Month: August 2013

Two Years in Time, a Future in Foreign Languages and Web Design: The Internet Initiative Scholarship

After college, I plan to continue helping people learn languages with a company called Verbling and design or program websites as a freelancer.

My fascination with foreign languages fabricated itself after my second year learning Spanish in high school. The idea of creating friendships with people from around the world through a foreign language simply amazed me. Even as I approach my seventh year studying Spanish, meeting a new person fills me with a profusion of positive energy. Consequently, my passion for foreign languages opened the doors to friendships across the globe and a job working with the friendliest international community online.

I began working as an online tutor for Verbling in February 2012 after sending a cold email to the company and Skyping with Jake, one of the co-founders. A few months after I started, they asked me to hire six people and lead the team of 7. I felt extremely grateful for the opportunity to tutor people online because the company was paying me to do something I was passionate about- practice and help people learn languages.

9 months later, Verbing started offering live online language classes and I moved up to  teach English. Since then, I have taught over 160 classes ranging in topics from how to cook pancakes to “show’n’tell.” Currently, I teach one to two classes per week, mostly focused on improving pronunciation.

This summer, I also participated in an unpaid month-long internship at Verbing headquarters in downtown San Francisco. I learned about social media management, programming, writing editorials, and customer support. However, above all, my internship taught me how the gears turn behind an internet-based startup company. After I graduate, I intend to remain a member of the Verbling team and support them in creating the best environment for learning a language online.

While my passion for languages is well-founded, my desire to design graphics and program websites as a career only recently blossomed after extensive online research and speaking to a few experts.  Up until these past four months, the only experience I had creating graphics and building websites was from my two years of graphic design in high school and teaching myself using online resources such as Codecademy and Hack Design. Working in the field of technology or art piqued my interest but my lack of knowledge made me feel uncertain about pursuing a career in either of the two. However, after multiple conversations with professionals in both design and computer programming, I now feel certain this is the career path I want to take.

Furthermore, I am seizing many opportunities to learn about design and coding such as taking classes in design-related subjects and interning as an front-end developer here in Argentina. While studying abroad in Buenos Aires this semester, I embraced the fortuity to take a photography and typography course at the University of Belgrano. About the same time as the start of the semester, I found an internship with a startup company called Proces Street that is building a web application to optimize efficiency by managing and organizing recurring tasks. I work on developing the front-end side of the website, or everything before the web application. Since I do not yet have a lot experience in the field, the internet is my greatest resource. With it, I have taught myself several skills such as customizing the layout of WordPress theme to adding a price comparison table to a web page. Thus, I will continue to grow and learn as a result of taking these courses and working as an intern, and use this knowledge and experience for my future career.

Hence once I graduate from the university, I aim to juggle two professions. In one hand, I will use my enthusiasm for foreign languages to help Verbling create the best online catalyst for language fluency. In the other hand, I will design and program websites as a freelancer. While the purpose of each differs, the internet will nonetheless serve me as the most useful tool in acquiring knowledge and in turn, achieving success in both occupations.

Day 45: Door knobs are just for looks

puerto madero buenos aires argentina

Day 45 in Buenos Aires, Argentina and here are more cultural observations- hope you enjoy!

“The bus comes when it comes”

When it comes to transportation, it seems as though there is all the time in the world. People simply wait at the bus stop or at the subway platform and get on when the bus or subway arrives. No one seems to be in rush. However, the reason for that may be because the public transportation is really useful and the most time I’ve had to wait for a bus or subway is 15 minutes.

A lot of Argentinians talk with their hands

Not everyone uses their hands to talk but those who do paint a picture of what they’re describing with their gestures. I believe this is because a lot of people have Italian roots and Italians talk with their hands.

“Muy amable” expression

This is my favorite expression in castellano. After someone gives you directions, or really shows you kindness in anyway, you hear this expression. I interpret it as “That’s very kind of you.” I love it because I don’t feel like there’s an expression in English that we use to express gratitude in the way an Argentine person might. It’s really cool!

Description words are used as names

Instead of using the person’s name such as “Nico” or “Sara,” people sometimes call a person by the adjectives one might use to describe that person such as flaco(skinny), gorda(large), linda(pretty)etc. I wouldn’t consider it “labeling” a person but rather using words that actually relate to what the person is. An example would be, “Oi, flaco. Vení acá,” which directly translates to “Hey, skinny, Come here.”

You always greet the people that live in your building

I live in an apartment and every time I see someone walking out the front door, in the elevator, or on the stairway, the person always greets me and says hello. I wouldn’t know if it’s the same in New York or Chicago or another big city in the United States but it was something that stuck out to me.

Most doors in restaurants don’t shut automatically

I’m not exactly sure this falls under the “cultural” category but one thing that caught my attention is the fact that at some restaurants, the doors don’t close automatically. You have to actually shut it and this is something I’m not used to in Arizona.  There are doors that do shut automatically but I also see a lot that don’t compared to in Phoenix where I hardly see any. 

Door knobs are just for looks

It amuses me that there are numerous doors that have door knobs just for looks. By that I mean you need to turn the key like a doorknob to enter the building. This also means that if you forget your keys and no one is home, you can’t get in.

Feel free to share any thoughts below 🙂


An unexpected surprise in Mendoza, Argentina

mendoza argentinaHopping on the bus at exactly 6:45pm Monday evening, I felt more than pleased with the turnout of the 4-day vacation in Mendoza, Argentina. However, little did I know I was in for a startling surprise.

After finding a comfy position in my seat on the top level of the bus, I made sandwiches out of small, fresh baguettes from the bakery with the most delicious deli-ham I’ve tasted in Argentina. My girlfriend Stacey and I ate them peacefully to settle our appetites for the extensive bus ride to the capital city.

About 20 minutes after we boarded the highway, the bus started slowing down until it came to a complete stop and we could no longer hear the engine. Unsure what was going to happen, we waited in angst, hoping the bus would be fixed soon and we would still arrive at 10AM the next day. 40 minutes later, our worries were eased and we continued back on the highway towards Buenos Aires.

As soon as the drowsiness started to weigh on my eyes almost, the engine died again an hour after the first time. There’s one difference though- this time the bus driver couldn’t recharge the battery and start the engine.

Now normally, I wouldn’t be worried in this situation-sitting on a bus on the side of the highway, eating alfajores while I wait for a new bus to come. Instead, it was the same situation but at 10 o’clock at night and we were in what looked like the middle of the nowhere, next to a mysterious house.

The bus driver did not mention anything to us passengers so we sat not knowing what was going on or what was going to happen. At that moment, I felt a little bit of fear due to my lack of knowledge as to when the next bus would come.

Dogs started barking from afar and everyone turned their heads to the empty patch of land on the right to figure out what was happening. I anxiously approached the window and looked left then right but saw nothing. I assumed that the dogs were barking at the bus drivers outside and returned to my seat.

I began to dose off when all of the sudden I heard a loud BANG on the side of the bus followed by the shattering of a window.

“Joe, what’s going on? I’m scared,” Stacey whispered to me as she grabbed my arm and pulled herself to my side.

“Don’t worry Stace, nothing’s going to happen,” I replied in a calm, soothing voice.

The adrenaline rushed through my body and fully awoken me. A dark-skinned Argentine man in overalls climbed up the stairs to the top level with a large, steel ax in his right hand. He had a fierce look of anger on his old, sun-warn face as he turned his head to look at all the passengers on the bus. No one said a word.

Then he locked his eyes on me. I wanted to look away but I simply couldn’t. He sent shivers of fear throughout the tips of toes and I froze in my seat. Without a second to think, he screamed out of rage and charged me with his ax ready to swing.

“Joe, wake up! The other bus is here. Come on.” Stacey said to me as she grabbed me to wake me up from my horrible nightmare.

The new, fully-charged bus arrived eight hours after our old bus broke down and we finally headed home without running into any other problems.

When we arrived at the bus terminal in Buenos Aires, I released a sense of cheerfulness through a big, bright smile to know that I was back home in Capital Federal and that I never actually encountered an angry old man with an ax. 


Argentine cuisine experience after one month

Since I’ve been here for about a month now, I’ve indulged a little in the Argentine cuisine and I’d like to share a few dishes with you. I won’t go into much detail only because words  are no match for the tastefulness of this kind of food.

Milanesa Napolitana

napolitana milanesa

One of my favorite entrées here by far, Milanesa Napolitana is a thinly-sliced breaded piece of meat(chicken or beef) with a slice of mozarella cheese and jam on top. There are other variations that have different toppings as well.


The word stands for barbarque but the difference is the way the meat is cooked. Instead of using a gas or charcoal grill, they use wood and cook the meat for about two hours. This picture is off the asado that we bought at a restaurant to eat at home.


empandas argentinas

Empanadas exist all over Latin America but they’re basically made with a dough and a variety of ingredients such as beef, peppers and onions or cheese and jam and baked to serve as a delicious meal.


pizza de argentina

The pizza here is extremely different than in the United States. They put eggs on their pizza(it’s actually not too bad) and they cook it in a way that makes it taste 10x more delicious than in any pizza place I’ve eaten at in Arizona.  At the top, you can they also put meat on the pizza-I think it was bacon.



By far, one of my favorite foods here in Argentina-ALFAJORES! They’re a delicious chocolaty candy that you can buy almost anywhere and they have tons of different flavors. The thin outer chocolate shell covers the layers of rich, crunchy, sweet deliciousness.

Jamón con huevo duro?


I don’t think I wrote the correct name in Spanish because I don’t know it but I bought this sandwich meat in a supermarket and thought it was a strange combination. It’s the only thing I haven’t liked thus far!

I only covered a few foods within the Argentine gastronomy but I will write another post about any other treasures I find before I leave the country in December. I most certainly recommend you try finding an Argentine restaurant in your area and tasting at least one of these amazing eats. Feel free to leave any thoughts below! 🙂


3 weeks in Buenos Aires: more observations

street in buenos aires argentina

Today marks my 3rd week here in this metropolis called Buenos Aires. This will be the second post(read the first one here) I have written regarding my observations and things that have caught my attention while living here.  Just a fore-warning, this one is longer than the last one but should be just as interesting!

The custom for introducing yourself is a kiss on the cheek

The most common way to introduce yourself to a person(male or female) is to kiss them on the check(or kiss the air next to their cheek). I remember learning about this in a class during my first semester in college but I completely forgot and made a fool more than once during the first week.

It’s uncommon to walk barefoot in your house 

At my host family’s house, everyone walks around with shoes on. Now I don’t know how widely practiced this custom is but I do know that it’s practiced in other host family houses, according to a few other students.

When you go out for the night, you probably get home til 7am

Before I came to Argentina, my friend Nico told me that when you go out at night here, you stay out until the sun comes up. I told him that wasn’t going to be me. As it so happens, he was right. Usually, you leave your house around 11 or 12, go drink at a bar until 2 or 3 and then afterwards, go to a boliche, or club to dance.

The traffic light shines yellow light before a red light AND before a green light

I have no idea if this happens in other parts of the United States or even world but before the traffic light shines green, it shines yellow. I don’t if this has positive or negative side effects but I noticed this while riding in a taxi home one day.

You have to weigh your fruit/vegetables/meat/etc. before you checkout at the grocery stores

Instead of weighing your fruits and vegetables at the checkout, you have to wait inline near the produce section and have a clerk weigh your items and stick the price tag on them before you pay-not a big deal. It was more something that I didn’t realize would be different.

Professors don’t use Powerpoint presentations in class: they only lecture

Wow! This was totally unexpected. Since the classes are taught in Spanish, it’s especially hard to take notes AND listen to the professor lecture at the same time. I know I’ll get used to it after we move more along into the semester(this is the second week of the semester).

Everyone cleans their driveway/storefront

I don’t believe this is common in larger cities but I wouldn’t have enough experience/knowledge to say if this is common or not. Basically, in the morning you’ll see store owners or janitors cleaning the sidewalk in front of their complex or property. Where I come from, it would be very unusual to see someone scrubbing their driveway.

Cigarette smoke is UBIQUITOUS

It would be realistically impossible to go a day without breathing secondhand-smoke. Everyone smokes here and there is no escape. Even at the university! People smoke near the single, university building and sometimes the tall, wide doors open just enough to “click” and stay open to allow the unpleasant cigarette smoke to linger all the way to the eleventh floor.

That’s the end of my observations for this blog! Next week, I plan to write about the gastronomy of Buenos Aires that I will have encountered thus far. If you have any comments or thoughts, feel free to share them below 🙂