we can do to repay the generosity and kindness shown to us. In a very difficult world, our experience provides a lesson in how wonderful people can be.

Ben's going away party

We set out on this journey to learn and grow together as a family. We hoped to experience another culture, travel, learn a language and become a part of a totally different community. Erica and I could not have dreamed of a more complete and fulfilling experience. It has been all we hoped for, and it is all due to the Córdobese. Tenemos mucho suerte.

Manolo y yo

During this year we have had many teachers along the way who have taught us many things, large and small. In upcoming posts we plan to share what we’ve each learned this year from our friends and one another. Today we arrived in Puerto Iguazu and begin the final phase of our family adventure as we begin to wind our way home through Brazil. As we approach our final few days in Argentina, we are saddened to leave a terrific life we carved out for ourselves in short order, but also excited by our next challenge and adventures waiting for us.

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.

La Estancia Experiencia

La Granadilla

La Granadilla

As incredible as it seems, our time in Argentina is drawing to a close.  In 3 weeks we depart for an epic Brazilian tour prior to returning to home.  We all have mixed feelings about leaving Argentina and returning to the States which we’ll dig into a little bit in future posts.  A return to reality looms large as I’ve begun the job search from here recently.  Erica and I agreed long ago that we’d refrain from any discussions or activity pertaining to a job search or what comes next until May.  I’m so glad we did this so that my “grass is always greener” brain cells could soak in the moment.

That said, we’re still in Cordoba and trying to squeeze every ounce of experience out of our time here.  We recently checked off a big bucket list item that should be everyone’s goal when visiting Argentina: la estancia experiencia.

To clear up any confusion, estancia can refer both to old Jesuit missions and ranches, to active ranches, or mostly commonly to guest ranches.  We made it a priority to experience an estancia before we left.  A recent visit by some friends from Portland provided the perfect excuse.

After much research, Erica managed to settle on La Granadilla, located about 75 km southeast of Córdoba.  There are a number of estancias in the region, but La Granadilla seemed the most affordable for our group and kid friendly.  Typically, an estancia stay is full board, meaning 3 meals per day are included in the cost.  They tend to be remote and not easily accessible to public transportation.  In the end we located a mini bus transport company that agreed on pick up and return for $1,400 pesos rather than rent a car.  A 6 passenger rental car in Córdoba (hard to find by the way!) tends to cost the equivalent of $100 USD per day.

One reason we had not yet experienced an estancia was the cost.  For the most part, we’ve found the cost of many to be quite high.  After searching the web and requesting pricing by email, Erica picked a winner with La Granadilla.  The estancia is located near the pueblo of Alta Gracia and perched against the Sierras Grandes.  Typical to the region, the mountains are sparse and rugged.  Just about every plant will give you a poke.  We rented a basic detached villa with a kitchen, queen, 4 twins and a bathroom set apart from the main structure that included breakfast, lunch and dinner for each day.   Our bill in the end added up to $7,000 pesos, but also included extras such as corkage, drinks, WINE, an extra lunch and horse back riding for all of us.

Shortly after we arrived Ben spotted Vicky, a friend from school in Córdoba.  In the oddest of coincidences, it turned out that Vicky’s parents own La Granadilla.  The family has owned the estancia since the 1930s!  Vicky and Molly became fast friends and Ben garnered his fair share of girlfriend teasing during the course of the weekend.  The staff was wonderful and included two college girls who served as nannies in a way for all the kids while the parents ate.  The rest of the guests included a number of other Argentine families with young children.  Activities such as hikes, games and horse back rides were posted each day.  One of the most difficult parts of this year for the kids has been the inability to just run out the door and play outside given safety concerns and security.  At La Granadilla the kids ran free and were exhausted every night.  The boys would race outside in between World Cup games to play on the soccer field.  Saturday we were lucky enough to watch the Iran-Argentina game at the estancia with a huge group of Argentines.  I’ve never been much of a futbol fan, but there’s nothing like watching it with Argentines.

Meals were served in a communal dining hall and were announced by a dinner bell.  Breakfast tended to be the usual light fare, preparing us for the lunch and dinner to come.  Lunch and dinner were each 3 course and plentiful.  Mains included pastas, milanese (think fried veal cutlet), and asado.  As an authentic asado in Argentina, this asado included every internal organ you might imagine delivered to our table on a small grill still sizzling.  I’ve tried stomach now!

Just before we dug into the asado our wonderful estancia experience hit a speed bump when all the open space and play time resulted in an injury.  Courtesy of his brother, Ben wound up on his back with a fractured collarbone.  I’m frankly surprised it took this long, but thankful it wasn’t worse.  After a rough stretch he realized he was going to miss out on asado and insisted on taking his place at the dinner table with his arm slung in a USA soccer scarf.  7 years old and 3 broken bones already.  It appears his rugby career in Argentina is at an end a bit early.

Locating an estancia to stay at can be a bit daunting since many don’t seem to utilize the web very well and none post pricing.  Erica settled on La Granadilla after finding great reviews on Tripadvisor.  This is a decent page as a starting point for the Córdoba region.

Bagna Cauda


The culinary delights continue in Córdoba as we had the good fortune yesterday to enjoy bagna cauda for the first time.  Bagna cauda is a wickedly good winter dish, traditionally from Italy.  As is the case with locro, each family seems to have their own secret recipe.  Bagna cauda tends to either be oil or cream based, with garlic and anchovies making up some of the key ingredients.

Bagna cauda is eaten communal-style like fondue.  Our friend German has not only master asador skills, but also a wonderful bagna cauda recipe.  While the kids chowed on choripan, the adults dipped away with accompaniments like chicken, broccoli, sweet potato, milanese, carrots and bread.  It’s a deliciously salty dip that’s heavy on the garlic, always a good thing in our minds.  The rule of thumb apparently is one head of garlic per adult.  Yikes.

Kids table with choripan

Another beautiful Sunday spent with friends, wine, great food, and a little Fernet con coca.

Dipping treats

La Difunta Correa

Roadside shrine outside of Mendoza

Roadside shrine outside of Mendoza

Shrines to accident victims or saints along the road in Argentina are a very common sight.  A visitor to the country might mistake devotion for excessive littering at times when passing by shrines to Difunta Correa.

While driving from Mendoza to the foothills of the Andes near Uspallata, we passed the largest such shrine we’d see so far.  It’s an interesting sight and story to share.

Mounds and mounds of full water bottles

Mounds and mounds of full water bottles

Difunta Correa refers to the legend of a woman who attempted to find her husband during a time of war in Argentina in the 1800’s.  While trailing the marching army through the desert with her baby, she died of dehydration.  Her infant child was found alive, nursing at her breast by traveling gauchos.  Hundreds if not thousands of roadside shrines throughout the country pay homage to Difunta Correa (Deceased Correa) and her thirst by housing piles of full water bottles and other offerings.

Ruta 7 into the Andes from Mendoza is a beautiful, but desolate stretch of highway.  While we probably noticed 10-12 shrines to Difunta Correa on our 2 hour drive, none was larger than this one.

Ben distressed at the waste of water bottles

Ben distressed at the waste of water bottles

When we stopped for a closer look at this one, Ben and Molly were upset by the apparent waste of water.  When Erica decided to contribute one of the bottles we’d recently bought, Ben nearly revolted.

Driving in Costa Rica and Argentina has been an adventure at times.  We’ve rented cars a number of times as well as simply being passengers.  It’s provided a very different opportunity to experience the country than can be found onboard a bus.   I’m somewhat fearful for my newfound driving techniques when we return though.  My favorite is the habit of honking upon approach of a 4-way stop with no change in speed, as if to announce, “here I come, out of the way!”