OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was a lot of talk about “living simply” at the beginning of the semester. Some of us were concerned. How can we live simply in this nice house? How can we live simply when a large pile of pan magically appears every Tuesday with our groceries? In his book, Tattoos on the Heart, Greg Boyle said, “Our choice is not to focus on the narrow but to narrow our focus.”

Here are some things that I don’t normally focus on that I have found myself focusing on this semester: steam twirling above a mug of tea, water sounds, clouds slowly moving, the smell of flowers on the walk to the bus, flight patterns of mariposas, birds chirping, clothes swaying on the line. Also, curling up with friends to watch a movie, watching sunsets together, sing-a-longs and sharing stories. I looked up from my reading to encounter a bird fly by and land on a branch perfectly in view. It was a warm, beautiful morning in our quiet backyard. I allowed myself to take a big gulp of the sun’s rays and was filled to the brim with gratitude. “Wow, I thought. I am so grateful I have the time to do this.”

Then, I realized something very important: I don’t have the time to do this. I am still busy here. I want (and need) to go to class, go to praxis, do homework, spend time with friends, pray, call my mom, clean . . .  our “to-do” lists in Argentina are as long as those in the States. This is great news because it means these moments are, potentially, everywhere. I can live simply in a tiny village in the hills of some foreign country. I can live simply in a big city. I can live simply at Casa de la Mateada and at Spring Hill College.

“The gate that leads to life is not about restriction at all.” The simplest life is the one lived in the present moment. The act of just being requires a focus so narrow… it might even exclude the simple living toaster.

Maddie LaForge is a Theology/Psychology Double Major from Spring Hill College in Alabama. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is a pleasure to introduce to you the students from our Fall 2014 (or Spring, if you are looking at things from Argentina) cohort of Casa de la Mateada. They have arrived here from different parts of the United States and from different Jesuit Universities–LMU, Boston College, St. Louis University, Gonzaga University and Spring Hill College–to open themselves to an exciting, challenging (and yes, sometimes bewildering) experience of living, studying, learning, traveling in and being changed by Argentina.

How are they being changed? It is probably too early say. But already these students have distinguished themselves by their readiness to throw themselves into the life of this place, to open themselves to the experience of being here. That takes courage. And a willingness to allow yourself to be vulnerable.

The brief introductions below were written by the students. They interviewed each other and composed brief sketches of their classmates: those characteristic features that have already begun to emerge during the first few weeks of the program. You will enjoy meeting them. And a little later on, you will hear more from them directly.


The mighty Helen hails from Cleveland, Ohio and is currently at Saint Louis University studying Economics (along with International Studies, Spanish and Urban Poverty Studies). She is pure, sweet, and strong. She has the spirit of both a playful child and of a fierce wolf. One time, her parents told her she wouldn’t be able to run a marathon, so she signed up for one and ran it the next week. Helen is badass. In her spare time here at Casa de la Mateada she likes to build benches in the backyard and play soccer with the boys. She is also the master of pranks.


The indescribable Claire Horrigan made the trip all the way from her home of Greenwood Village, Colorado to Córdoba with her giraffe pillow pet, Wilbur (and her sense of adventure) in tow. She is in her third year at Boston College, studying economics with a minor in Faith, Peace, and Justice. Claire loves to run and to be outside; she also loves baking delicious pasteles, painting and making art. In Boston, she likes to volunteer with Saint Francis House, eat cannolis, and generally obsess over the Jesuits. She loves the beautiful architecture and the antiquity of the churches in Córdoba, and is amazed at the welcoming nature of the Argentines. She thinks that the warm and loving culture here and the continual besos are wonderful!


Farah’s adventurous spirit has led her all across the world! From Tajikistan to China to Korea, nothing is too foreign for Farah. And now, Argentina. Farah enjoys listening to music, chatting with her friends, drinking coffee in mom and pop cafés, and taking long walks. One of her major talents and hobbies is photography, which she picked up from her roommate in China who had a camera. She most enjoys capturing nature and candid photos of her friends in their funny moments. In addition to this, Farah also has a passion for languages. She believes that they allow you to communicate and develop deeper relationships with people of other cultures, which would explain why she has chosen Modern Languages as her major!


Maddie enjoys making chistes. Poquitos chistes. She hails from the land of alligators, jambalaya, and voodoo. Her motto, “¿porque no?” allows her to embark on many great voyages while wearing her trusty chacos. As a theology and psychology double major at Springhill College in sweet home Alabama, all Maddie does is read, read, read, no matter what. Maddie also enjoys long runs, immersing herself in Latin American culture, and eating chocolate. Maddie is a ray of sunshine, even in Casa Sol.


Ladies and gentlemen, meet the one and only Rachel Nease. A true Fort Collins, CO, native, Rachel loves the outdoors, especially the mountains. She is a junior at Gonzaga University, majoring in biology and minoring in Spanish. Rachel loves working with adults with disabilities through GUSR (Gonzaga University Specialized Recreation). When she’s not studying or volunteering, you may find Rachel playing some variation of a string instrument. We at the house are hoping for a concert one of these days . . . In true Rachel-fashion, some of her favorite things about Córdoba so far are the beauty of the Sierras, churches and graffiti. She is looking forward to getting to know the people of Argentina and learning the culture and language.


Abbi seizes each day with an ambitious, joyous disposition, often expressed through her graceful, energizing dance movements (she is a dancer). This LMU student’s pursuit of knowledge and spiritual growth is ceaseless, propelling her into dynamic conversations and sometimes carrying her across continents. Spanish proficiency has quickly integrated itself among this nature lover’s other tongues (including Swedish, French, English and even. . . cat!). Abbi, a Pennsylvania native, is studying Dance and Theater and looks forward to exploring deeply rooted unconscious patterns within herself this semester.


This beautiful chica hails from the coast of sunny California, specifically Huntington Beach. She has brought her love for fun in the sun with her and enjoys going for jogs or walking around town. As a self proclaimed people person, she has gotten to know many Argentinians already. Due to her love for staying in motion, she is almost never sitting down, but once in a while she will take a break to read and will read just about anything and everything.


20140802-131843.jpgIt is late winter here in Argentina. The trees are still bare, and the nights cold. But already we can feel the weather beginning to turn warmer. The heavy jackets are starting to come off. Movement in the streets is a little livelier. Spring is on the way.

So too is a new cohort of students (they are due to arrive next week). Soon enough we will introduce them to you. But it feels important to us to pause at this turning of the seasons to reflect more personally on where we have been and where we are heading. In truth, it is difficult to speak with certainty about either of these things. We are beginning our second year in Argentina. So much happened this past year– a rich, abundant, joyous, challenging and sometimes bewildering first year of our program. We are still absorbing it.

And the path ahead? We have a rich program planned for our students and we are confident in our ability to guide them through it. But we have also learned from experience that it is impossible to predict what will happen from month to month–from power outages, to labor strikes, to complicated narratives around the Argentine debt crisis–even as we have gained a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, the rhythms of everyday life here. So we know that much of what lay ahead is and must remain unknown to us. We are learning to accept more and more the need to simply walk into our days with attention and openness; and to trust that the path ahead will gradually become clear.

It has been a little over a year since we arrived here in Córdoba in the depths of another, much colder winter. How little we knew all that awaited us! But as we disembarked from our plane, together with four of our five children and one seriously-stunned cat, we could feel how momentous this move would be for us. And it has been. The first cohort of students arrived not long after and soon enough we were off, tumbling forward into this grand adventure: orientation, classes, first visit to praxis , community living and the gradual unfolding of all the diverse elements of life here in Argentina: the extraordinary kindness and graciousness of our new Argentine friends, the food, the music, the vibrancy of the city, the physical beauty of the surrounding countryside; also the complex social, economic and political realities that shape everyday life here. All of it.

We have also become more aware of our complicated, ambiguous status as extranjeros. We have come here in part to help our students learn (and to learn ourselves!) what it means to accompany and be accompanied by others, and to do so in a country, culture and language not our own. Any one of those ways of being “Other” might make this task seem not only ambitious, but presumptuous. Yet one of the joys of being part of this program has been witnessing the way our students have responded to this challenge. How generously they have opened themselves to their experience here. How responsive they have been to the challenges and opportunities they were given. How vulnerable they have allowed themselves to become to a place and people that were, at first, almost completely unknown to them.

Not that they have not struggled at times. No one has been unaffected by the recurring waves of uncertainty and disorientation well-known to anyone who has lived abroad. A lot of things just don’t seem to make any sense (the names of things in the farmacia; the ever-changing bus routes; the way dinner-time and bed-time seem almost interchangeable; the free-wheeling life of dogs on the streets). There are unexpected bouts of fatigue and homesickness. An urge to seek refuge in the familiar. Over time these feelings dissipate; but they never go away completely. And this is a big part of the growth and stretching that happens in this kind of experience. You gradually learn to relinquish your own idea of how the world is supposed to work. And accept that another way is possible. It isn’t easy. But its good for you!

That’s a big part of what we have learned this year—being here has been good for us, and for our students. We hope, in time, that the communities who have opened their doors so generously to us, and the colleagues who have been so generous in their work with us, will also be able to say that their experience of us, and the program, has been good, is good. Perhaps they already do. But we are still so new here. Looking back and yet barely beginning.

Along with our students, we are still trying to wrap our minds around all that has transpired this year, how we have been touched and changed by this experience. It is not easy. Maybe it is not even possible. So we share stories, memories of our time together. We do our best to stay in touch, to help each other navigate the different transitions (going home after such a big experience can be challenging), to regard one another with the love and affection we have come to feel for each other during the time we have spent together. That in itself is a gift.

Still, it is not just about us, or even about our students. Casa de la Mateada is about this country, this city, its barrios, the people we are coming to know in the praxis , at the university, in the kioskos and panaderias, on the buses, in the streets. Their well-being has become important to us (as our own well-being has so clearly become important to them, much to our astonishment). And we try to express this in whatever way we can. Mostly by paying attention, by opening ourselves to their lives, and to their realities. Trying to understand what it means to practice accompaniment. Doing what we can to stand together with them. This is a simple thing. But it is not always easy to know how to enact it. We are learning by doing. By feel. By continuing to respond to what unfolds before us.

Often we feel our own helplessness, especially in relation to the larger social, economic and political currents moving through this country. The country is suffering through an acute economic crisis. Nor is there any clear sense of when or whether a way forward will be found. On the ground, prices for food, rent, and services keep going up. Life feels hard, the future uncertain. Of course, life here is not completely defined by these problems. Families gather for Sunday asados; friends meet in the park to drink mate and talk; the distinctive courtesies that mark ordinary daily life here still pertain; and the famous Argentine talent for improvisation is on more or less continuous display. Of course.

Still, day-to-day life here is not easy. Nor is it easy to imagine the way ahead.

For us and for our students, these realities complicate the question of what it means for us to practice solidarity and accompaniment. In many key respects, not least by our U.S. citizenship and our relative social and economic privilege, we are insulated from the difficulties facing ordinary Argentines. We don’t stand altogether on the same ground as they do. Even as we seek to engage with Argentina and to stand with our Argentine friends in relationships characterized by mutuality and reciprocity, we recognize and feel this difference. What does it mean, in light of this, for us to practice solidarity, to stand with others?

This not an easy question to answer. Nor should it be. In fact, it is probably good for us that it remains a live question, and that it continues to inform the daily work of our program. It helps us to proceed with greater openness and humility, to recognize how much we don’t know, how much we still have to learn.

We feel intensely the wonder and gift it has been for us to live in this beautiful, amazing, complex country. Even amidst the challenges and the struggles, we feel this. Nowhere is this clearer than in the small scale of day-to-day human interactions, in the kindling of friendship, in the simple practice of paying attention to one another. Here we catch glimpses of something immensely valuable for all of us: the emerging sense that we do indeed belong to one another.

Santi OutdoorsAs we draw near the end of this inaugural year of Casa de la Mateada, it is time to offer heartfelt thanks to those who have given so generously of themselves to the program. It has been a team effort all the way, with folks from LMU joining those of us here in Córdoba to help bring this amazing new study abroad program into existence. The team at LMU worked hard for over two years in Los Angeles before hiring Santiago Bunce to lead the way in preparing the ground in Córdoba. Santi’s tireless efforts and creative energy were crucial to the birth of Casa here in Argentina. He left the team in January 2014 to pursue other work. He also left his mark on all of us and on the program. We want to take a moment here to remember all that he did and how he touched us, with his leadership, intelligence, fierce energy, infectious (often goofy) humor, mad fútbol skills and (of course) musical stylings. What follows is a small expression of appreciation from some of those (colleagues and students) whose lives he touched during the past year. ¡Gracias Santi! Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Krista (new)By Krista Chinchilla.

We gathered around the CASA de la Mateada staff members and I felt dumbfounded as we went through our weekly avisos (check-ins): NPR reports to keep us updated on the news, the schedule for the upcoming week, and food and transportation stipends. “It’s already March?!” I found myself thinking. Time is flying and Argentina has been an incredible teacher. There is so much I’ve already experienced, but there are a few things that really stand out to me when I think about what I yearn to implement into my daily life.

I had always seen service as ‘helping’ another. Now, I can see the type of hierarchy that goes into this mentality; it denotes a kind of superiority and inferiority between me and another person. Accompaniment is one of the pillars of the CASA program, which I hoped would go right along with transforming my definition of (and, more importantly, how I acted out) ‘service.’ I liked the idea of accompanying another more than the ‘helping’ perspective on service, but there was still something that didn’t fully click. I couldn’t exactly pinpoint it, so I ignored it and hoped my time in Argentina would clear things up for me. After all, we’re here to simply be there with people, which didn’t really make much sense to me. What does “being there with others” even mean? It seemed so…useless. But here’s where some really great people come into the picture.

Soon after the end of our orientation, we were introduced to most of the women who work in a jardín (kindergarten) in Nuestro Hogar III, a small city in Córdoba. This jardín is one of our praxis sites; it is a space that also functions as a type of community center for various activities for those who live in Nuestro Hogar III. The women eagerly greeted each member of our cohort with besos (kisses on the cheek). While we are a smaller cohort, we were still about nine people walking into their daily lives. “Tienen hambre? Ya desayunaron?” “Are you hungry? Have you have breakfast yet?” they asked as they prepared mate and sliced some bread. We spent the day charlando (talking) and, yes, simply being there. Without fail, whenever we return, we’re greeted the same way: with eager eyes, excited words, welcoming faces and sometimes some dancing.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEncuentro. It is a word and an idea rich with meaning here in Argentina. To ‘meet’ another, to feel his or her presence, is a beautiful, mysterious thing in any place, any culture. But something all of us have noticed since our arrival here is how seriously (though also playfully) Argentines take their encuentros. Especially the first moments. Whether it is a chance greeting of a friend on the street, or arriving at someone’s home, or meeting someone for the first time,  you feel the extraordinary care and attention that is given to such moments. And not only to the first moment, but to the entire encounter (we often marvel as we walk or drive down the street how much time Argentines seem to spend in cafes, sitting and talking with their friends). 

You feel it first on your cheek, as you kiss and are kissed by the other. And if it is a meeting involving several persons, as often happens with our students, everyone kisses everyone. No exceptions. No matter how many you are. When you arrive and when you part from one another. A social nicety you say? Yes, in part. And, no, it is not always easy to judge how sincere those besos are (an Argentine friend reminded us once–with a smile in her eye as she said it: “just because we kiss you doesn’t mean we like you.” Ok, we have been warned.

Still, the feeling you have most often in such moments is of the simple warmth of the gesture. As you bend forward to give and receive those kisses, time slows down a little. There is no rushing through it. It takes as long as it takes. And, often, you find yourself smiling in the midst of the exchange. It is playful. Sweet. Intimate.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.