Blogging from Argentina

I donīt do much blogging from the field, preferring to jot notes and impressions from conferences in draft mode, letting them percolate into a post when I return home. Same with travels of any sort–I take a good old paper journal and leave the computer at home.

But as I am embarking on this blogging-the-world project with a small group of students heading to study abroad experiences this fall, I want to blog from the Northwest of Argentina at least once before I head home if for no other reason than to feel what itīs like to step off the streets, out of the immersive experience into this dimly lit, grungy little room filled with computer terminals and telephone booths, trying to figure out the differences between the keyboard here and my lovely little Powerbook at home, surrounded by teenagers playing computer games, travelers checking email, my daughter i-ming friends at home. I never sit tapping away on a greasy keyboard surrounded by strangers engaged in all manner of transactions, and I find myself distracted repeatedly by the people here. Fiction writer that I am, I am fascinated by the potential of stories. Internet cafe stories. Telephone booth stories from this neck of the woods–the old couple coming in to call someone in America. The indigenous boys playing shoot ém up games. The girls in school uniforms writing papers. The travelers playing online chess. The man singing Andean folk songs next to me as he surfs the Web. Stories. Is there a camraderie felt in these places between the people at their stations? Am I romanticising? Yes, I believe I am.

So here, nearly three weeks into this trip to Ecuador and Argentina I am ready to blog about blogging abroad. Iīve checked in on home a couple of times via email during the trip, but blogging is of course not at all the same as emailing. And as I sit here, I see that blogging has the potential to be more challenging and more valuable than I had thought. As I sit here trying to put words to the experience and as I miss out on whatever my daughter and husband are doing out there in the sun,I get a little glimpse of blogging in the world as my students will experience it.

Internet cafes take you out of the immersive experience–they interrupt it in a way that a journal or an aerogramme on a park bench do not. Itīs disorienting to have your blog homepage pop up as though you are actually sitting in your office. You could be anywhere. Or nowhere.

Taking the time to write more than a journal entry (for that is what I am asking my students to do–to be aware that they are publishing, that they are engaging in a conversation with the other project bloggers and whoever else reads along) is something they may well resist. Itīs different from writing in ýour private journal or a letter or even a group email which is a one-to-self, one-to-one or one-to-many proposition. The audience of the blog is self, inner circle and unknown other, and while you canīt really think about or worry about that unknown reader (reminds me of what my fiction writing teacher said in grad school–write for the good of the work first, then for yourself, then for the reader), you cannot pretend that you are writing just for yourself. So you shape your words more carefully, striving for clarity and pushing past the shards of memory and observation to try to express something you want to hear back about–you are communicating, conversing, discussing instead of narrating. (though you do a lot of that too) And that shaping can take time–internet cafes can be expensive and who wants to waste time away from the fascinating world out there. You can blog a la Piya and her India blog, writing the post first and then copying it into the blog later. This shaping and deeper thinking, processing of the expereicne can disrupt the experience. A paper journal can exist in jabby fragments each of which signals a full experience or response. A bog, or least this kind of blog, should do something a little different.

Reaching out and talking with others about the kinds of observations being made about life in Russia and Brazil and India and Germany, for example, can bring a sharper focus to the year abroad. Itīs the old “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” deal. And in turn, perhaps our senses will be heightened, weīll take in more and have more to say about it. Language will help us create the meaning. Certainly it could enrich it.

And so I see the blog as being a wonderfully fluid receptacle for all kinds of reflections and discoveries for the student studying abroad as long as itīs connected to other blogs and the bloggers get on one anotherīs blogs and keep a group conversation going on the main group blog.

Options and oppotunities for the group plus individual blogs–

— A place to try blogging in the second language

–Reflections and observations about the particular expereince

–Tips for travelers and for students considering a year abroad/Info exchange

–Questions for other bloggers

—RSS feeds from media & resources

–Photo repository

And as someone said about writing poems that itīs damn hard to keep the beat and the meaning at the same time, itīs damn hard to write in an internet cafe and keep focused. And so back out into the sun I go trying to make myself understood in my poor Spanish, wishing I had a community of bloggers-in-the-world who were discussing with me their experiences with the internet cafe.

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