article from July 13, 2011
by Julie R Butler
Katie’s blog, Seashells and Sunflowers, has recently celebrated its third year. She began when she was planning to move to Necochea, Argentina, and has kept it up beautifully, giving us a window not only into her life, but into many different aspects of Argentine culture as well as the ins and outs of being an expat in Argentina. She thoughtfully and thoroughly answered a few questions that I sent her:
JRB: Let me start by saying that I just love your blog. You do such a great job of balancing different topics of interest: personal stories, important information, the recipes, observations about culture – and with so much affection. So congratulations on three years of excellent blogging! I believe that blogging is a great coping aid for expats in many different respects. How do you feel that blogging about your experience has benefited you?
KMM: Blogging has opened so many doors for me, both personally and professionally. Initially, Seashells and Sunflowers served as a tool for journaling my experiences and keeping friends and family updated on my life here in Argentina; however, I soon discovered that my blog was a powerful way to meet and connect with other expats. Since I live in a small city with virtually no foreigners —a fact which makes me something of a novelty here in Necochea— the blog became my lifeline to the expat community in Argentina. I've made numerous contacts through my site, and I'm delighted to say that many of the virtual friendships I've made have transformed into real-life ones.
In the course of researching topics for my blog, I've learned an incredible amount about my adopted country, and the posts often open up a dialogue with friends and family about Argentine culture. I take pleasure in knowing that I'm informing and (hopefully) entertaining my readers with my stories.
I also occasionally use the blog as a place to vent my frustrations and struggles (the topic of Argentine bureaucracy comes up often!), and I find that connecting with online friends in similar situations can be very therapeutic. As well intentioned as those back home may be, they're not living the expat reality and facing the day-to-day struggles of adapting to a new culture and language.
Lastly, my site has helped me make a number of connections with local people right here in Necochea who've stumbled upon my blog. For example, I offer private English classes in my home, and virtually all of my students have come to me through word of mouth or my blog. Every once in a while, I'll even get stopped on the street by someone who recognizes me from my photo on Seashells and Sunflowers!
JRB: In your professional life, you are a translator. What motivated you to become educated in Spanish language and translating?
KMM: I've always had a passion for foreign languages, and I studied both French and Spanish in high school. I continued with Spanish courses briefly in college, but ultimately, my studies took me in another direction. After graduation, I worked in the medical field for several years, and I later parlayed my fluency in Spanish and work experience into a career in medical translation. I'm something of a word nerd, so translation has been a natural fit for me. In addition, as a location-independent business, translation offers me the flexibility to work anywhere on the planet, as long as I have reliable Internet access.
JRB: How did you become interested in Argentina?
KMM: Admittedly, my initial interest wasn't so much in Argentina itself but rather in a certain Argentine, a man I'm now proud to call my husband. Of course, in a desire to understand him and his culture better, I began reading about Argentina on the Internet, and we would chat at length about the customs, food, politics, and language of his country. I later traveled to Argentina on a number of occasions, eventually moving here permanently in 2009 to begin a life here with him.
JRB: Was it difficult for you to get used to Argentine Spanish (or castellano, as they say here), even after learning the language?
KMM: The most challenging aspect of Argentine Spanish for me has been the incredible variety of slang used here. Argentina employs its very own slang vocabulary known as Lunfardo, and it definitely threw me at first! Now I can sling Argentine slang with the best of them. The Argentine accent is also quite unique among Spanish speakers, and it took me a while to grow accustomed to it.
JRB: Do you have any advice for people who are working on their Spanish, either before moving abroad or after their arrival – any favorite Internet resources or other aids?
KMM: Arriving with the basics of Spanish under your belt will certainly help, but the best advice I can offer to those working on their castellano is to avoid the "expat bubble." When you're truly immersed in the language and forced to use it on a day-to-day basis, your skills will undoubtedly improve.
Unfortunately, many expats surround themselves with a circle of English-speaking friends, patronize businesses catering to English speakers, and speak English at home with their partners. We all appreciate the sense of comfort that comes with communicating in our mother tongue, but unless you step out of your comfort zone and make a concerted effort to use Spanish daily, your progress with the language will be slow at best. I've found Argentines to be very patient with non-native speakers, so don't be afraid to practice on them!
Regarding helpful sites for learning Spanish, I wrote an article last year featuring 10 free online resources for Spanish language learners.
JRB: Here are my favorite articles on Katie’s blog:
Julie R Butler is a writer, journalist, editor, and author of several books, including Nine Months in Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). She is a contributor to Speakout at Truthout.org, and her current blog is Connectively Speaking
email: julierbutler [at] yahoo [dot] com, Twitter: @JulieRButler