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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“There sometimes springs an interior peace and quietude which is full of happiness, for the soul is in such a state that it thinks there is nothing that it lacks. Even speaking . . . wearies it: it would like to do nothing but love.” (Teresa of Avila)

Why does it sometimes feel like there is so little time to breathe, to think? Or even to pause and enjoy what is unfolding before us? To pay attention to the things that really matter?

These are  common and recurring questions in contemporary life. Certainly many of us from the U.S. feel the pressure of trying to fit too many things into too small of a space. That sense of always being behind, always catching up. But it is also true here in Argentina, especially in this time of economic instability when many are forced to work more than one job, often in different parts of the city, just to get by. It is not really possible to slow down. You have to keep moving.

Even so, the rhythms of life here are in many ways less frantic than what we commonly experience in the U.S. Córdoba is a busy, vibrant city and people seem always to be on the move somewhere. But there are also more moments to pause, to catch up with friends, to enjoy conversation. Time is not so pressured. Argentines seem to take real delight in spending time, lots of time, with each other. Often with no particular purpose or agenda. And with little sense of the need to rush off somewhere else. They are generous with their time. Or so it seems to us. Read the rest of this entry »

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Diego and Students“Would it be possible for me to be paid in books?” That was the question put to us at the end of last semester by Diego Fonti, Academic Vice-President (here, Vice-Rector) and Professor of Philosophy at the Universidad Católica de Córdoba. Frankly the question caught us a little bit by surprise. Diego earns a regular salary for teaching his “Philosophy from the Margins” course to our Casa de la Mateada students. And we were in the process of preparing to make the payment to him for the teaching he had done for our first cohort of students when this question arose. But paying him “in books?” Hmmm. What would that entail? We would have to look into it.

Well, we did look into it. And it turned out that it was indeed possible. And we did in the end “pay him in books.” But the story of why he asked us this and how we were able to fulfill his request is worthy of a fuller telling.

Let us begin with the request itself: payment in books. Ok, on a certain level that request makes perfect sense. Books still matter. Even in this digital age, when almost anything you could want to read can be delivered to you Kindle of phone in a matter of seconds. Still, aren’t books becoming relics of a past age, the age of paper and ink and binding and shelves? Aren’t we in the process of moving past all that? Perhaps. But in truth not everything is available to us in digital form. And besides, there are unmistakable pleasures to be had in holding a book in your hands, in turning down the corner of a page, in making notes in the margins with a pencil or pen, in turning off all electronic media and just disappearing for a few hours into a chair or a hammock—just you and the book and the rich imaginative world in which you suddenly find yourself immersed.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANote: The following blog post was written by Abbey King, a sophomore from Regis College in Denver who is studying Peace and Justice, and History. An earlier version of this reflection was offered as part of Abbey’s work in the course ‘Contemplatives in Action.’ This particular week, we had been reading the work of Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila (part of our work of seeking out some of the roots of the Christian idea of contemplation) together with Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach’s important treatise on Jesuit higher education and the commitment to solidarity. One of the things we try to cultivate among the students in the Casa de la Mateada program is a sustained interaction between their everyday experience in Argentina and the learning that is taking place in the classroom. What follows is one example of this integrative work. 

Last week, we went school supply shopping with Adriana from Nuestro Hogar III (one of our praxis sites). There were several striking moments that could, if seen in connection with one another, serve as a nice summary of our day. Whether I were to tell you of the unexpected kindness of the man at the register who gave us the bulk discount even though we were no where near the required minimum, the story of the beggar who berated us in the street, or even the details of another wild ride on the E1 bus, none of these tales would capture the feelings of warmth and friendship that, for me, characterize the entire experience. This was only the second time any of us had met Adriana, and yet, by the time we sat down to share empanadas at lunch, it felt like we all had been friends for years, and these chaotic shopping trips filled with laughter, confusion, and a lot of math were commonplace for us.

Perhaps this is why I was so struck in reading about St. Teresa of Avila’s life and theological practice, for “in her work, friendship replaces honor as the primary form of social connectedness.” Of course, this had its own implications in Teresa’s social context, but, for me, as I am beginning to delve into the realities of life in Córdoba, the principle of friendship as the primary form of social connectedness is the best explanation of the pillar of “accompaniment” I have been able to come up with thus far. Friendship requires us to recognize the humanity in ourselves and in others and then build a bond upon that recognition. So, to be present to the journey of another, and to be vulnerable enough to allow someone to be present to your journey in return, is, at its most basic level, friendship. But, if it were that simple, we wouldn’t bother with the big, fancy concept of accompaniment; there is something transformative about “accompaniment” that indicates a deeper level of social connectedness than friendship alone conveys.

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Bienvenidos to our new students!

It is a pleasure to introduce to you the students participating in Casa de la Mateada for Spring 2014 (well, North American Spring–here we are still in high summer, and soon to be heading into Autumn). We are still getting to know one another, but already we can tell this is going to be a wonderful cohort: they are open, curious, adventuresome, good-humored, and willing to enter fully into all that is unfolding before them here in Córdoba. In the weeks and months to come, you will be hearing more about them, and from them, concerning their life here; their adventures, their struggles, their learning, whatever emerges as significant and meaningful for them. For now, here is a brief introduction to each of our seven new students–based on interviews the students did with one another and also composed by them. Enjoy!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAbbey King is a sophomore at Regis University in Denver, Colorado studying Peace and Justice, as well as History. Having lived in Denver for her entire life, she excited to spend time in Córdoba, Argentina this semester. She is particularly drawn to the Praxis experience, as she feels it is an ideal model for service. Abbey loves the outdoors, especially spending her time hiking and enjoying the mountains, but she also loves exploring new cities. One of her goals is to develop fluency in Spanish sarcasm.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdrianna Frazier is an English major and Dance minor at Loyola Marymount University. She is the most fun-loving, adorable, and caring young woman you will probably meet. Her favorite subject in high school was mathematics, but somehow she became an English major (probably because she loves reading so much). She is a food enthusiast; her favorites being Mexican food and fruit. A fun fact about Adrianna is that she is a Starbucks Gold member and would drink a Starbucks hot chocolate every morning if she could. Adrianna is most excited about learning Spanish while being in Argentina and getting to spend time at her Praxis site.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMichelle Almanza is a Psychology major and Spanish and Dance double minor at Loyola Marymount University. She loves to eat bread, which is great in the Argentine culture. Michelle enjoys enthusiastically diving into a bowl of chocolate, or really any dessert, but also likes being active, especially doing yoga. She loves to spend time with her three-year-old niece, Dalia (Most people don’t know that Michelle loves spending time with kids). She’s also looking forward to building good relationships while she is in Argentina.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKrista Chinchilla is a Psychology and Theology double major at Loyola Marymount University. Her favorite activity is swimming. Although she is from Guatemala, some may mistake her as British because of her unhealthy obsession with coffee/tea and scones. She also loves frozen yogurt and enjoys cheesy puns. Krista has two younger sisters, whom she loves and cares for very much. She is excited to work and spend time with her Praxis community while in Argentina, and is very much looking forward to continuing to travel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACoco Freling is currently a sophomore Business Marketing and Economics Major at Loyola Marymount University.  Coco is a spontaneous, intelligent and fun-loving hipster cowgirl from Dallas (D-Town) Texas. She has practiced ballet for 17 years and enjoys free styling to hip-hop from her middle school days. An avid traveler, one of Coco’s most memorable moments is snorkeling in the Red Sea. Coco is excited to explore Córdoba and its rich culture. She is intrigued about being in Córdoba during a time of economic upheaval, and plans to learn more about agriculture in Argentina.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASavannah Varela is a sophomore Psychology major at the Loyola Marymount University. Savannah has been to over ten countries, including France, Belgium, England, and Ireland. Needless to say, she is excited to be in Argentina. In addition to immersing herself in the Córdoba culture, Savannah is looking forward to her praxis site, getting to know and learn from the people she will meet there. She hopes to learn Spanish fluently so that she may be sassy in (at least) two different languages. She is secretly a gangster and loves listening to music, especially Wu-Tang. Savannah is a Southern California native and hopes to live there once she graduates from college.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMolly Egilsrud is the senior most member of our cohort, a junior at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. studying Science, Technology, & International Affairs with a concentration in Energy & the Environment. She is a native of St. Louis, Missouri and loves the Cardinals, “the greatest baseball team in the world” (apparently she is also slightly delusional…), red meat, scrapbooking, and Catholic theology. A typical American college student, she likes to “hang out with people” and she is thrilled to be in Argentina so that she can absorb as much language and culture as possible.

20131006-163337.jpgThe students greet us at the door with besos (specifically, a single kiss planted on the cheek) and abrazos, Argentine style, the light of the lamps casting a warm glow on the tangerine-colored walls of their living room in strong contrast to the darkening sky outside.  We arrived at the student house for an asado, to be prepared by Martin, an experienced Argentinian asador.  Martin, who also has a Ph.D. in political science and teaches a class on poverty to our students, was behind the house placing various cuts of costilla de vaca (beef ribs), morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo (pork sausage), matambre (beef), and chinchulin (glands) on two large steel grills covering the concrete block barbeque located just outside the quincho (outdoor room) in the backyard.  He placed blackened branches, still aflame, upright in one corner of the barbeque, and as they crumbled into glowing coals, carefully scraped them into thin layers of gray and red embers under the grilling, crackling meat.

Various students brought out platters of salame, cheese, and freshly baked focaccia bread, some rounded loaves garnished with rosemary on top, others topped with sliced tomatoes or plain (the baking of bread led by Catherine, one of our students).  These dishes comprised the picadas, which precede the eating of the food—okay, meat–associated with the asado itself.  Three heaping bowls of salad and a long low container of Caesar dressing which Amanda, another student, had prepared based on her family’s recipe, were also brought to the table.  Meanwhile, swarming kids and adults of various ages played fútbol on the wide lawn in the backyard near the quincho, their squeals and yelps of delight, mixing in with fragments of conversation, music from the boom box, and the wafting fragrance of grilled meat.

On this night, I felt something shift inside me as we shared in this traditional Argentine ritual–faculty, staff and our families, as well as the students of the Casa program (about thirty of us in all, with about a third of our group representing native Argentinians).  What was different, I realized, is that we were finally settling into a rhythm of living that felt familiar and dear, and somewhere in the process had become a real community.  The “mother” Casa program in El Salvador—Casa de la Solidaridad–through its long experience and wisdom, has developed a weekly routine that both anchors Casa students to provide stability and security, while also facilitating growth.  These rituals include a “fiesta de la limpieza” (weekly house cleaning chores), community night (discussions in the house that arise out of what it means to engage in simple living and intentional community), spirituality night, M/W/F classes, and T/Th days in praxis communities.  In Argentina, Friday evenings have become a ritual in which students cook a meal for the larger community, including Doug, me, and four of our children—“family nights” they have come to call these shared meals, including this asado. 

It helps to step back and remember that when students participate in the Casa program, they have chosen to leave (for a defined time) their families, friends, and their incredibly busy and rich lives as students and leaders at their home institutions in the U.S.  They have willingly given up their constant access to the internet, their use of cell phones (for all but emergencies), and have traded their cars for public transportation and walking.  They have allowed themselves to become cultural outsiders—instead of being cool and competent, they have opened themselves to not knowing, to navigating the complete unknown.  This is a world in which they are defined as foreign, not the other way around.  A world that was so unfamiliar to them in language, emotional expression, social norms, traffic rules, and even seasons at the beginning of the semester.  And now, twice a week they ride their buses, shuttles and taxis to get to their praxis sites, spending time with kids and adults in these communities, hanging out, helping, talking, eating, playing and generally coming to know and to love individuals whose lives and realities are so different from their own.

When they get back to their house, students join their eight other companions, and two staff members, individuals who were strangers to them but a few short weeks ago.  And now all of them live together in a large 4-bedrom house, with a quincho and asado in the backyard.  Each week, they eagerly catch up with each other after their praxis site days.  Each week, they also pile together on couches to read, do homework, watch videos on bunk beds, prepare compost for an emerging garden, sing prayers, and eat meals around a single table.  And always, they are taking in and trying to digest their experiences, talking to each other, journaling, calling home, and reflecting more formally in writing for class assignments.  What does it mean for them to do this?  To live like this for a time, at least?  What does it all add up to?

Each semester represents a time for students that is set apart from the rest of their lives.  It is a liminal period, and perhaps might even be regarded as holy (one meaning of which is “to be set apart”)Here in Argentina, students are able to try on a different perspective, viewing their lives in the U.S. from outside their usual vantage point, testing out questions they have about their place in the world from their experience of being in a different reality.  It is all-absorbing to be here.  The focus on simple living and intentional community is to help them consider, more fully, what it is that calls to them most deeply in their lives.  It takes a lot of guts to do this, to try to identify, respond, and to be true to the truth of one’s life.  Who will they become?  What will become of them?

When we came to Córdoba to help establish the program as LMU faculty members, we knew that we, too, were seeking a time set apart from the rest of our lives.  We had made a three-year commitment to be here with students, which meant we sold our two cars, rented our home, got rid of many of our possessions (storing the rest), as we moved to Argentina with two suitcases each—four kids, us, and our cat (who did not get two suitcases)—last summer.   To what am I being drawn?  Who am I becoming?  How do I choose to live? These are questions that are not only meant for college students, but for all of us at different moments in our lives.  Yet, the move we made, big and dramatic as it was, tends to be viewed more the hallmark of young adulthood than of middle age.  “You are moving to Argentina with four kids for how long??” we would hear again and again.  And we do sometimes ask ourselves, we’d have to confess, “What were we thinking?” in the midst of the bewilderment we often feel in light of all the changes we have faced in these short months here.

Nonetheless, as we see the changes in the students’ rhythm of living, listen to the Spanish that flows more easily from their lips, witness their enthusiasm at hearing about each others’ praxis days, see their simple pleasure in preparing meals together, talking about their lives and loves with each other—well, we feel the beauty of who they are emerging more and more.  And we are deeply moved by them, and by the chance we have to be part of their lives during their time in the Casa program.  In taking our own leap of faith, asking similar questions as our students–albeit in a different form and at a very different time in our lives–we are learning again with them what it means to inhabit our lives more fully, as part of a world that is overwhelming both in beauty and in suffering.  Learning to belong to each other.  There are always challenges in life no doubt, and life is not easy enough for too many people in this world.  Yet still, this is joy.

Jennifer S. Abe, Co-Director, Casa de la Mateada

Who are the members of the Casa de la Mateada community? Let’s start with the students, without whom there would be no program at all. In this inaugural semester of Loyola Marymount University’s new Casa program in Argentina, nine students have traveled to Córdoba from different parts of the United States and, since August, have been living, studying and working together. Getting to know one another. And their common work. They are beginning to feel like a cohort, or crew, or equipo or posse or whatever other word you might choose to describe a group of  students who, for all their distinct personalities and interests, share a common goal of entering into the life of Argentina as deeply as they can. And learning to practice the art of accompaniment here.

In the weeks to come, you will begin reading posts from the students, describing their experiences in the program–what they are learning, the questions they are struggling with, how they are changing and growing, their impressions of Córdoba, of Argentina, their emerging sense of what this program means to them, everything. For now, we want to introduce them to you, simply and briefly. What follows comes from the students themselves–each one offering an impression of at least one other member of their new community.

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Senior Loyola Marymount University student Jake Harter is continuing his study of Biology, which makes his encounter with the diversity of Cordoba’s trees, birds, and epiphytes (better know to the rest of us as “those things that grow on telephone lines”) particularly enjoyable and challenging. He is also showing himself skilled at making friends here in Córdoba, in his praxis community at El Gateado and at panaderías (bakeries) throughout the city.

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The Casa de la Mateada community has Lorena Brothers to thank for our introduction to and growing love for Dulce de Leche, for many a provocative intellectual discussion, and for her always-thoughtful comments and stories of adventure. A Sociology major at Loyola Marymount University, her strong desire to dig into the intellectual work of Casa, and to the culture and language of Argentina inspires us all (as does her loving butterfly spirit).

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Catherine Goggins is a proud Hokie (she is studying Agriculture at Virginia Tech) who has brought her love of all things agricultural to the Casa community (yes, that is Catherine gathering her minions to establish and eventually harvest a garden!). Rosemary, parsley, basil, mint, oregano and still-hoped-for carrots, lettuce and–we hope–tomatoes. Our own farm in Cordoba! She also helps to keep us attentive to the many environmental concerns facing us, both here and at home. Always cheerful and positive, where would we be without her?

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Jake Wild Crea immediately caught our attention when he told us of his major at DePaul University in Chicago. It sounds particularly impressive in Spanish: “Justicia, Paz, y Conflicto.” But important for us than its title is the way Jake embodies his engagement with these ideas, how he thinks and acts, always seeking to understand how to achieve justice and peace in relationships and larger social and political systems (though he does tend to create a little conflict on the soccer field).

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Alyssa Perez, a Loyola Marymount University junior studying theology and political science, brings a contagious joy and thoughtfulness to the life of our program. She has a natural gift for making friends and has helped us become more connected to locals here in Córdoba. And while studying in Argentina with her Casa family is a dream come true in and of itself, the realization that Justin Bieber will be performing live in concert while here in Córdoba has left her nearly speechless with joy.

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Dan Letchinger regularly charms the entire Casa crew with his thoughtfulness, humor, and guitar playing. A DePaul University junior and advertising major, he is keeping a blog chronicling his experiences in the program. A particular focus of his so far has been the Argentine art of parilla (grilling) and pretty much anything to do with food (the benefits of which are often experienced in our community).

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After visiting Casa de la Solidaridad in El Salvador with her high school classmates Amanda Montez (an LMU undergraduate studying education) decided she wanted to seek out a similarly transformative experience–in the newest Casa sister program. The students she has befriended through her praxis site at El Gateado have certainly reaffirmed her desire to teach. Those of us who have seen her in action have been moved by her natural warmth with children and adults alike.

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Sarah E. Scherk bid a semester-long adios to her Communications Studies major, Jewish Studies minor, and University Honors Program at Loyola Marymount University to bring her love of music, language, and all things lime green to Casa de la Mateada. Her wonderful memory for Spanish vocabulary has served us well so far and we hope to repay her with the memories she makes this semester!

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Kayleigh Sobieski, a senior studying psychology at LMU, brings lots of humor, cheer and understanding to the Casa de la Mateada family. An early riser and avid yogurt eater, her outgoing spirit helps her make the most out of every bit of this shared experience while encouraging each of us to do the same.

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