Christian Ray
2005-06 Outbound to Argentina

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
School: Bishop Kenny High School
Sponsor: South Jacksonville Rotary Club
Host: Lomas de San Isidro Rotary Club, District 4820, Argentina

September 19 Journal

OK so where to start? I spent my last few days in the states saying my goodbyes and last minute packing. The morning of my trip I prepared myself for a very loooong trip.

The flight to Argentina was only ten and a half hours but I had to make a detour to Washington D.C. like many other exchange students from around the United States. Even though it was a little out of my way to fly three hours north and have a nasty wait in the airport, it was worth it. The exchange students on the plane with me were awesome. Like all exchange students are. We were loud and rowdy getting on the plane and full of energy and stayed that way for much of the trip to the chagrin of some travelers. I myself have a slight problem with sitting in a cramped seat for ten hours. The seats on airplanes really are not made for people over 5'5''. As the hours ticked by, the exchange students talked and played cards, listened to music or tried to sleep. Only about four people were able to get any sleep. As we closed upon Argentina I was entertained by a wonderful lightning storm out my window. It was so beautiful and I could see the flashes in the different thunderheads because we were up so high.

Once we landed and got into the airport we faced the "challenge" of customs. The customs in Argentina were the easiest I had ever been through. Once through customs we were taken to claim our baggage and then "herded like cats..." as I heard it put, to meet our families. Feeling like I was in a sauna with my Rotary jacket on I slipped it off and threw it over my bag I was carrying. And of course, with my great luck I was not met by my family, no, but my exchange counselor and most of the people in charge of the exchange program in Argentina, the ones who told us to wear our jackets. You just have to love first impressions.

Anyhow, I was taken to meet my first exchange family and in the process also got to meet my second family and the student staying with them from Belgium. Once I had slowed down and dropped my stuff in my room I realized just how tired I was. I had been up for approximately 24 hours. I was just a little tired. I spent my first three days in Argentina just adjusting, and letting it sink in where I was and for how long. It rained for the first few days but I was fine with that because the rain calmed me and I just regained energy from the trip. My family are excellent cooks and are very warm and caring people.

My first day of school was very exciting. The school itself is very large and there are over three thousand students. Many of the students in the class spoke understandable English and I realized then how lazy Americans really are that we only know English and that is it. I also found that some people here speak better English than people in the United states. So sad. It made it very easy to make friends, but the subjects here are extremely difficult for me. I am loving it here, with its new foods, crazy drivers, warm people, awesome architecture, and the new lifestyle I am living. A month has already gone by and I found myself saying, wow, where did all that time go. I will have to make the most of what time I do have left.

From Argentina with love.

Christian

November 15 Journal

Hey guys,

I am now closing on my third month in Argentina and although communication is still somewhat stressed sometimes, things are good. Right now I am feeling very good about my surroundings and the good group of friends that I am making at school. Luckily I haven't been really sick like some exchange students get when they travel but I do have some bad allergies here, but it is a small price to pay for such an adventure.

WEATHER: Ok, so the weather here is really weird. When I arrived in Buenos Aires it was somewhat chilly and from then alternated between chilly and downright cold with some days of nice weather thrown in just for kicks. Now as I am writing it has been quite hot and and my school uniform which consists of sweatpants and a shirt that is literally made out of the roughest fabric they could find is not the most comfortable thing to sit in when the class has no air conditioning. Ahhhh, one thing I miss more than ever, the Floridians' over use of air conditioning. Although is is hot right now, I am told it gets hotter in the months of January and February... oh great. But that is ok because I am headed to the beach with one of my best friends here and his family rented a house for a few weeks. Rock on.

SCHOOL: The schools here are very relaxed and the teachers and the kids converse on the same level when not in class. Although I heard the Latin culture is somewhat lazy and have been seeing a little of it myself, they have really really hard subjects in school. All of the classes are more advanced than in the states and I am definitely lost even when I can slightly understand the teacher. The kids in the school are great. Everyone is nice and many of my classmates are helping me with leaning phrases and words. Even though some of the things might be inappropriate, they think it is hilarious to have the foreign kid say things he has no idea what they mean, I am still learning nonetheless everyday. All of the classes are really kicking my butt, trigonometry, chemistry, biology, and physics. All things that I have never seen before or don't remember how to do, but the English classes.... I got those covered. =) The English classes here show me how much you miss from not learning a language where it is spoken. It is very interesting for me also because I have to listen hard to the accent that is Argentinian and British mixed because they learn British style English. The school is gigantic and everyone is relaxed. On hot afternoons all the students go into the courtyard and find any shade and just lay around talking and enjoying the outdoors and good company. It is really a nice change compared to the fast paced schools of the United States.

ARGENTINIAN NEWS: You may have seen some glimpses of Argentina. Luckily my part of town is really safe. Here is a briefing of what has happened in the past month in Argentina. In the middle of October there were elections to choose the new senator. For the first time in Argentina a woman was elected. There was very mixed reactions to this, and resulted in some protests. Here is it obligatory to vote. Only if you are disabled or too far away from the voting stations are you excused. The penalty if you do not vote is you are not allowed to leave the country and have to pay a fine of 1 peso. Kind of a strange penalty but it works. A couple days later the trains and subways went on strike which resulting in rioting and a train catching on fire. They do not know if it was on purpose or not. The week after a huge shopping mall right near my house caught on fire, there was over 20 fire trucks from all over Buenos Aires. Then came the biggest news. The meeting of the Americas. 34 of the leaders of the countries in South and North America, except Cuba came and had a meeting in Mar del Plata. Which is 2 hours from my house. Huge riots erupted all over Buenos Aires protesting the arrival of Bush . Fires and bombs were set and many injuries happened. Although all this happened in Buenos Aires, I saw nothing of it except on the news.

THE TRIP: So as I mentioned above I am going on a trip to the south of Argentina. I am going with 25 other exchange students. This will be really awesome because in my district there are only 10 exchange students, and most of them live at least an hour away. We are visiting the provinces La Pampa, Neuquen, Rio Negro, Chubut, Santa Cruz, and Tierra del Fuego. The last province Tierra del Fuego is known as the end of the world, with breathtaking views of glaciers, and penguins too! We are also doing activities like whale watching, hiking, visiting lakes, and much much more. We are going for something like 20 days and every day is jammed packed with activities. I'll try to smuggle back a penguin for anyone that wants one. HAHAHAH (just kidding Al, I promise I wont get arrested for smuggling illegal birds)

HOLIDAYS: What to say about holidays? Holidays here are really well remembered. Argentinians love a good time and will never forget a time when they can have one. Birthdays are a huge thing and there is a pattern that is always followed. Don't ask me why, I am still trying to figure it out myself. The girls bring the cake and the boys bring something to drink. Always. Makes it easy that way to remember. Halloween here is not celebrated, much. I say this because no one decorates for it and only three people came by dressed up. Anyways, every other holiday is celebrated with an asado, or a barbecue.

FOOD: My favorite part. as mentioned above most people have asados, all the time, which are barbecues, but these are no ordinary barbecues. They cook almost every part of the cow. Including several of the inner parts. Although slightly disgusting to think about, just don't ask and everything tastes fine. Another part of the food here is lack of seasoning. They do not season any of the meat. They say that they wish to taste only the flavor of the meat and not the spices. The only spice used in abundance here is salt. My dad would love this country. As he says, "if it isn't liquid or chocolate, it needs salt." A phrase heartily upheld by the Argentinians. Fresh bread, vegetables, and fruit are also a large part of the diet. I found out the fruit was very fresh because it goes bad after a week or week and a half instead of the fruit in the states that stays fresh for like what.. three weeks. The fresh bread is great and when ever I am missing home I go downstairs and break out the secret stash of peanut butter. Yeah for peanut butter. Although I have found dulce de leche which is addictive in its own way and when on a kind of Argentinian cookie called an alfojor, it is to die for. I have liked every part of the food I have tried here except one. It is a sausage called morcella. It is made with the blood of the cow. It has a very interesting taste and a very odd texture that is disgusting to the touch. I can predict now that I will most likely come home with the exchange student fifteen pounds and a craving for dulce de leche and alfojores.

OTHER: My Spanish has improved so much since I arrived it is absolutely astounding. I am learning words everyday and new things also. I have been out to see the night life and dance the entire night away and then gone to school the next day. Fun stuff. I'm definitely going to miss how alive and booming this city is when I am gone, but I can't think of that right now. I am going to have to soak up as much as I can and live my time to the fullest. I can't think why anyone would not want to be an exchange student.

From Argentina with love.

Besos

Christian

December 18 Journal

Hey everyone, OK I have heard the expression that time flies and that it goes faster the older you get but this year is INSANE. Four months have gone by and it feels like its been one... or scratch that I have lost all sense of time. All I know is that I have seven more months to do everything that I want to do. Achievable. I hope. But if I don't make it, maybe just maybe I will have to come back and visit. Hehehe.

I have just returned from the Rotary trip to the south of Argentina. WOW it was crazy. There is every type of land formation you could ever want in Argentina, well at least to me. There are the plains of Wyoming and the mountains like The Rockies and then again aren't they part of The Rockies, well anyway they were beautiful. There are gigantic lakes of emerald and wonderful waterfalls in every national park. I have to say that I think we saw every national park in the south of Argentina. After a while they all look the same though, but that's after about the fifth one. But I am not complaining. There were twenty two of us on the trip so it was quite diverse. Many of the students were from the states. A lot from New York and Minnesota. I have no idea why. But they were all cool and there were four people who spoke German so they spoke German almost the entire trip and anyone that was paying attention picked up on some of the words... even if they were the bad ones. We also had people from Belgium, France, a Swiss, a CRAZY Dane, a Hungarian, and a Austrian.

The trip itself was very tiring since we had to cover three thousand kilometers in twenty days. This meant several days were spent entirely on the bus. We only got grumpy when all of our ipods and cd players ran out of batteries. Otherwise we were always in a fairly good mood except on the mornings that we had to wake up at six to the sound of CHICOS, CHICOS! Those two words struck irritation into all of our hearts when we heard it... unless we were making fun of it. The trip traveled down the Atlantic coast, not right on the coast but sometimes we did catch glimpses of it, and traveled down to a place called Tierra del Fuego. We did stop in other little towns along the way to get there but they are not super important so I won't bore you. But there was one town that we were right on this lake/port thing and all the boys and some of the girls went swimming. Really cold but super fun. Anyways Tierra del Fuego is part of Argentina but you have to pass through Chile to get there unless you fly. Yeah!!! Now I can say I have been to Chile and its stamped in my passport. Yeah!!!

Sorry. Once you pass through several hours of what seems to be desert and wasteland you come to the southern part of the area and it is really quite nice. Ushuaia is the southern most city in the word and is really a nice little town. A little chilly for flip flops which were quickly changed out for closed toed shoes. HEHE. Many of the students went around and bought things in the town and the Crazy Dane as before mentioned bought a cowboy hat. We all though this was stupid at first but it was really cool and everyone came to love the hat and girls were always wanted a picture with the hat. SWEET. Well we only were staying for a day so that night we decided to see what the night life was like at the bottom of the world. We paid our entrance fee and soon found out that the exchange students were the party on the bottom of the world. We stayed out until we had to leave because our bus was going to leave without us. In the south there we got to stop and walk on a glacier and drink glacier water and eat Argentinian candy on top of the glacier.

On the way back north we stopped at a lot of national parks but a few were very cool because one was by what seemed like a jump off point for tourist hikers and mountain bikers. There we had some great fun. We hiked three kilometers into the national park/tourism thingy-ma-bob and stopped at a waterfall for lunch and spent the entire day there just sun bathing and having fun. The water fall was about thirty to forty feet tall and me and one other guy named Joe from Minnesota (amateur photographer) went to the top of the waterfall and got great pictures and found a little secluded spot that had its own private waterfall and a pool area. Later that day some of us just laid out and looked at the stars because they were so clear. Another major town we stopped at was Bariloche. Bariloche is the party capital of Argentina. Although of this fact we decided to forgo the partying because it was fifty pesos to get into the club and we didn't feel like walking twenty three kilometers each way. Because the last few days left us with very little to do. In one small town four of us dyed our hair. I am now officially a black haired boy. As the trip came to a close and we were on the bus for the last night, Argentina granted us with a beautiful sunset. That morning as we rolled into Buenos Aires, we were all destroyed but had so much fun that we didn't care at all. We all said our goodbyes and hoped that we would see each other again on the trip to the north. Now I am feeling free and having a great time because I am on summer vacation and about to go to the beach. yeah!!!! I hope you all enjoyed my rendition of the trip but I know that you will never know the true amount of fun unless you experience it for yourself.

With love from Argentina.

Christian

February 11 Journal

All I can say right now is "wow I am really tired". I have just returned from the craziest month of my life. For the past month I have been chilling on the beach and having fun during the night nonstop for the past thirty or so days. Alright now that you know why I am tired I will tell you what happened during that crazy month.

To begin, Pinamar is one of the best beaches in Argentina so I was extremely fortunate to be invited by a friend to go and stay at a house they had rented near the beach. We left on the 29 of December so we could make it for new years. For some in the states twelve pm is late and they stay up until midnight like twice a year, well here if you even made the suggestion of going to bed at midnight they would seriously check to see if you are ok. Normal curfew for kids around here is about thee or four in the morning. In other words the new years dinner lasted until midnight and everyone was having a good time. If there is one thing Argentinians can do, it is eat. It is absolutely incredible how much the people each here and then most of them are in good shape.

Anyways the dinner was asado or barbecue.  The asado is almost a reverent ceremony but with the drinking of lots of beer and good good company.  The meal consists of several different courses and different types of meat.  First there is a sausage called choriso and is almost always with bread, and then it is called a churipan. Really good and only the beginning.  Although the meat here is only seasoned with salt I find that I enjoy it as much as seasoned meat.  Along with the choriso is salads of lettuce and potato and eggs.  The next course is several different types of meat from different parts of the cow.  Such places as the neck, intestines, and other places I didn't ask.  The next course is meat from the ribs and pork.  And the last course to come in is the regular cow meat cooked the slowest so it is the most tender.  When the cook walks into the room with the last part of the meal everyone claps and cheers and praises the cooking.  After everyone has had their fill of meat and the chatter starts to build the plates are cleared away and ice cream is brought out.  That is the overview of an asado.  In some families there is one every week and in others they have one only once a month.  But every one follows this pattern whether big or small.        

After the magnificent meal all the kids go into town to have some fun.  Pinamar is relatively small so it is a lot of people is a very small area.  A very common and favorite game of the kids here is metagol or table soccer.  It is very easy to meet lots of people because if you know one person they know five more and those people all have friends and so on and so forth.  I was amazed at how well I could remember the names now.  The names here are all different so I couldn't remember the names to save my life but I started to remember all the names.  Yippy.  After about a week of having fun and getting to know people the next big thing was The Wailers concert.  For those that don't know who The Wailers are, they are the band that performed with Bob Marley when he was singing.  And the coolest thing was that the concert was free. 

After the concert we were all starving from dancing to reggae for several hours so we went to a place called Pancho Pueblo.  The name means pretty much "hotdog town" but these are not your normal hotdogs.  nooooo.  These are foot long hotdogs with with ham and cheese melted on the top and then two sauces of different kinds such as spicy, four cheese, and things of this nature with little crunchy potato fries on top.  One thing I have to complain about here is the french fries.  They are more like potato slivers.  In other words the panchos are awesome.  Every morning around four we would eat one.  I am addicted. 

The next really nice thing was on the beach when they had a bikini fashion show and some of Argentina's biggest models were there.  I can say only one word.  GORGEOUS!  I love it here.  Just about the only advertisements here is beautiful women.  For everything, drinks, drugs (legal ones), clubs, beaches, and clothes. 

The last week was the best and by this time I was well tanned also after being on the beach for the minimum of four hours a day.  I went out twice to party and had a great time.  The first time we started the day by playing pool and then went to a little bar/club.  The dance floor was small but there was a lot of people on the floor and a really good DJ.  The second time I went out was the last night I was in Pinamar.  We left for a place called Ku.  One of the biggest night clubs I had ever seen.  It was so big it needed three entrances.  The main building was two floors and then it had several smaller building surrounding it.  There were rooms for every type of music you could want.  There was the techno room, my personal favorite,  the rap and hip hop room, thecumbia room,  kind of like Argentina rap, and then several areas of normal all around mixes.  It was really nice - if you didn't like the music, change the room. We entered around two and watched the sunrise from the back of Ku over the ocean.  A real sight.  To accompany the sunrise was another fashion show. 

Around six or so we left to go home and get some rest and then the next day we left for Buenos Aires and back to normality again. Well almost.  When I got back we realized that the family that was my next family was in Brazil and will be there for the next two weeks.  So maybe normality isn't the word I want to use.   I will never forget my month in Pinamar.  I still can't wait to see what comes next in an adventure filled with surprises of every shape and form. 

With love from Argentina.

Christian

March 14 Journal

Hola muchachas y muchachos,

Wow things are really starting to speed up or slow down. I have no idea which but I do know that I have lost all track of time. I have also lost all of my spelling abilities in English. fun huh. That will not be fun jumping right back into school when I get back. Alright but where to start with my story. There are so many stories and side stories and I want to tell them all but then I think I would definitely win the prize as longest journal ever. As the life of a the normal exchange students goes, nothing is ever easy except in rare occasions and then usually someone is messing with me. But anyway I can take and keep on ticking.

When I returned from the beach I was welcomed with the news "oh yeah, your host family is in Brazil for another two weeks." At that moment I was having pictures of me sleeping on the street. But that has never happened to an exchange student before so I quickly dismissed the thought and went on to think about where I was headed to next. To my surprise I was headed to the house of my club's president. His family warmly welcomed me and I felt like one of the family in no time. But when two weeks were up I was headed to my next family and spent a month there (I don't know why) and then I was switched again to a family that is great. But I was rather surprised when I walked into my new room and it was pink. Not just pink but TWO different shades of pink. Their daughter Dana is in Jacksonville right now and to tell the truth I am a little jealous. I really miss my big semi boring city for some reason. Maybe it's the beach.

The last few weeks for me have really been busy. I had my birthday for which I was surprised with trip to a theme park for a day with several of the exchange students here and my host brother. Lots of fun and there was this thing that they towed you up about twenty stories and I was strapped into a harness with Oliver the student from Switzerland and then they proceeded to drop us into a huge parabolic swing. It was wildly fun but extremely hot. Surprisingly I don't miss air conditioning a lot and I am most likely going to freeze my butt off when I get back though. Exactly eight days later one of my good friends here had his birthday and we partied and had... you guessed it. An asado. This was his 17th birthday which is pretty big here because here it means you can drive. It's like our 16th birthday. After that I had the good luck of the exchange student with me and I got tickets for a show of Argentinian history. All of the show involved horses and some form of Argentinian cowboys. A very good show and a quick history lesson for me. hehehe.

I am starting my second week of school this week and the past weekend was I think the busiest weekend of my entire life or maybe not the busiest but definitely the most tiring. On Saturday I went walking around the capital trying to see everything I could see in the tourist aspect of the city. It's like trying to see all the things in Washington D.C. - it's not possible. I have to say since I haven't seen Washington or Europe, Buenos Aires has awesome architecture. I spent seven hours walking around the capital and when me and my friend decided to head back we both fell asleep on the train. Not the most safe thing to do but we were exhausted. But that didn't even finish my day at all. My day was not going to end until six thirty in the morning. After I got home I got cleaned up, said adios to my host parents again, and I was off for an asado (barbecue) with my friends. An asado here always includes meat, music, and friends, lots of them. And after that you can do whatever you want. During the party I was invited to a party and of course I want to go party with you guys. Well, lucky for me that I was a foreigner because otherwise I wouldn't have been able to get past the door. There were so many people they had bouncers at the gates. Once inside it is absolutely incredible how fast an accent can make you friends. Soon I was surrounded by a group of people all asking me questions and things like that. The party wrapped up around six and I caught a cab back to my house. Around three the next day my host mom woke me up and I sleepily ate my food and then took a shower and I was much better and then the entire family went to a place called Palermo. A place full of culture and noise of Buenos Aires. During the weekends there is a market of sorts like a old medieval town or something with lots of people and lots of little tents with vendors calling out to people to buy their wares and other people performing for money and things that are all colorful and alive.

I hope that one day everyone can just experience a little piece of a different culture if not for a year at least for a day. Because it needs only a day to change your view.

Lots of love to all. Un beso.

Christian

May 19 Journal

Hey everyone, the last month or two or however long I have been off the grid for have been absolutely amazing. All the exchange students know exactly what I am talking about when I say that we have really come to be a part of our country and love and enjoy it. I am apologizing in advance if my English is somewhat unsatisfactory. I guess that means I have really become immersed when your mother tongue is horrible and it's easier to understand things in Spanish.

I know that I don't want to leave but I kind of have to when my visa expires and governments don't really like illegal aliens in their country no matter how laid back the country is. It's amazing how much I have changed in the last months here. I don't know exactly when or how I changed but I can tell there is a definite change in me. I have been trying to do as many things in the wonderful city of Buenos Aires as possible in the short time I have left. Right now I have been visiting the free jazz festival that is being held right now all over the city. I have never visited a city like Buenos Aires and I hope to visit more but BA will always have a special place in my heart forever.

Over the past two months I have seen ever more of Argentina in the trip to the north with the some really cool exchange students but not as cool as the group from Jax. While the trip on the bus was a little uncomfortable it was unbelievably fun with the crazy Germans and the one and only Swiss. I will remember them forever and always have fond memories of getting into trouble but never really because we were just too darn cute and charming. As I said I spent most of my time with the Germans and the Swiss who also spoke German so my German has also improved incredible. hehe. In every place we visited we tried to do something out of the ordinary, not on purpose, but because it was something to do so that we would remember the trip even better. We did things like hiking in our boxers or trying to always find the highest place and get to the top and back down before we had to go. It was things like that that I will always remember about this trip. Gracias Matias, Philip, y Oliver por las memorias. Some of the places we travel to we places like Jujuy, Tilcara, Salta, Mendoza, and Tucuman. Very nice all of them but a little dry for me. Almost all of those places are high altitude desert so my lips died on that trip.

We visited the Waterfalls of Iguazu or however you spell it I forgot. INCREDIBLE!!!!! If you ever have the chance to go there DO NOT turn it down. There are also a ton of butterflies and tons of wildlife. Its just too bad that I think I got water in my camera from the falls but its all right, they were amazing. We also went to several restaurants that had special people come in for us and dance and play music and we got to dance and have a grand time. We also visited some ruins that were really neat and reminded me of a series that I read when I was little that the castle was made of all red stone just like the ruin we went to. I have a ton of pictures despite the fact that my camera is a piece of crap and always can't focus or doesn't have batteries. Well the last one is partly my fault but I like to blame it on the camera anyways cause it can't fight back.

One of my most vivid memories is the last night on the bus when all of us were on the bus singing and dancing and talking and enjoying maybe the last time we would ever be together again. It was in that moment the national anthem of Argentina came on because it was one on of the cds and all of us started singing at the top of our lungs the national anthem of Argentina. when it finished we then proceeded to sing the national anthem of every country represented there. Canada, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and the United States. After all the anthems we all cheered and went immediately back to singing and having a jolly old time. I have now traveled this country from top to bottom and there really is no other country like it in the word. It's beautiful. I can't believe it!

My host family is incredible. I am saddened that I will have to leave and finish my year in another house but I guess that Dana, their daughter will want her room back. Wow that's right my year is almost over. I only have two months left. But in the same instant I am happy to see my friends again but like when I left I have to leave the friends I have made here and there isn't the known chance that I will see them again because I don't know when I will return again and that saddens me but I know that every student in another country will be doing the same so I must go on and look to the future that I will see them again one day, or just save my money and come back next year.

And recently I have started taking salsa classes in my neighborhood. The teacher is very nice and it's very informal and there are only a few people per class so every class is very personal and fun. I have never taken a dance class before but it is really fun and now I can impress the ladies. heheh.... yeah anyways.

For the past months we had nice weather. Kind of a fall in the north kind of weather but now it's bitter cold. This morning it was 4 degrees Celsius. For those of you that don't know I am in my house with a sweater and a scarf and sweat pants. I have also bought many clothes here and I looked at myself one day and I realized that everything I was wearing I had bought here in Argentina. I have also been looking for clothes for Florida when I go back because the clothes here are much cheaper. Looking for clothes for summer when it's almost winter here doesn't work. I ask "do you have t shirts?" it's kind of a rhetorical question because I know the answer already.

In the end of it all I have become a different person, hopefully one that you will all like but a different person and I hope to surprise you all. Love from the bottom half of the globe. To the exchange students can't wait to see you all. See you in July.

Christian