Alumni Update: A not-so-traditional look at becoming an expatriate

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Why did I decide to move to Buenos Aires straight out of graduating from GW? Everyone asked me back in the States, and every Argentine I meet continues to inquire.

Had I ever been to Argentina? No. Did I have a job lined up for when I arrived? No. An apartment? Nope. Family, friends? Did I have any idea what I was going to do in a foreign country, alone and without any connections?

I could – and do – list many reasons for my decision to move abroad. I wanted a drastic change. I wanted to become fluent in Spanish. I wanted to travel. I wanted to avoid the reality that my career as a professional student was over. But more than anything, the single episode that motivated me to flee the comfort of the States was a box of latex gloves.

It was a Friday afternoon in mid-April when I had my first big job interview. It was the kind of job a journalism major salivates over: working as a copy editor for The Washington Post. In reality, copy editor was code for a job in the mailroom. My job: to open the reporters’ mail and, to assist me in my work, my interviewer pointed to a large box of latex gloves. They were for my own protection, in case opening up the reporters’ mail got messy or arsenical.

As I stood outside The Post after my interview, I felt deflated. After all the courses, all the good grades and non-paying internships, my first job out of college was going to be shifting through mail and checking for suspicious substances?

Like any college student, in moments of depression and anxiety, I went out to my sorority’s formal and drank like I had just turned 21. After waking up the next day with a hangover I should have known how to avoid by senior year and a sprained ankle neither my date nor I could explain, I made my decision to move to Argentina – and just 6 weeks shy of graduation.

When I first told people about my newfound post-college plan, no one really believed me. “You mean like a vacation, right?” my parents asked nervously, still unsure as to if Argentina was under military regime. “You love D.C. You don’t really want to move and have to start over again,” friends said. To be fair, no one took me very seriously because I’m not known for my spontaneity.

I’ve always been a girl with a plan. In fifth grade, I told my parents I was going to leave California and go college on the East Coast, by sixth I had decided to become a print journalist and after seeing a replica of Picasso’s Guernica in eighth grade, I decided to study abroad in Madrid.

I fulfilled all the promises and goals I made to my 13-year-old self but it stunted me. I didn’t realize until last April that I had managed to artfully avoid making a decision that would substantially impact my future since my Bat Mitzvah years.

Once I made my decision, I acted pretty quickly and had a ticket by the beginning of June to leave for the first week of September. As planned, I arrived in Buenos Aires sans job or apartment and yet, through the weeks and then months, I managed to create a niche for myself. I found a great apartment, a decent job, friends and even family.

Being an expatriate isn’t for everyone and for many the appeal lies mostly in the fantasy. But post-college, everyone has to take some chances, some risks – eagerly or reluctantly. For me the biggest difference between college life and “the real world” is the decision of how big a risk you are willing to take on yourself. Everyone has had a latex glove experience that made him or her say, “I want more than this.”

Some of my friends have kindly said that I made a brave decision, but I don’t quite see it that way. I see it as the most responsible decision I could have made post-college. I wanted to be more independent and more self-sufficient. Thrusting myself into an unknown and at times overwhelming situation seems to have been the best way to achieve this goal.

Is teaching business English in Argentina my dream job? Of course not. But I am highly skeptical of anyone who says that they landed their ideal job straight out of undergrad. We all make our own choices, whether to move back home, move across city or state lines or even to venture across the equator. Not everyone wants to be an expatriate nor should they be, but for everyone with a pre-planned future that is starting to become tarnished as graduation approaches, it is a nice Plan B.

-Beth Monkarsh majored in Journalism and Spanish Language and Literature while at GW. She currently lives in Buenos Aires, but will be moving to Central America in December.

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