Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category
Last year, I was working a 9-5 job in DC, had a steady paycheck and rewarding work, a journalism masters under my belt … and was bored. I didn’t feel ready to apply to a newsroom job in the U.S. I wanted to talk a different language and feel uncomfortable. I wanted to be inspired. I wanted to tell stories.
So last fall, I quit my job, sold my belongings and moved to Buenos Aires to try freelancing. It’s been quite a ride, full of ups and downs and successes and failures. A year in, I sometimes think I am actually more confused than before I left. My path seems uncharted and unclear. Part of me wants to go back to the land of a steady paycheck, and the other part feels this is just the beginning of a lifetime of freelancing. I can’t tell you for certain. Some days I spend hours simply reading about freelancing and freelancers and searching for an answer. Some days I think I actually really want to write a novel.
Since moving abroad, I’ve written about sports, agriculture/environment, women’s rights and journalism. I produced a video for a non-profit. I edit for a large U.S.-based organization. I teach English. I teach yoga. I translate. I recently learned my Argentine friend and I may publish an article in a local magazine. I have ideas.
On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve gotten loads of rejections. I’ve given up on stories. I’ve wasted money. But I can say with full truth that I am loving the ride. I am learning more about myself and about what I want to do and be and see and create in this life. I have more time to think and breathe and be creative. I have learned how to be more flexible and accommodating. And at the end of the day, I am living in Buenos Aires, just as I dreamed of.
Should you choose to embark on the freelancing life, you will inevitably have a much different experience than me. But here are some tips I recently shared with the j-school at Georgetown that I think can be useful to anyone. I wish you the best of luck!
- Build your reputation. Think about how you would like to define yourself and then build your online portfolio. Tweet like a banshee. Blog. Get in people’s faces in the online space and let them know who you are, what you’re interested in, and why they can trust you.
- Learn how to pitch. I simply cannot stress this enough. I wish I had taken an entire course on pitching before I departed. It is both a science and an art.
- Subscribe to Media Bistro. This can help you find information on the right editor to pitch at a certain publication and what his/her email address is.
- Have a running list of story ideas. Keep a google doc of ideas that come and go. Jot down moments of curiosity or inspiration. Post links to articles that you would like to look deeper into. Paste contacts there.
- Follow journalism blogs, web sites, etc. There are a ton of useful sites out there written by those who’ve come before us. Subscribe to these people on twitter and sign up to get their emails! Also check out sites that provide opportunities for journalists.
- Ask people to coffee and go to events. Before I moved to Buenos Aires, someone recommended I go on the lookout for smart, creative and interesting people when I arrive. I remember this often. You don’t learn about story ideas from home. Get out of the house whenever you can, ask someone to coffee, and be genuinely interested in their life.
- Try to stay confident. Freelancing is hard, especially for people at the early stages of their careers. And so much of it is about who you know. You are going to get rejections. You are going to have ideas that go nowhere. You are going to waste money on pursuing stories that no one cares about. Arm yourself with ideas for ways to dig yourself out of a black hole, as you will inevitably get sucked into them. (And if you don’t get sucked into them, please teach me!)
- Don’t get taken advantage of. Even though it’s important to prove yourself, it’s simply not fair to do loads of free reporting and writing. I got offered an assignment from a very prestigious publication, but after spending months researching and still not feeling certain it was going to go anywhere, I had to stop. I was losing money and time and energy that I felt I could have put elsewhere. (Full disclosure: I’m honestly still not sure whether I made the right decision.)
- If you want to make money, be flexible and be humble. I’ve picked up some small writing and editing gigs that are both interesting and fun. They’re not gonna win me an award, but at the end of the day, I can eat. I have had to temporarily let go of the idea of trying to get stories into heralded publications because, well, life costs money and I want to have health insurance!
- Ask yourself what you’re really interested in. One of the most amazing things about freelancing is that you are essentially creating your own schedule. If you have a nagging curiosity about something, look into it. You will feel more motivated to report and more committed to selling the story.
Thinking about moving abroad to freelance?
- Consider going somewhere where you speak the language (or prepare to take months of intensive courses when you arrive).
- This might seem like a weird suggestion, but teach English classes! My students have been some of the most interesting people I’ve met in Buenos Aires. They inspired short stories and ideas.
- Have a safety net. Even something small. But just have one.
Feel free to share your own experiences and/or tips below in the comments!
Photo courtesy of flickr user camdiluv under a Creative Commons License.
The Estrugamou was commissioned in 1924 by Alejandro Estrugamou, an Argentine landowner and descendant from a French Basque family. It was finished in 1929. Learn more at Gateway to South America.
A few mornings ago, as I opened the window in my room like I do each morning, it hit me that things were different. Upon feeling the chill, I noticed the leaves on the big tree next door were thoroughly, beautifully yellow. It was quiet and still out. The sky, too, had lost a bit of its blue brilliance.
It’s fall here in Buenos Aires. People are donning their fancy warm weather shoes and coats, complaining about the cold or a sore throat, and the energy is much more harried than the pace I’d become accustomed to as a symptom of Argentina’s oppressive heat.
It’s the first seasonal change I’ve experienced since I moved to Buenos Aires. When I arrived in November, spring was a-bloomin’ into summer, but I wasn’t leaving behind winter like everyone else here was. In a feat of hemispheric genius, I was leaving behind summer in the States to arrive to another summer.
And while the cold isn’t my favorite, I’m quite enjoying transitioning with the rest of the city. I feel part of it. Plus, the opportunity to get cozy and homey and make soup is feeling right. Six months in a new country, a different language, a new barrio, a totally unfamiliar reality, and I’m ready to take a breather and dwell in the life I’ve built for myself here. Read the rest of this entry »
I spent the weekend in what is often considered the southernmost town in the world: Ushuaia, Argentina (Antarctica is not habitable enough). Bound by mountains to the north and the Beagle Channel to the south, Ushuaia is the capital of Tierra del Fuego Province. Since the 1970s, the Argentine government has lured people to move to this wind blown, sub-polar town with tax incentives and higher than average wages. Now, it’s a young and growing tourist destination (pop. 50,000+). I met a lot of folks who seemed to be checking something off a bucket list, and/or coming or going from an excursion through Patagonia or to Antarctica. Who am I kidding, the reason I went down there was to get a $2 “Fin del Mundo” stamp in my passport. Nah, actually, the main reason I flew 3.5 hours south was to meet up with my old friend Andrew Duncan, after his trip through Antarctica. Tell us how you feel about that, Duncan.
Duncan being a lunatic daredevil and all (he went swimming in Antarctica), he decided to take us on a wild trek through the hills of Ushuaia. Somehow we ended up in a deforested zone filled with propane tanks and rabid dogs, including an angry pit bull that had to be fended off with a rock. I’m pretty sure no tourist had ever been there before. Luckily, a rainbow peeked its way through the clouds shortly thereafter, providing a moment of respite.
The next day, we awoke early (to snow! in summer!) to go on a trek and canoe trip in Tierra del Fuego National Park, which I would highly recommend. (Plug for these guys.) The landscape – austral, quiet, foggy, harsh – was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Really amazing.
Sigh. What a fun experience. I think I’ll sit in the window and contemplate the mountains …
Last week I published a piece in the New York Times about an international triathlon in La Paz, a pueblo in Entre Rios, Argentina. I hope you’ll read and enjoy the story. This being my first clip from a small town and from South America (and, thus, from a small town in South America), I’d like to jot down a bit about my reporting experience, which I found fascinating and, at times, hilarious.
Someone pointed out that a simple Google search for the piece yields dozens of stories about my story. This should begin to give you an idea of how important it was for the people of La Paz to have an international correspondent in their town. Large newspapers in Argentina rarely, if ever, venture to La Paz (in fact, most people in Buenos Aires I’ve talked to have not heard of La Paz); an international paper was completely unprecedented.
While in a forward bend during my morning stretches, I realize I could use a pedicure. All that walking and touring and exploring seem at once to appear on my sacred beauties. They plead for salvation. So a few hours later, I grab my book and leave the house, ready to indulge. Visions of perfectly manicured, massaged feet and rouge nails swirl in my mind.
Nail and beauty salons abound in Buenos Aires. As you may have heard, this city takes beauty quite seriously. (True story: Plastic surgery is subsidized and available for free through most health plans.) So I walk down a main street and choose one.
I ring the bell and enter what immediately seems to be some sort of beauty factory club hybrid. Boliche trance music blares. I raise my voice to ask for a pedicure, and am told to sit and wait a few minutes. I sit. It’s too loud to read, but that’s no problem because I am entertained by a constant flow of beautiful customers seeking an assortment of treatments, the names of which I can’t understand. One by one, they are taken away for grooming.
I spent the last few days outside of Buenos Aires, in an Argentina that felt to be of a different world entirely. The campo. From La Paz to Lavalle, I dwelled among cows, their caretakers and others studying and preserving this remarkably biodiverse landscape. I ate my weight in meat and washed it down with a mate straw, without the comforts of English or vegetables. In many stretches along the flat grasslands, the cows were so far away that they became tiny black dots along the plain.
Yesterday, I rode in a car with a conservationist and a nature photographer, both patient with my Spanish. Maria Elena snapped photos of such things as burrowing owls, ostriches, large rabbits and black-bellied ducks. Gustavo, the driver, was an endless trove of knowledge about the grasses native to this endangered habitat and ways to save them.
I think I understood Gustavo’s love for this place in a single moment, as we drove towards the farmhouse where, hours later, 15 of us would have an asado of one’s dreams. For a few moments, we rolled the windows down and listened as the grasses blew in the breeze, the clouds like cotton balls above. Dozens of cows stared at us from both sides. Perhaps sensing my quiet marvel, Gustavo turned to me from the driver’s seat and said, with a grin, “Esto es Argentina.” This is Argentina.
People say that the time right before you go on a trip, or embark on some big plan or adventure, is the best time of your life. Funny thing, but I get why. You decided. You’re going. You paid. The pieces all fit together. The people who care about you are sad to see you go, which in turn makes you feel like the most supremely cool person alive. Some are even envious.
You say goodbyes without thinking about how hard it is really going to be so far away from people you love. From people who actually know you.
You seek advice from those who’ve gone before you, and you listen as intently as you can, trusting that it will be half as easy as they make it sound with their hindsight recollections. You shrug off mention of challenges. “It’ll be great,” they say, as you nod, knowingly.
You leave half formed friendships and relationships behind, without thinking about how you might soon wonder what would’ve happened to them had you stuck around longer.
You most certainly take for granted the last opportunities to say aloud any single thing you are thinking, without understanding how it’s going to feel to be unable to say even a quarter of the those things soon. Without understanding how it feels to feel inhibited. You’re silly in the way that you always have been but won’t be soon.
You continually contemplate your calling, your itinerary, your big idea, and you believe in it. It’s going to go off well. And you believe in yourself. With your whole, whole heart. And then, since you’ve tied things up nicely with a bow, you go.
Off to untie the bow and unravel it all