My semester abroad in Santiago, Chile, two years ago was a huge learning experience for me, and not only did it change the way I saw the world, it also inspired me to go the Expat route after graduating from college. Since I wanted to experience what it was like to live in another city, but still wanted to stay in South America, I packed up my bags and headed over to Chile’s neighboring country, Argentina. I had been selected to participate in a Fall 2010 internship at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, but after that, I really hadn’t given any thought to what I was going to do afterwards. Think about it as the obligatory just-graduated-from-college-what-do-I-do-with-my-life-existential-quarter-life-crisis, but with some carné y vino on the side. As someone who usually likes to have a plan for everything, I had no idea what exactly I was getting myself into.
As to any obligatory study abroad experience, there comes the unpredictable crisis. One week before I was to leave the U.S., the host mom I was going to live with abruptly backed out. To make matters worse, 4 days before my scheduled plane flight to Buenos Aires, the Department of State cancelled my internship, and wanted to send me instead to Guatemala (I kid you not). If I wasn’t already having doubts already about my future Expat life, I was really starting to have them now.
The next 48 hours were probably some of the most stressful hours in my life. In an interesting coincidence, I had actually emailed Expanish in a panic to help me figure out housing. While I actually ended up staying somewhere else, Murphy, one of the Admissions Advisors, was extremely helpful in getting back to me quickly and with useful information. (In related news, I’m still too afraid to ask him what he thought of my SOS email). From Freaked Out Potential Expanish Student to Expanish Staff Member, I’ve come a long way!
Luckily, things worked themselves out in the end, and I arrived to Buenos Aires with a roof over my head and an Embassy internship still awaiting me. The internship at the Embassy was a nice transition to living in Buenos Aires, as there was an instant community I knew I could always count on to support me. It was also a great opportunity to see firsthand the day-to-day duties of a Foreign Service Officer, which helped me better reflect on whether that was a career I would eventually like to pursue. Furthermore, as an avid soccer player, the fact that I got to play Fútbol 5 every day with my newfound porteño friends inside the Embassy compound didn´t hurt either.
After my internship ended, I started the job hunt process a full. Craigslist, CompuTrabajo, and all of the other job search websites became my best friend (or my worst enemy, depending on the day). Checking listings now became a part of my daily routine. Brush teeth. Check. Make breakfast. Check. Find a job. Check, por favor? There were also other great resources and tips that helped me in the job searching process, which my colleague mentioned in a recent Expanish blog post.
One thing that I did notice was that while it is definitely possible to get jobs here in Buenos Aires if you don’t speak Spanish, your job opportunities open up exponentially if you can confidently flaunt what you’ve got en español. If Spanish wasn’t an explicit requirement, it was an added plus in many of the jobs I applied for. In fact, my final interview for Expanish was with the two founders of the school, conducted all in Spanish – no pressure!
En resumen, one of the biggest tips I can give to my fellow extranjeros regarding ´The Big Move´ is to learn Spanish, ideally by having Spanish classes or finding some Spanish speaking friends to practice with. Besides increasing your employment opportunities, it will also open up your world to amazing people and experiences that you might not have been able to experience before. Your Spanish skills will not only help you in the professional realm in Buenos Aires, but the personal realm as well. And that, my friends, is one step closer to truly living la vida porteña.
For a little more help and advice on the subject of being an expat, i have found some of these sites very useful!