I just spent the past 30 days abroad in Argentina, experiencing the magic that is Buenos Aires and getting swooped up in the Argentine way of life: meat, wine, gelato, repeat.
When I started this year, I hadn’t planned to spend a month abroad, let alone in the Paris of South America. But I had dreams of being international and experiencing life from a different viewpoint for awhile.
How it would happen I did not know. Yet, I kept visualizing myself in a foreign country. By mid-summer an opportunity presented itself. I led a project at work that warranted a reward, and my request, of course, was a month working abroad.
From that moment I began to strategize how best to maximize my time in another country. How did I want to spend my thirty days?
Thirty days is a little, long time. It’s long enough to really sink your teeth into a location, but short enough to have to plan your weeks.
I chose Argentina for many reasons. I’d never been there and didn’t know anyone, so it was a wide open territory. I liked the size of the city, the convenience to the NYC timezone, and the culture I had read so much about.
While much of the trip unfolded naturally, I did deploy a few strategies and tactics to ensure that my time in Argentina was productive and memorable.
Here is what I did to ensure my trip was successful:
1. How I Made Friends
Making friends is critical to having a happy time abroad as being alone for weeks in a foreign country can be terribly lonely. Moreover, if you really an insider’s look at a city, you have to make friends with the locals.
The trick to finding friends is to do the work before you go.
I wanted to have minimum 10 people that I could call upon arriving in Buenos Aires. This may seem like a lot, but out of 10 you’ll click with 5 and then 2 will be happy to have a month long friendship.
I used this strategy to make friends:
- Put a call out on Facebook asking for contacts and friends of friends.
- Asked my university alumni association for local contacts living in Buenos Aires.
- Joined local expats groups by searching Facebook, introducing myself, and asking if they needed any small good – like peanut butter – from the USA.
- Emailed global groups I am part of such as Toastmasters and Tri Delta.
- Asked the women’s / networking / volunteer groups I belonged to for introduction to friends.
- Had my family introduce me to relevant business contacts.
- Leveraged groups like InterNations or Mundo Lingo once I was on the ground.
Once I had an email address, I would reach out to the potential new friend in a casual tone and explain why I was coming, where I was living, and that I wanted to take them to coffee.
Then on the day of my arrival, every single person on my list received another email saying that I was now on the ground in Buenos Aires.
The very first evening I met a email contact for drinks, which rolled into dinner, which rolled into invitations to attend Argentine polo matches (always, always take the next invitation).
By the second week, I had no free nights. By the end of the month, I could call three people I met in Argentina life long friends. That’s pretty awesome.
2. How I Learned Spanish
I’ve never been able to take the words I know on paper and make them come to life in my mouth. Much to my dismay, I’ve learned and forgotten both Spanish and Arabic.
In one of my fits of rages about not knowing a second language with fluency, I picked up a book called Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner. It’s been life changing.
Following the Fluent Forever strategies I went to Argentina knowing 325 of the 600 most commonly used words in South America (that was as far as I had gotten to at that point) and present tense grammar.
I also signed-up for Italki, recommended by Fluent Forever, and had five 1:1 Skype sessions with an Argentine Spanish teacher to help learn the local dialect.
My strategy on the ground in Buenos Aires was to talk. Sounds simple, right?
Here is what I did:
- Messed up. Got embarrassed. Misunderstood. Said silly things. Nodded and smiled. Moved on with my life because I am learning a new language.
- Used all the words I knew 1000x per day.
- Kept a little journal with me to write down new words I heard.
- Studied my Fluent Forever flashcards every day and met with my Spanish teacher twice.
- Unapologetically asked people to repeat themselves 10x.
- Pointed, flapped my arms like a bird, did lots of eyebrow movements to express myself.
- Ordered all the wrong things.
And guess what? It worked.
By the end of 30 days, I was much more confident in speaking and comprehension. And in the last week, I even made a joke in Spanish! Which is the holy grail of language learning.
3. How I Kept Working While Abroad
I went to Argentina to play, yes, but also to work which is part of the arrangement I made with my company. Therefore, I needed to maintain my normal schedule while I was down south.
Here is how I made the most of my work while abroad:
- Found housing with the best wifi. All wifi is not created equal, and I had my share of problems throughout Argentina. But 85% of the time, I had a strong signal.
- Worked on the projects that needed quiet concentration time. Our NYC office is open floor and conducive to collaboration but not independent work.
- Placed a gap in my afternoon so that I could go out for 1-2 hours for either a Argentine lunch or to explore during daylight. Night time exploring is not nearly as relaxed or vibrant, so breaking my work day into two parts allowed me to get work done and see the city.
- Camera Skyped for meetings so that I was a visible presence and people could see that I was alive and well.
- Sent regular updates to my boss on team progress of projects and any Argentine observations.
- Requested days off toward the end of my trip to explore another location.
Ultimately, I was very glad to have the structure and socialness of work. It kept me on a schedule and made me prioritize my time in Buenos Aires.
Even more so, spending 30 days abroad using a different language gave me a better appreciation and understanding of the cultural and language nuances of my fellow global colleagues. I think that’s a very nice win!
After 30 days, I can confidently say that my Argentina experiment was exactly what I needed. Being abroad has always given me energy, perspective, and a greater sense of purpose. When I boarded the plane home I felt renewed, recharged, and truly grateful.
Weaving myself into the fabric of Argentina, even for a little, long time, was just what I hoped it would be – perfecto.
P.S. here are my recommended list of books to read on Argentina
- To get a grasp on the country – it’s huge! – Lonely Planet Argentina
- So you don’t make an accidental fool of yourself – Argentina Culture Smart!
- Making the most of Buenos Aires + a good map – Top 10 Buenos Aires
- Historical fiction during a politically tough time – The Story of the Night: A Novel
P.S.S. Looking for a job in Buenos Aires? I know a company hiring in social media content!