An Interview with CAPA Buenos Aires Resident Director: Marlena Reimer
Meet Marlena Reimer, the Resident Director of CAPA Buenos Aires. She joins CAPA after stints in the U.S. and abroad working in education and other fields, as well as volunteering. Below, she talks about the work she has done so far, why studying abroad opens doors, and how special Buenos Aires and its people are.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about your work with CAPA. How long have you lived in Buenos Aires?
MARLENA REIMER: I stumbled upon CAPA late last year, while searching for cross-cultural and international studies teaching opportunities here in Buenos Aires. It was pure luck that they happened to be searching for a Resident Director for their Buenos Aires program. I joined the CAPA team three weeks ago and, since then, have been learning the ins and the outs of CAPA's international programming and preparing for the arrival of our Spring term students.
I have lived in Buenos Aires for nearly eight months. What was initially a "pit stop," became a longer-term interest in the city. I was drawn by the thriving arts and cultural scene, complex national history and the past and present immigration narratives that frame Argentina's national identity. I learn something new about the city, and myself, everyday.
From my time at the Berkeley United in Literacy Development program.
CW: Can you tell us more about your professional background and what led you to CAPA?
MR: I graduated with a B.A. degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, and a M.S.W. from the University of Ann Arbor, Michigan. My education was an entry-point for a lot of the work I would end up engaging in on the ground. As an undergraduate, I was energized by my experiences outside of the classroom. I volunteered, interned for local nonprofits and eventually found a home with the Berkeley United in Literacy Development (BUILD) Program where I served as a school Site Director and student mentor for a couple of years.
This experience was transformative and catapulted me into the larger arena of place-based education and community-engaged learning. Since then, most of my work has been centered around education, social justice, youth organizing and the arts in nonprofit and university settings. My previous positions have included Local Internships, Arts and Peacebuilding Coordinator and BUILD Literacy Program Coordinator at the UC Berkeley Public Service Center, where I coordinated local government, community organizing, non-profit and arts-based student internships, community project planning courses and workshops, international programming, and youth literacy programming in local K-8 schools.
I have also supported youth education, organizing efforts, cross-cultural arts event planning and research in Ann Arbor, MI, Detroit, MI, and Chicago, IL. This past year, I devoted time to personal projects, volunteering at La 72, a refuge for migrants in Tenosique, Mexico, and more recently, setting in motion a "creative reuse" project focused on sustainability and socially-engaged recycling practices here in Buenos Aires.
When I came across CAPA, it seemed like a natural fit. CAPA's focus on cross-cultural education via its Global Cities Program and classroom experiences at a local Buenos Aires university were areas that aligned with my values and educational commitments.
This is Salvador, Bahia in Brazil, where I studied abroad.
CW: Why is study abroad important?
MR: Study abroad is a way for students to understand the ways they "fit" in our rapidly globalizing world. It encourages students to engage new perspectives, political and economic frameworks, and cultures. This type of learning is crucial as they begin to map out personal and professional possibilities beyond college. For some, it might spark a flame that, after college, takes them to other parts of the world. For others, the experience provides important life skills, engaged listening, working through and across differences, navigating culture shock, etc. that will serve them in so many spaces.
As an undergraduate, I studied abroad in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. I learned so much: the history of the coastal city; the complicated dimensions of race, nationality, class and culture; the role of art and music in the larger state of Bahia; and of course, the particularities of the Portuguese language in Northeast Brazil. These were powerful, and sometimes difficult, takeaways that informed how I move through the world as a global citizen. After this experience, I felt more equipped to find my bearings in new environments, was less apt to make assumptions, and perhaps most importantly, realized how much I still had to learn about my own country, residence, and hometown.
CW: Where do CAPA students live? What is the area like and some of the most interesting places nearby?
MR: Most CAPA students live in the Recoleta neighborhood, within walking distance or a short bus ride to the Austral campus where they take classes. The area is filled with trees, parks, beautiful architecture and many arts and cultural touch points for students eager to learn more about Argentina. Some of the most noteworthy nearby places include: Cementerio de La Recoleta, Feria Artesanal de Plaza Francia y el Museo de Bellas Artes.
Soap from the Reuse Project.
CW: Tell us about the food in Buenos Aires. What are the specialties in the area? If you were going out with friends, which restaurant would you choose and why?
MR: Buenos Aires is known for its pizzas, empanadas, pastas, milanesas (breaded chicken with mozzarella) and, of course, infamous "asado," or barbecued meats. These foods are worth trying, providing a taste of the Italian influence on culinary culture in the city. That being said, Buenos Aires is global and offers many wonderful food options beyond the standard bread, meat and cheese, that are especially important to know about if you're vegetarian or gluten free, like myself. Some of my favorites include a Northern Argentinian tamal filled with corn and cheese, a Peruvian ceviche (a cold seafood dish) or an Ecuadorian rice dish. My current favorite restaurant is "Tataki," a Japanese-Peruvian restaurant, that serves up the best ceviche. However, I also appreciate all the great gluten free pasta shops and bakeries in the area and often love grabbing a few things to cook with friends at home.
Hiking in the San Francisco Bay Area.
CW: Where's your favorite place to shop for food?
MR: There are many local, chain and specialty grocers to pick up all your food needs. I love my weekly visit to the corner verdulería (fruit and vegetable stop) where I can grab everything from tomatoes, eggplant, onions and squash to melon, peaches and cherries. Verdulerías are located everywhere throughout the city. There is often at least one every 2-3 blocks.
CW: CAPA is well known for its My Global City activities that take students beyond classroom learning and into the city to explore. What can students look forward to in Buenos Aires?
MR: Buenos Aires has so many free and low-cost arts and cultural events: free and half-off museum days, live music events, gallery exhibitions, public performances, festivals, food, arts and crafts fairs, and so much more. Many cultural centers and public universities also often host low-cost workshops on a range of topics. This is a great way to supplement your learning in and out of the classroom and to meet new people. Social media is a fast way to get connected to the thousands of events happening throughout the city and its suburbs. Facebook and Couchsurfing publicize many sponsored events in addition to social gatherings, expat and college student meetups.
Outside of the events students find and attend on their own, CAPA provides guided opportunities to explore different parts of Buenos Aires. This year, we will take a bus tour of the city, travel to an estancia (ranch), and experience an authentic asado (barbecue) and attend a tango performance and class.
CW: Where's your favorite hidden gem in Buenos Aires and what is special about it?
MR: I have many. Buenos Aires has some amazing public parks. My favorite is Parque Lezama, which sits at the border of the San Telmo and La Boca neighborhoods. In the spring and summer, many people come here to exercise, read, drink mate (a loose leaf "tea" of sorts) and snack on crackers, breads, cheeses, meats, olives and dried fruits. On weekends, Parque Lezama hosts a second hand clothing fair where you can grab a few things you might have missed packing. I also love Barrio Chino, Buenos Aires' China Town. This is a great place to witness the cross-section of Argentinian, Taiwanese, Japanese and Chinese culture and to grab any spicy or specialty food items you may be missing from home. Last but not least, on a weekday afternoon, I like making my way to the Panadería y Confitería Armenia in Old Palermo. Buenos Aires has a large Armenian population and this part of town boasts many Armenian bakeries, restaurants, cultural spaces, parks and churches. Panadería y Confitería Armenia sells amazing spaces, hummus, baklava, kefir (fermented milk) and halva and its employees are friendly and up for a chat. One employee ended up knowing a good amount of people from my hometown of Fresno, CA, another major point of migration for the Armenian diaspora. The world is smaller than we think!
The La Boca area in Buenos Aires.
CW: As Resident Director for CAPA's Buenos Aires program, how can students best prepare for their semester abroad?
MR: I encourage students to read up on the city of Buenos Aires, its history, politics, customs and culture(s). There are many great documentaries out there on Argentinian history, including pieces on migration, tango, "rock nacional," and murga (street percussion and dance). It also can't hurt to check out some videos on the verb conjugations and pronunciations (ll and y) specific to Argentinian Spanish or "Castellano." These will give you a leg up once your here and trying to navigate your way around the city. Other than that, come prepared to fully immerse yourself in Buenos Aires.
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