Thursday, December 25, 2008

5 differences with Christmas in Buenos Aires

What is different about Christmas in Buenos Aires? Well this depends a lot on one's personal experiences. Here are a few of mine:

Weather: We have a sunny 80 degrees this morning. I just skyped my Mom and Dad in Massachusetts and they are enjoying a balmy 40 degrees with hopes of seeing the ground after some recent snow storms.

Food: Typical Christmas fixings here are Lechon (suckling pig in the photo) and ensalada russa (russian salad) which is potato, carrots, and peas mixed with mayonnaise. My family has always been non-traditional with our holiday meals and luckily this seems to be holding so far here. (I am not a big fan of ensalada russa.) Another item you see a lot of are Pan dulce, the holiday equivalent to the obligatory fruit cake. We bought ours in the neighborhood bakery, but if you happen over to Palermo I'd check out Sugar and Spice. They seem to be taking Pan dulces to a higher level.

Celebration: Here Christmas Eve is really the big to do, not so much Christmas day. Last year for example, I spent christmas eve at a friend's asado in Boedo. At the stroke of midnight, people start shooting off fireworks. This might be one reason why Santa, tracked by Norad, stopped in Cordoba and only did a fly by of Buenos Aires. Too much shrapnel in the air space. My other theory is the naughty index was a little too high here this year, but I haven't been able to confirm this yet. It's just a hunch.

Opening presents: For kids, the fireworks are more like the sound of the starting gun. Here they get to open their presents at midnight. None of this going to bed and waking up super early nonsense for them. I assume this is because Argentines are accustomed to eating dinner quite late, typically betwen 9-11pm. However, it seems adopting this custom on present opening would be a good idea judging from the number of my friends in the US who made comments on FaceBook about their kids not going to bed on time.

Silence: Ok, this is not a difference between home and here, but a common comment I get from those who call me is, "Where are you? outside!?" We live on the 5th floor of a street side apartment and when a bus passes, it sounds like we are next to the landing strip of an airport. Noise pollution is rampant in Buenos Aires. However during the holidays, the city and our neighborhood in particular clears out. Since we are at home this year, the silence is wonderful. The down side of this is relying on public transport, in particular on Christmas eve. I tried to take a bus back from the asado in Boedo and was nearly stranded.

Those are some differences that come to my mind. What differences stand out to you?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My vote is in. How about yours?


Obama says he wants to hear ideas from all Americans so Change.org is taking him up on it. Vote for your favorite idea and the top 10 will be presented to Obama on inauguration day.

The causes range from Agriculture to Women's rights, so I'm sure there will be at least 1 idea that you will find worthy of support. And if not? You can submit your own idea. This is the wisdom of crowds at it's finest.

I found out about this vote through an email I received from Citizen Schools. Citizen Schools provides an after school program for inner city middle schools. What they do is convert ordinary you and me, who have some sort of expertise and/or passion into Citizen teachers. A Citizen Teacher is guided through a workshop with Citizen schools where they help you turn your expertise into a 10 week apprenticeship (hands-on learning projects) which the volunteer citizen teacher delivers twice a week and culminates with a "Wow Project". As you might guess, it's a project that literally leaves the kids saying "Wow" in amazement at what they have learned and accomplished.

While in Boston, I did the program twice, the first at the Edison middle school in Brighton and the second time at the Umana Barnes middle school in East Boston. Not only were the kids amazing, but I was also impressed with the organization run by supportive, dedicated and professional people.

So needless to say, I encourage you to vote for Citizen Schools so their organization and program can get some air time with Obama and deliver more positive experiences to more middle schools across the US.

What ideas do you want to see in the top 10?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Start-Ups..Buenos Aires After Office this Tuesday @ Casa bar

START-UPS BUENOS AIRES AFTER OFFICE. Tuesday DECEMBER 16, 7-10PM @ CASA BAR. 1150 Rodriguez Pena (and Santa Fe)

Come on down and socialize at our our last after office for 2008. Our group has grown considerably. As usual it will be a great opportunity to connect with new people and talk some end of year shop. Also take the opportunity to find out where the spots are to cool off for the summer!

Look forward to seeing you there.

Jonathan

p.s. Special performance by one of our StartUps members- NOT TO BE MISSED!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Barrio Chino prices, what's in the secret sauce?

Because I find Chinese restaurants in BA are pretty average and Japanese restaurants are below average and over priced, I have been doing quite a bit of Asian style cooking at home. I don't live very close to Barrio Chino (China town), so I try to do all my shopping there in one big swoop. Since supplies of essentials were running low, yesterday I made my shopping run. Barrio Chino is located in Belgrano and is quite small consisting of approximately 2 or 3 blocks. Being so small, it should not be such a surprise that those early entrepreneurs must know each other well which impacts what products are offered and how they are priced. (photo from fotoescape.com.ar)
Upon arrival in Barrio Chino, it looks like the consumer is in control because there are several shops to choose from. The most popular ( I think it was the first market) is Casa China. Casa China looks like your typical chinese market: stuffed shelves and the pungent fresh vegetable/fish/meat section in the back. They also have a 2nd floor with some kitchen items normally only open on the weekends. This market was successful so they set up another local also called Casa China one block down. It's a bit smaller, a much smaller selection of pantry items and frozen foods, but recently expanded and has a bag your own grain section. Then there is Asia Oriental on Mendoza. Asia Oriental is bigger than either Casa China and has more of Super Market feel to it with a larger quantity and selection of pantry items, fresh vegetables, fresh meat/fish, dried noodles, tofu and a food bar which serves soups or stir frys to order. I also noticed a brand new market just opened up a couple doors down to the original Casa China called "Ichi-Ban". Ichi-Ban is a Japanese word (meaning number one) so one would think it carries more Japanese food items. Unlike the chinese markets, the place is spotless, but I think that is just because there was just me and one other gringo in there. From what I could tell they carry all the same stuff, except at super inflated prices. Maybe they are hoping for Japanese tourists?

And this leads me to the point of this post. What I find amusing are the price differentials between the same items that I purchase. They run from miniscule to ridiculous. I needed soy sauce and found a 2 liter jug of Fumeiga soy sauce which was priced at 23 pesos in Casa China was priced at 19 pesos in Asia Oriental and a whopping 38 pesos in Ichi-Ban. Sake was another item you have to watch out for. I bought a big bottle of sake last winter in Asia Oriental for 50 pesos, the same bottle in Casa China was 80 pesos. I rechecked the prices this go around and Asia Oriental had raised the price to 64 pesos and Casa China had lowered their price to 70 pesos. A hot pot that I had also bought last winter in Asia Oriental cost 80 pesos, similar hot pots in Casa China were well over 120 pesos. Other low cost items had small price differences such as the frozen gyoza (9 pesos in Asia Oriental, 8.5 pesos in Casa China) and Dashi (Fish powder) which was 14 pesos in Asia Oriental and 10 pesos in Casa China.

So what's the secret to shopping in Barrio Chino?
The difference to me is psychological. For some reason I expect to be able to find great deals in China town. Unfortunately, the great deals are few and far between. So shoppers really have to be on your toes. What barrio chino offers is a selection of must have pantry items that are difficult to impossible to find in regular super markets, a wider selection of asian veggies some that are also unavailable in regular supermarkets like lemon grass, bokchoy and others that are available, but are much fresher and lower priced in barrio chino such as hakusai (Napa cabbage), daikon radish, cilantro, a plethora of mushrooms, herbs like romero and thyme etc.. (I haven't had the courage to buy the fresh fish/meat yet). Imported Japanese products are expensive, so I substitute when possible like the big bags of locally produced soba and somen noodles in the photo. They are not as good as the Japanese ones, but at a fraction of the price, they get the job done. In the end, Barrio Chino is about selection, not about price which makes it no different from any other shopping area. You need to hunt around for the bargains.

What tips do you have to share about Barrio Chino?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Good news for rich, white folks. Your kids are improving.

A New York Times article, "Math Gains Reported for U.S. Students" sites a new report that the US on average is improving in Math. “It was good to see that the United States has made some progress in math,” said Ina V. S. Mullis, co-director of the Boston College center, “but I was surprised by the magnitude of the gap between us and the highest performing Asian countries, and that should cause us some concern.”

So before we pat ourselves on the back, we are still getting our butts kicked in Math by the likes of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and etc. But hold on. Read the report and the other real story is not the magnitude of the gap between the US and certain Asian countries, it's the magnitude of the gap within the US between the rich and poor and between Whites and Black/Hispanic minority groups.

This gap is presented as the effect size in the TIMSS report. (available for download at the nytimes) The report takes the example of Hong Kong (the highest performing 4th graders in math) and compares them with the US. They found the effect size is a considerable 1.1. In layman terms, this indicates that the comparison between these two data sets is something policy makers need to do something about because the difference is real and significant.

On the far right of the graph you can see the effect size between US public schools with the lowest level of poverty versus US schools with the highest level of poverty. This gap is even higher at 1.5.

Check out the bars in between and you can quickly get a feel for the gaps that exist between whites and minority groups.

What does this mean?
Achievement gaps between income groups and ethnic groups in the US is not a new story. It is generally acknowledged that in the US, if you are poor it is more probable you are either black or Hispanic and living in a lower income area. Since US public schools are primarily funded by property taxes, this typically means a lower quality school and a lower quality education. The TIMSS report simply show math test results that support this fact. You can see similar trends in the TIMSS science scores.

What gets me startled is thinking about how much further behind the US poor and blacks/hispanics rank on an international scale.

It's bad enough as the world's hyper power and biggest overall spender on education (see my previous post on the OECD) can barely crack the top 10 on this short list, but down right embarrassing that the scores of our poor and minorities wouldn't even break the top 20. After all, it's not just the rich whites who will be competing for jobs in the global economy.

What do you think we need to do to change this scenario?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bloggers in Buenos Aires: Fair and balanced?

Politics is tough. Bloggers in Buenos Aires are tougher. I've come to this realization after a couple weeks of nastiness leading up to a no-confidence vote of the chairman of the group which was in the end canceled, rather unceremoniously, by the resignation of the entire Executive Committee of Democrats Abroad Argentina (DAA).

For me, DAA was a godsend this year. It got people energized, it got people involved in the election and it got people to vote. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank EVERYONE who made DAA a reality when it counted most. Yanqui Mike, through sheer force of personality and perseverance, and yes I also extend my thanks to what seems to be characterized by bloggers here as the gang of four: Meghan Doran, Richard Tihany, Laura Atkins and Maria Emilia Ramirez for their generous and tireless efforts as well. Yanqui Mike is a tour de force, but no he would not have been able to do it all alone.

In the name of full disclosure, I was a founding member of DAA, showed up early and often to DAA events and volunteered my time to support DAA, but not nearly on the same scale as those on the Executive Committee or even some of my fellow volunteers. I shared a few beers with Yanqui Mike, but also have shared a few with Meghan Doran and Emilia Maria Ramirez as well. I have also met and had pleasant conversations with Laura and Richard who are fine and reasonable people.

I consider Yanqui Mike a friend. He and Alicia have never been anything but warm and welcoming to me. I also consider Meghan and Emilia friends. So to say that I am disappointed with what has happened between all these good people is an understatement.

I'm also disappointed there was not closure to this issue because now the only record of what did or did not happen are emails and blog posts. I'm relatively new to blogging and my naivety is shining through right now by expecting a little bit less Fox News style "fair and balanced" opinion by fellow democrat/bloggers. Where Obama inspires me by trying to raise himself above politics as usual, it seems some bloggers here are all too happy to trade character assassinations in defense of one of their own. This is understandable, but certainly as a DAA volunteer, I don't find it inspiring.

I hope the bloggers who sprang so quickly to Yanqui Mike's defense, also jump into those vacancies on the Executive Committee. DAA is going to need new volunteers in order for the organization to survive next year. If you do not, my guess is that these blog posts will serve as the final nails in DAA's coffin. All the posts (including my own) should be fair warning of what some newbie will be stepping into if they volunteer with DAA next year. It ain't pretty.
Good luck DAA. I'm out.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Turkey day in Buenos Aires


I've found living abroad that I just skip most US only holidays. There always seems to be the regular hoopla over New Years, Christmas, Easter, where you can feel the festivities in the air here. Then there are all the Argentine holidays which seem to be every other week. So I give myself a break and skip the rest. But holidays that you equate with food, like the Fourth of July bbq and turkey for Thanksgiving are tough to shake. Even if that Fourth of July bbq is in the middle of the Argentine winter and this year's Thanksgiving day forecast is for 90 degrees.

To tell you the truth, if I am back home we typically forego the Turkey all together and go for a killer roast beef that my mom does with all the trimmings. But this year with the amount of cow I have consumed, I have to admit I have a hankering for a hunk of Turkey.

Turkey is not easy to find here. The only sliced deli turkey I have found was at Coto and Carrefour. And it was not cheap. Judging by the number of Thanksgiving dinner events being held in the city this year, Turkey looks to be top of mind for a lot of other estadounidense as well. So if you don't want to do it all yourself, here is a list of those that I've found or have heard rumors about, but have not been able to independently confirm:

*American Club
Thanksgiving Lunch
AR$100

Expat Connection
El Estanciero
Báez 202
3:30pm - 6:30pm
AR$110
rsvp@expat-connection.com

Casa Bar
Rodriguez Peña and Santa Fe
3pm- 8pm
Ar$50

*Kansas
Av. Libertador 4625

*Alamo
Uruguay and Santa Fe

*rumor, not confirmed

Can you confirm any of these or add to the list? If not, where are you going to get your turkey fix from?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Geeking out


A MacArthur Foundation report, "Living and Learning with New Media", was recently highlighted in the New York times article, "Teenagers' internet socializing not a bad thing".

The report's findings? Kids are learning valuable technological and social skills as new media is interwoven into their lives. So a note to all parents: all that time on Facebook and MySpace is not just a waste of time! The report broke down their social media motivations into categories such as "friendship driven", "interest driven" and culminated in "geeking out" where "Youth turn instead to specialized knowledge groups of both teens and adults from around the country or world, with the goal of improving their craft and gaining reputation among expert peers."

What does this suggest for online tutoring?

Traditional online tutoring, as it exists today, reflects the top-down hierarchy of tutoring offline. It works because it fills a need for students who must navigate the one size fits all classroom based on state standards and topped off with standardized tests.

The report suggests there is a potential role in education for "Networked Publics"(participation in public culture that is supported by online networks), and peer-based learning. The study says, “New media allow for a degree of freedom and autonomy for youth that is less apparent in a classroom setting. Youth respect one another’s authority online, and they are often more motivated to learn from peers than from adults.” Online tutoring companies are well positioned to facilitate peer-to-peer based tutoring, but I wouldn't look to the big online tutoring companies to blaze any trails. Luckily for them, the one-size fits all school system is not apt to change very soon.

What are your thoughts on peer-to-peer learning?

Monday, November 17, 2008

US education: dying on the vine?


Ex-secretary of labor Robert Reich was asked what the top 3 priorities for the Obama administration will be. His answer; "The economy, the economy and the economy." Coming from an ex-secretary of labor, these answers make sense. However, if it were not for imploding economy, education would also be competing for attention with the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Energy, Healthcare reform, oh and did I mention the economy?

Education, however, is not a stand alone issue. Read New York Times Op Ed columnist, Nicholas Kristof's thoughtful article, "Obama and our Schools". Education has a major impact on poverty. Listen to NPR's On Point and their show on "American Competitiveness" with Harvard Business School Guru Michael Porter, and understand how our long-term competitiveness as a nation depends on our educational system.
Link
Is this a crisis? Yes it is. The problem with this crisis is that it is decades in the making and won't go away in the short-term just by throwing billions of dollars at it like Wall Street, Fannie & Freddie, AIG, and next our auto industry.

Porter makes reference several times to OECD data. Want to see the cold hard facts? Download the powerpoint on the United States and you can see clearly how there is a disconnect between US student aspirations, what the US spends on education and our overall student achievement and graduation rates. Listen to this OECD podcast to get a nice overview of the trends and impacts of education, not just in the US, but in all OECD countries.

Education is our edge against global competition. Now it looks like we are going to use this now rusty edge not to commit a quick, news worthy hari-kiri like Wall Street, but to die slowly and silently of gangrene unless we make some tough structural changes to our educational system. A system that needs to improve the prospects of the fastest growing segments of our population; the poor and minorities.

What are your thoughts on the US education system?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

To-Go Cup coffee. Will it travel?


Earlier this year I blogged about the opening of Starbucks and wondered how this global giant might adapt to the no to-go cup, Argentine coffee drinking culture. Well one local competitor, Havanna, is not waiting around to find out.

I spied a billboard in Microcentro advertising a new local that specializes in only coffee to-go.

We happened by the place so I took a couple photos. As you can see, it's like a little coffee kiosk. Open air, no seats and the infamous paper cups are prominently on display.



The location makes sense. It's one block from the Marriot at the head of a large pedestrian shopping gauntlet, Calle Florida, which is always full of tourists and locals shopping.

I don't get down this way very often any more, so I have no idea how long it's been there. One thing I didn't see though..was a line. Or even any customers. The two guys working the counter were keeping themselves busy cleaning.

After taking our photos, we walked half a block more to a classic/traditional coffee house and had a wonderful expresso, that came with a side of soda water and cookies. Let's see if Havanna's new offering sticks.

Have you seen any other to-go cup coffee around the city?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Start-Ups Buenos Aires keeps growing

Start-Ups Buenos Aires continues to grow. We now have 120 members in our facebook group and our mailing list continues to expand.

The Start-Ups Buenos Aires After Office is also proving to be a hit. We had a lot of new faces with the 70+ people who came.



It was great to see new business connections, new contacts and new friends form in front of my eyes. I'm especially excited to see we are getting more Argentines into the act. I didn't realize that networking like this is not a part of the Argentine culture. One Argentine actually asked me what he should do. I told him just to walk up to anyone, introduce yourself and then you are off to the races. Next thing I know, he was working the room like a pro! Great stuff.

We got a lot of nice feedback about the venue Carnal. As you can see the terrace with the Spring weather was phenomenal.



In the spirit of full disclosure, I have seen a report about a Cesar Salad that reared it's ugly head. Check out Gina's blog post about our event and this sighting. Please be warned about Cesar salads, not only at Carnal, but in BA in general.

December will be our last After Office for 2008. Join the Start-Ups Buenos Aires facebook group for announcements on the time and place or drop me an email and I'll add you to our mailing list.

Cheers!

Jonathan

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Start-Ups..Buenos Aires After Office 2 @ Carnal, Wed Nov 12 from 7pm-10pm




I'm back from Salta just in time for our 2nd After office. This time we are at CARNAL on Niceto Vega 5511 from WEDNESDAY, NOV. 12 from 19:00-22:00.

Big thanks to Eric Northam for setting us up there. At this moment we have over 100 people in the confirmed or maybe category, so I'm expecting a good crowd. Remember, we highly encourage you to bring all your friends who have or are interested in StartUps, especially your local Argentine friends so we can have a good mix of perspectives, opinions and more opportunities to make valuable connections.

Look forward to seeing you all there!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Start-Ups Buenos Aires After Office. What a turn out!

Thanks to all for turning out last Wednesday for Start-Ups Buenos Aires' first After Office. For a group less than a week old, we had a great turn out of 40+ movers and shakers come make new connections, catch up with old ones and take advantage of the discounted food & drinks. Special thanks to Casa bar for being wonderful hosts. The service was top notch and the live jazz, the cherry on top.

The only down side to the big turnout was that I got so wrapped up in talking,
I almost forgot to take photos.

More photos are on our facebook page. I promise more next time.

As of this moment, we have 69 members in the facebook group. If you are a FaceBooker (FB'er), don't forget to join the Start-Ups Buenos Aires Facebook Group and take advantage of the Shameless Self Promotion Space. This is where you can tell us a little bit about yourself and your business so that the conversation is already rolling when you attend our next After Office. Or if you are a non-Facebooker, don't worry, you are equally loved. Just shoot me an email and I'll add you to our mailing list. Stay tuned for our next After Office coming up in November.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Startups Buenos Aires After Office, Wed Oct 8th, 7pm @ Casa Bar

This coming Wednesday at 7pm, StartUps Buenos Aires is organizing a free After Office at Casa Bar Rodriguez Peña 1150 and Santa Fe, (+5411) 4816 2712. There will be special discounts and a happy hour available to our group. Join the StartUps Buenos Aires facebook group for details.

My friend Tom and I recently lamented the small number of social gatherings for Solopreneurs like us. People who have started a business, work from home or in a small office and looking for opportunities to socialize with others in the same boat. So this is our attempt at filling this gap: StartUps Buenos Aires.

I've written previously about the importance of those starting up a business or even just their new life abroad to connect with in-the-know expats and locals. I have my thoughts, but it's always best to get as wide array of opinion from as many people as possible. This will be an opportunity to do just that in a casual way.

In particular, I am encouraging folks to invite their Argentine Startup friends to our After Offices and to join our StartUps Buenos Aires Facebook Group. It seems to me there is an untapped potential for Argentine and Expat Entrepreneurs to help each other, both online and off. I would love to see more of this happen.

Finally, the StartUps Buenos Aires Facebook group page encourages Shameless Self Promotion. I hate to even admit how fuzzy I am on the details of what some of my new friends do here, let alone how I could help them out. So the space is open for folks to introduce themselves, their business and whatever else they are looking for from the group. No need for apologies, because we all understand how it is.

And you will have an opportunity once a month to shake the hand, pat the back or buy a beer for those new and old friends who make something happen for your business, or maybe even twist an arm for those who don't. ;-)

Again, please join us on Wednesday Oct. 8th from 7pm at Casa Bar to kick things off.

Best,

Jonathan

Monday, September 29, 2008

VP Debate this Thursday



Ready for round 2? After a full house last Friday, DAA is back at El Sacramento, this time for the VP debate between Fearless Joe and Painful (to listen to) Palin.

Everybody expects this to be a route, but to tell you the truth, I'm worried. Why? Well, what does Palin have to lose? If you have seen her interviews, especially the last one on CBS with Katie Couric, that inspired the equally funny SNL skit,




she has set the bar so low that everyone expects Biden to sweep the floor with her. John McCain has been forced into heroic efforts to divert the public's attention from his running mate. But given Biden's history of putting his foot in his mouth and the easier debate format insisted upon by the McCain campaign, I think Palin may escape unscathed and maybe even have a shot at a hail mary.

Who do you think will get the best of the VP debate?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Let's get ready to ruuumble! DAA's Debate Watching Party this Friday


This friday at 8pm at The Sacramento on El Salvador 5729 in Palermo Hollywood, Barack "Any time, Any where, Bring it on!" Obama takes on John "Go ahead...Make my day" McCain in a rated P for Presidential, smack down debate.

Democrats Abroad Argentina is organizing the Debate Watching Party as a fundraiser so there will be a very reasonable entrance charge of 10 pesos which includes 2 screens one in English, (the other in Español so invite your Argentine friends to learn about our electoral process ) Proceeds will also go towards their continued efforts to register voters and in particular fund printing for "No Postage Necessary" envelopes for the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballots. As an extra they are also helping people take advantage of FedEx's "election special" which will get you a rate of $15 rather than their usual $50.

Due to the late conventions, if you want to have your vote counted this year you will very likely need to go the FedEx route to have it arrive in time. If you are on the fence on whether you should go through this effort, give yourself extra motivation and check out the NYtimes Election map and see where your state stands on your candidate. Your vote can really make a difference in this election!

Also in between watching Obama and McCain swap elbows, cloth-lines and body slams and enjoying a beverage at the bar, consider volunteering your time for this event. They need help to greet people at the door, register voters and sell Obama buttons and shirts.

This is one of those golden opportunities for expats that I've written about previously. If you are new in town, it's a great way to meet folks. If you are not so new in town, like me...it's a great way to expand your network. I've already volunteered myself! For more details on how you can volunteer, contact Maria Ramirez of Democrats Abroad Argentina or let me know and I'll put you in touch.

And in case you are wondering...yes, that is Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka my favorite from way back when. I think he even invented the move off the top rope. (photo from the wrestlingmuseum.com)

Who was your favorite WW(F) wrestler?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Moving Abroad? Get insider info from expats on the ground anywhere

I'm not sure if this counts as part of one's 15 minutes of fame, but I got interviewed for expatinterviews.com. No lights, no camera, just a little action: a pleasant email from a woman named Lizza asking me to fill out a questionnaire about living in Argentina that would be posted to their website.

Getting random emails from people who you don't know, asking you to spill your guts about a place and yourself, to be published on somebody else's web page can be emotional. I felt surprised when I received the mail, followed by a little suspicious, then curious and finally convinced. All in less than 10 minutes. What a roller coaster!

What convinced me to do it was:

  1. The quality of interviews already published and information available about the owners of the site
  2. The overall value this site gives to those looking to move abroad (not just Argentina, but anywhere)
  3. Link Love
  4. The fact that a couple of the interviews are with expats I know here to be good peeps
This site is a must read for anyone looking to move abroad. Though my responses and my shout out links for other interesting sites in Argentina were pared down , none of my thoughts, opinions or recommendations were changed. Multiply this by the hundreds of interviews from hundreds of countries and you have some fascinating insight into taking your next step.

Check out the full interview at: http://www.expatinterviews.com/argentina/jonathan-harada.html

What other sources would you recommend for wanna-be or gotta-be expats?

Update 9/23/08: After reading this post, Lizza sent an email to me apologizing for the missing links explaining it was an oversight and that she had made the corrections. In my opinion, this is yet another reason why expatriotinterviews.com deserves your participation. Thanks Lizza for your follow up.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How you can be Santa in the summer

I'm in Massachusetts for a visit home and enjoying the last hoorah of summer. I usually travel home once a year, whether I like it or not, due to the use it or lose it clause on my ticket.

I always find my visits home very refreshing. Obviously it's a wonderful opportunity to catch up with family and friends. It's also an opportunity for an update.

First, I always update the hardware. A good thing to check into if you are planning on relocating abroad is the cost and availability of items you are going to need for your personal and/or business use.

I throw these items into two buckets: Nice-to-have stuff and Wanna-Gotta-have stuff

Nice to have stuff
Nice to have stuff is very personal, like books or sometimes things you don't realize that you miss until they're gone, like Hot Sauce. Argentina is a loong way from Mexico in terms of spice. Sure you can find Tabasco in BA, but I like to have a little variety in my hot sauces and have some favorite brands like Frank's. Other things I've heard people bringing down are maple syrup, peanut butter, brownie mix. I'll even confess to bringing down stove-top stuffing once, but highly doubt it will make it in this trip.

Wanna-Gotta-have stuff
Stuff for work and play like computers and consumer electronics would fall into this category. These are typically higher dollar value items that go astronomic because, like many south american countries, Argentina levies high taxes on imported products. Unfortunately between these taxes and importer mark-ups the price can easily double for a product which often times is yesterday's model or an undesired configuration.

Just to give an example, an Apple corded keyboard I needed to buy costs $100 at the Apple store in Buenos Aires, but only $49 USD here. If I would have broken down and bought it in BA, I would have had to settle for the Spanish keyboard in a sense paying double for a keyboard in an undesired configuration. Instead I bought some crappy $25 local keyboard to get me by for a few months and made the apple keyboard purchase on my next trip. I still ended up saving about $25.

When it comes to trendy gadgets, prices are ridiculous. Check out Mercadolibre (South America's version of eBay) and lookup an unlocked 8 Gb, iPhone 3G. I just did...and it will run you $1,499.99 USD. If I compare apples to apples (sorry couldn't resist the pun), the same unlocked iPhone here goes for about $600 USD on eBay.

So as you can see, taking advantage of my one opportunity per year to buy Wanna-Gotta-have stuff is important. I always arrive home with a pent up purchase list that I've been adding to over the year. I go to the store with my list, checking it twice..feeling a little like Santa. Why Santa? Because all of a sudden I find many items on my list are for friends and I realize I will need a sleigh with 20 reindeer to get all the stuff back. But can you blame them for asking? I complain about the price differentials in dollars. Imagine if you are earning pesos!

So take the opportunity to be Santa to yourself and also to your friends. But be aware, you will have to prioritize and set expectations, less you should be seen as the Gringo Grinch. Unlike Santa's magic sleigh, your allotment with American Airlines is a measly 23 kilos per checked bag which fills up fast.

So now you know. Don't buy unwanted gifts for your friends in Argentina. Just consent to bring back one of their purchases and you can get a little bit of that Santa cheer any time of year. But be aware. Santa is welcomed by millions around the world with milk and cookies...you might be welcomed by customs.

What do you Gotta-wanna have from home and plan to bring back?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The candidates and online education. I'm all in!

You already have my opinion on the candidate's general positions on education in my previous post. But what about online education? Where do the candidates stand?

This one caught me by surprise.

From McCain's website:

John McCain Supports Expanding Virtual Learning By Reforming The "Enhancing Education Through Technology Program." John McCain will target $500 million in current federal funds to build new virtual schools and support the development of online course offerings for students. These courses may be for regular coursework, for enhancement, or for dual enrollment into college.

John McCain Will Allocate $250 Million Through A Competitive Grant Program To Support States That Commit To Expanding Online Education Opportunities. States can use these funds to build virtual math and science academies to help expand the availability of AP Math, Science, and Computer Sciences courses, online tutoring support for students in traditional schools, and foreign language courses.

John McCain Will Offer $250 Million For Digital Passport Scholarships To Help Students Pay For Online Tutors Or Enroll In Virtual Schools. Low-income students will be eligible to receive up to $4,000 to enroll in an online course, SAT/ACT prep course, credit recovery or tutoring services offered by a virtual provider. Providers could range from other public schools, virtual charter schools, home school parents utilizing virtual schooling resources or district or state sponsored virtual schools. The Department of Education would competitively award the funds to a national scholarship administrator who would manage the student applications, monitoring, and evaluation of providers.


For some reason, I have this image of McCain and Obama playing no-limit Texas Hold'em. McCain is getting whipped all tournament long on Education, but apparently finds he has a hand to play in online education. So on the flop, without even a flinch, the wily Senator from Arizona pushes 1 billion George Washingtons to the center of the table.

The audience has to wonder..What will Obama do?
We know Obama has more than enough chips in Education to cover McCain. He doesn't have to win this hand to win the tournament, but if he doesn't.. he may be letting McCain back into the game instead of finishing him off.

Will he call? Will he raise? Will he fold?

According to Guidetoonlineschools.com an Obama campaign internal memo mentioned “Many online schools are for-profit ventures and may siphon money away from public schools,”

Though this memo is still on the rumor mill...it looks as though Obama will fold.

Why?
Let's consider the real weight of McCain's offer. If you check the Department of Education's website, their overall budget is $68.6 billion and they go to explain "Of an estimated $1 trillion being spent nationwide on education at all levels for school year 2007-2008, a substantial majority will come from State, local, and private sources."

So $1 billion while not peanuts, is not exactly "All in" either. So it's a political no-brainer for Obama. If I think about it, I'm a strong supporter of online education and while I'm disappointed by Obama's lack of initiative, I certainly will not vote for McCain because of this one subsection of an issue. I'm guessing most Democrats will feel the same.

Why would Obama not support online education?

First, often times online education is associated with the private sector. Should Obama support online education, it may look like he is ceding a point to McCain: some free market practices in education work. Of course, this is nonsense as the public sector is also involved in online education.

2nd, I mentioned many of the programs Obama does support are research-based. Online education is new and doesn't have as strong a research foundation as say, early childhood education, to back up it's claim of effectiveness. This is especially depressing when there is increasing evidence of the benefits of online education to minorities such as in this eSchool News article.

So Obama has a couple of excuses not to engage McCain on this issue. Which is a shame.

McCain has done well to put this issue on the table. While not the silver bullet to all our education problems, there should be a healthy debate and vision for the role of online education in our nation's educational system. I'd hate the only word on online education to be McCain's.

What do you think Obama's stance on online education should be?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Obama and McCain on Education. Part 1

Talking about voting..I thought I'd dedicate a couple of posts to the candidates.

Unfortunately, a tanking economy and the Iraq war get headlines over another important issue: Education. When it does get talked about, everyone agrees that when students in the world's hyper power rank 28th in Math ..something is wrong. So how do the candidates intend to fix it?

I searched the candidates names and the word "education" on youtube to do a video comparison and went directly to each candidate's website to get their own information on the issue.

(Disclosure: I'm a Democrat and Obama supporter so you can guess where this is likely to go)

McCain's website: "If a school will not change, the students should be able to change schools."

When it comes to education, McCain believes in the
free market and small government. He proposes a mix of incentives for new and existing teachers, choice for parents (in particular school vouchers) and more local control of federal funds. He also proposes some initiatives in online education like virtual schools and online academic centers. He highlights one program in Washington DC that he will expand in Washington DC which I thought was a bit weird.. unless you live there I guess.




Obama's website:
Policy changes and more government programs in areas of need. He supports early childhood education with federal programs like HeadStart and creates another program for children 0-5 years old and mentions a daycare program. He specifically addresses problem areas such as Math/Science, Dropout rates, and supports Summer and after school programs with a mix of policy changes, funding promises and strategies. Like McCain he puts emphasis on recruiting and rewarding teachers. In addition he will create a tax credit to finance college and streamline the federal financial aid process.







My impressions:
If you have a specific issue within education, it's very difficult to figure out from John McCain's website, what he is going to do. His information is at a very high level and does not back up any of his statements with any statistics or evidence. His strategy is to appeal to people's common sense. He does not specifically address many of the urgent needs of our educational system. The solution to problems are to give parents the option to send their kid to a different school. The only strength is that on the relatively few initiatives he proposes (on page 2), he clearly states where the funding is going to come from..Title II or Title I.

Obama policies and initiatives are clear. Every problem highlighted is backed up with statistics as to why it is a problem and research-based solutions. Literature I have read about improving student achievement puts a heavy emphasis on early childhood education. Obama's 0-5 plan and Head Start put this research to use. His initiatives address the main problems our country faces in education today: achievement gaps in Math/Science, high dropout rates and accessibility to higher education. He goes further to address specific areas like summer learning and even touches upon flash points like English Language Learners. My impression is that Obama has a deep understanding of what the problems are, and a clear view of what it will take to address them. It is obvious Obama will spend more on education. I felt convinced that he will spend intelligently. What I did not walk away with is where the funding will come from.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Relocated abroad?...then Vote!

A comment left by a reader of the US and World Report article caught my eye. The person stated, "Living abroad is not for the vast majority of Americans because it requires a certain mentality of taking responsibility for ones actions while at the same time being willing to accept things you cannot change."

I liked this comment because it seemed to synthesize very well, point # 5 "Be flexible, but be principled" from my Top Five List for entrepreneur relocators in the previous post.
What I'm not so sure about is whether this mentality is only applicable to American citizens or really could be applied to anybody living abroad.

That being said, one thing that is only applicable to US citizens is our right to vote in the upcoming election. So for a couple of minutes, we need to turn off our living abroad mentality and stop accepting the fact that we cannot change anything where we find ourselves.

(full disclosure, I am a founding member of Democrats Abroad Argentina)

Here the recently founded, Democrats Abroad, Argentina works to register voters of any party affiliation at the weekly gathering in Sir Will's Pub and are planning several events around the Democratic National Convention, the debates and more. Full details can be found on the Democrats Abroad Argentina Website and on Yanqui Mike, who is the founder of the organization in Argentina.



If you are not in Argentina, Democrats Abroad is a worldwide organization. So unless you have relocated to the dark side of the moon... you don't have any excuse not to participate. Vote!




Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Top Five for entrepreneur relocators

Here is my top five for those who want to stop dreaming and move to a new country to start a business.

1. Learn the language!
Can you start a business in a new country and not speak the language? Of course you can. But if you have any local component to your business...it will take you longer and cost much more to get it off the ground. Invest the time to get a solid grasp of the language in which you will be doing business. Spoken and written! This will pay off not only in time and money, but also in good will generated with any local suppliers, customers and staff.

2. Don't be shy, but don't rely solely on expats
Expats are an excellent resource. They often have been through the same learning curve and can give you helpful advice or make introductions to valuable contacts. If possible, make contact with them before you even arrive.

Here in BA some popular online groups used to suss out thoughts and ideas are BANewcomers, the new Internations.org (invitation only) or forums like BA Expats and Good Morning Buenos Aires to name just a few.

You can also do a search for blogs in your area of interest. I have a few on my blog roll, but there are lists far superior such as Bloggers in Argentina.

Once in-country you can hook up with a number of groups like the Expat Connection, Buenos Aires International Newcomers (BAIN), Club Europeo or even visit the American Chamber of Commerce. I also like to cruise the jobs section of craigslist in Buenos Aires to keep a pulse on local hirings for expats.

But be aware! As you can see, connecting and hanging out with fellow expats is easy. However, it is no replacement for local connections. In fact, your best expat contacts are those who have already figured that out. Make the effort to meet locals. If you have invested the time to learn the language, it's also great practice!

3. Do your homework
Every country has their own way of doing business. Determine how local rules and norms will apply to your business. Things like legal quagmires can suck your time, energy and money. Monopolies and oligopolies do exist and can be difficult to crack. Take time to understand the local business culture and prepare yourself to deal with it.

4. Double prepare yourself for the unexpected
You may have done your homework, but every entrepreneur knows that unexpected or uncontrollable things happen all the time. You have probably made a conservative estimate of costs in your plan... doesn't matter. When starting a business in a foreign country double the margin of error you typically use. For example, if you think something costs X, you usually might anticipate X + 15-20%...Double it! This is especially true for time. Things such as getting a contract signed, finding a local supplier or even opening a local bank account can be unexpected major hassles.

Also having some extra cushion helps when it comes to riding out your everyday economic volatility or political instability. Recent examples in Argentina are the exchange rates, inflation and the recent conflict with the Campo. For example, the USD in Argentina has lost nearly 5% in the last month and though not "official", inflation rate guess-timates range from 25% to nearly 40%.

5. Be flexible, but be principled
There are ways to get things done..then there are "ways" (wink, wink) to get things done. The Brazilian "jeitinho" or "little way" is a classic example. Knowing how to work the local system is often where your local contacts become invaluable. However, be aware of what they are doing and how they are doing it. Question things that don't pass the smell test. If you're not sure about something, leverage your network of locals and fellow expats. They may have experienced something similar or can point you in the direction of someone who knows. But if something simply is against your principles, then don't do it. Besides the fact that standing on your principles is the right thing to do, you've already doubled your margin for error, so you have no excuse not to. It may take a little more time, energy or money, but you will be better off in the long run.

These are five points I'd bring up to would-be entrepreneur relocators. What would you add to the list?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

3 million entrepreneur relocators?

US News & World Report published an interesting article, "A Growing Trend of Leaving America" stating that over 3 million Americans move overseas every year.

They also highlight that "1.6 million U.S. households had already determined to relocate abroad; an additional 1.8 million households were seriously considering such a move, while 7.7 million more were "somewhat seriously" contemplating it."

The article focuses specifically on the fact that many now move and become entrepreneurs.

Some quotes from the article struck a chord with me. For example when talking about his move to Panama, one young entrepreneur says an attraction "is the chance to get into some kind of market first.", "more room for error." and the opportunity to "make mistakes without being put under." Another says, "I couldn't have opened this type of business in the States, here there's no one competing against me."

I think those reasons hit home for many of us who have already taken the plunge for whatever reason. Thinking about my own business, those same reasons make my list. Now with the US economy going into recession and prices of gas and food rising, my guess is that more and more of those "seriously considering" a move abroad will pull the trigger.

My prediction is that Central and South America along with Eastern Europe will draw the most. In general, the cost of living is relatively low, the economies are growing and the cultural divide is more manageable than China, India or SE Asia. As for South America, I think Buenos Aires will lead the way. Brazil is by far the economic elephant down here, but the strong real and the reputation for crime in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro will keep many looking for alternatives. Santiago, Chile, may be a contender... they have a business friendly environment and are seen as a shining example of what can be accomplished when the government doesn't trip over itself. However, I don't think the dollar takes you nearly as far as in BA though that advantage may not last too much longer.

Do you think Buenos Aires will see an influx of entrepreneur relocators? What would be your reasons for, or for not, picking Buenos Aires?




Monday, July 28, 2008

Welcome SOB'ers

Welcome new readers from the Second Official Successful-Blog Blog-to Show. If you found me...it means you got all the way to 234 out of the 260 blog submissions. Congratulations! You are very persistent! I perused the show and added a couple blogs to my google reader. I was hoping BA would be the most obscure location...but in my opinion, the blogger in New Guinea won that prize...by a lot. Looks very cool!

A quick introduction: My name is Jonathan and I run an online tutoring company called Tutor Amigos. http://www.tutoramigos.com/ We tutor Math, Science and English to students who speak Spanish. "Up-Starts, Buenos Aires" is the lastest meta-morphisis of my blog. In general the blog covers the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur in a foreign location, basic start-up problems and of course, special emphasis is given to education. I also take special interest in anyone doing the start-up thing abroad and do my best to highlight them here. Do you know of any international start-ups who deserve some attention? Drop me a line and we can send them some blog love. They can be for-profit, non-profit, social-benefit..you name it. You don't need twenty post stamps to send a care package any more!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Taste Tests

Last Saturday we went to the Caminos y Sabores Expo, a convention of over 300 producers of cheese, meats, sweets, olive oil, beverages and so on from all over Argentina. Last year producers from 23 different provinces came and over 62,000 people attended the expo. Given the uncertainty of farmer protests now a days, this seemed like an excellent way to get a taste of what Argentina has to offer without the risk of getting stuck at a roadblock out in the boonies.

The thing I love most about expos are the taste tests. Taste tests are fun! This expo helped me figure out so many things like: how creamy I like my dulce de leche, what type of cookie I prefer in an alfajor, or even try things I would never actually buy...




like jarred racoon...









hmm...Needless to say, the jarred raccoon did not make it to my personal shopping list. Nor any jarred woodchuck, for fear of giving my parents any ideas for their elusive garden marauder.

Here is what did make it home:

We bought sheep cheese (hard, plain and a semi-hard, smoked) and a one kilo tub of dulce de leche, produced in the La Pampa province. Basil flavored olive oil from Cordoba, another (very creamy) dulce de leche from Salta, and Alfajores de maicena (the cookie in the corner) from Buenos Aires province.

All in all, a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

What's the strangest animal you ever ate? Have any Expos you can recommend?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Facebook Friends

To me, mixing one's business and personal life is probably akin to mixing a molotov cocktail...something you better do very carefully. I've read the articles about HR recruiters trolling MySpace and Facebook looking for those embarrassing photos of their applicants. But if one is conscious of the fact that if it's on the internet, it's going to be found...there must be value in shaking it up a bit, especially for entrepreneurs who need every bit of noise to get the word out about their business and the fact that they are entrepreneurs.

I admit, I'm a novice at this. I think the Japanese part of me which has learned that self deprecating modesty is a virtue, has not helped me prepare for this role.
This blog, for example, is my first toe dip into this area. I chose to add a bit of personal flair to this blog recently for two basic reasons... First is readership. (which with a blog is pretty important) By adding some personal perspectives, opinions and etc...I'm reaching out to family and friends, to keep them up to date on what is happening with me; both professionally and "locationally". These may be topics that we don't communicate on actively...so this is a nice way of keeping them informed (and reading) of events or thoughts that I probably won't go out of my way to convey with a phone call or email.

Second, by keeping the topics varied, I'm also enjoying writing more..and I think it will reflect in an increase in general readership over time. Posts become more regular, people are intrigued about what will happen next...readers subscribe to the feed (hint, hint) etc.

This being said...where is that line between personal and professional life? Today I was invited by a business in Buenos Aires to be their "friend" through facebook. When I started checking out this business's friends..I saw mixed in with actual people, they had lots of other business's as their friends.

I don't like the idea of friending people I don't know with my personal facebook account. Even though now, one can grant people only limited access to profile information. For me, even this is not enough.

Although it's quite obvious this should have been done a while ago, now Tutor Amigos is on Facebook. If you want to help me out, click below and be a friend. Because online tutoring in math, science and English is not yet the coolest, hip thing...your friendship will help Tutor Amigos not look like the four-eyed geek you knew in high school.



How do you balance your mix of business and personal life online? Is it as hard as it looks?

Friday, July 4, 2008

The local spirit

One of the almost inevitable attractions in Argentina is the wine. Two founders whose acquaintance I've made over the last couple of months, are doing their parts to help spread the news and the bottles in their own ways. Anuva Vinos and 0800 Vinos.

Last month, Daniel from Anuva Vinos invited a bunch of us over for a guy's night out which included a private wine tasting. We were introduced to a carefully selected range of boutique wines, wines not only off the radar internationally, but also unavailable at the local wine store here! We started with a wonderful Spumante..much less known than the infamous Malbec..but then we ventured down that road where there were some real winners. My favorites were the Ikella Malbec, 2006 and the Don Juan Blend, 2004. These selections are available through their wine club where all one has to do is subscribe and have these wines delivered to your home in the US and Europe. In all, not the typical guy's night out, and exactly why I enjoy living in Buenos Aires.


Last night we got a last minute invite to a tasting at Nigel's 0800 Vinos. Nigel is an expat sommelier adding value in the local market by creating a wine delivery service.

Local delivery of just about everything is commonplace here in BA. Looking at the magnets on my refrigerator, I can get ice cream, empanadas, chinese food, fresh pasta, fresh seafood, sushi, pizza, groceries, rental dvds, even my laundry...there really is no reason to leave my apartment if I don't feel like it.

0800 Vinos seized upon this trend and is introducing local wine delivery. Instead of fumbling through the super market shelves...why not call and have the wine delivered to your home for the same price? Besides just the convenience, 0800's adds value by providing useful information on their website with food pairings, broken down by price levels, wine origins and will also be creating their own reviews. If that's not enough, you can even speak to the sommelier directly which I will find particularly valuable the next time I'm in the market for a higher priced wine for that special occasion.

So there you have it. Whether you are looking for unique, boutique wines or looking for a greater appreciation of what the locals drink...each has something for you.

Do you know of other good resources to taste and learn about wine?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Has a line been crossed? Yes!

An online tutoring company, Smarthinking.com recently announced it's offering a new service called Straighterline. Per their website, Straighterline offers "high quality, better supported, and lower cost required college courses - online, on your schedule."

As I understand it, what they have done is bundled their online tutor access with a reputable text book publisher and course management software so students can study independently for required courses and earn college credit.

Has Straighterline crossed the line or has it pushed back a boundary?

I think it is too early to tell. But I'm optimistic about it.

All students should get high quality education. But when it comes to required courses...(I'm thinking back to my Finite math course in college, or my Micro Economics course for my MBA.). Did those classes really need to be with a group in a physical classroom at a set hour? Did I need to pay thousands of extra dollars for these credits?

My intuition and my personal experience say, "No".

Of course this would be taking a bite out of the pie of traditional providers of these courses..the private/public colleges and universities. I think what gives these schools the heebie jeebies is that private tutoring is supposed to be a complement to public school education, not a replacement for it. What Straigherline is trying to do is move the boundary back a few feet on traditional public and private colleges. And for that, I'm sure they will get a lot of push back.

But if colleges and universities are going to look for people to blame...they should be pointing to themselves. The price of tuition, fees, room and board have risen over 35% in the last 5 years. It is the lucky few who do not need to worry about how they are going to pay for a tertiary education.

Of course, the out of pocket expense of higher education is not the only cost. There is also the "opportunity cost" or the income you forego by choosing to study instead of work. These are tough decisions one must make and many times life makes those decisions for you.

Flexibility is also a major perk. I started my MBA in the part-time program because my employer paid for a number of classes per semester, but boy...what I wouldn't have given for more flexibility on when and how I could have attended class...even if just for the required classes. In the end, after calculating how many years it would take to finish my degree and how little of a life I was able to have between school and work, I decided to leave my job and I eventually ended up finished my degree full-time and of course back then...off-line.

In my opinion, Straighterline is filling a need and, if executed well, I think they are on to something.

Do you think Straighterline has crossed the line... for better or for worse?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

When online tutoring evolves.

I'm a die hard Boston Red Sox fan, but when you heard Harry Caray, the legendary baseball announcer yell "Holy Cow!", you knew it was a Chicago Cub's home run. When Guy Kawasaki says it, you know something VERY cool is just a click away.

In Guy's blog post titled, "I'll never get on a plane again", he links to the Cisco/Musion Systems TelePresence holographic video conference with the "World’s first Live Holographic Video Feed from California, USA to Bangalore, India". It is simply amazing.

With oil predicted to be $150-$200 a barrel in the near future, beaming yourself to faraway lands, and having others beam themselves to you, becomes all the more economically attractive and environmentally friendly. Instead of hopping a flight, walk to a conference room.

It's potential application to online, personal tutoring is equally mind bending. Instead of driving to a tutoring center or making your poor tutor drive to you, you can "beam over".

But wait...online tutoring already accomplishes this, doesn't it?

Well...it does... Just not so Star Trek-like. In fact, according to Dr. John Stuppy, President of Tutorvista,
"online tutoring is as effective as face-to-face" already. His presentation at the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) 2008 National Conference points out "..(in) a study of over 300,000 students who received face-to-face tutoring versus online tutoring, there was no statistically significant difference in pre- versus post-test gains on third party norm-referenced assessments." Additional benefits sited were, an "increase in their childrens grades, sometimes after just a few weeks." and " some students are more likely to ask questions and admit when they still dont understand something".

I can't say I have seen a similar study of 300,000 students in Spain , which is the market Tutor Amigos offers it's service. But I can tell you from first-hand experience that increases in our student's grades have been achieved after just a few weeks and parents have commented how their generally shy sons and daughters are much more active and engaged when working with an online tutor, as opposed to an in-home tutor which is a popular model in Spain.

Now there are differences in how some companies deliver today's online tutoring service, which I will address in a future post. The take away is this: online tutoring, as it exists today, is just as effective as having a tutor sit next to you and do the tutoring. You don't need to wait for this amazing Cisco/Musion systems holographic technology to go mainstream in order to benefit from online tutoring, however someday this amazing technology will go mainstream. And when it does, online tutoring will be poised to be not only as effective, it may even be better.

How do you think online tutoring can be improved? Now? In the future?






Monday, June 2, 2008

Starbucks in Buenos Aires

I have a confession..I'm one of those people who loves to hate Starbucks. It's more passive in nature which takes the form of a try to avoid if possible attitude. For example, in Central Square, Cambridge near where I used to live, I would never think twice before ducking into the 1369 Coffee house as opposed to the Starbucks on the corner. I just liked 1369 better. They had good coffee and a killer carrot cake. However, I am not a hardcore anti-Starbuck-er. I would never go so far as to avoid getting a coffee just because Starbucks was my only choice.

Here in BA, it's been easy to avoid this hypocrisy because there were no Starbucks... until now. Argentina is the latest to roll out the welcome mat to Starbucks and judging from the pre-hype and the long lines at the opening, they will be here for a while. I haven't (and won't likely) make any special effort to visit Starbucks here, but I have to admit I'm curious.

A couple of things I've read are the long lines are mostly made up of the 25 and under crowd, and their basic cup of coffee is a competitively priced 5.50 pesos. Having been through the MBA case study gauntlet, I'd love to get a first hand look at how this global giant tries to fit into an ingrained local coffee culture- that doesn't include to-go cups.

Another reason is to see if it really is all that special. There have been sightings of new flavors like their Mate-Coffee...that alone maybe worth a look - I'm guessing the kinda look people do when they slow down and stare at car accidents.. But you never know..it could be the next greatest coffee innovation!

One thing Starbucks has done right is contracting Sugar&Spice as a supplier. Sugar & Spice is a local cookie company and after meeting Frank, it's founder, a few weeks ago, I went and bought some of his cookies at the local Disco Supermarket. I tried the Cantucci. They were super. So obviously Starbucks already knows their way around local cookies. If they figure out the coffee culture, as well as they have the cookies, local coffee shops beware!

Do you think Starbucks will put the local coffee shops out of business?

Friday, May 23, 2008

A different tack

I recently got to meet and hang out with some folks who are, or are connected with some of the movers and shakers of the blogosphere here in Buenos Aires. What I've quickly realized is how boring my blog is. So boring that I don't even want to read it. So to take a new tack and make this blog less of a yawner.. I'm expanding the subjects to include an expat perspective on the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires and thoughts on the ups and downs of international, entrepreneurial start-ups. (mine and shameless plugs of others) Of course latest happenings with TutorAmigos, bilingual education in the US and now obviously education in Spain will be hot topics. I'm looking forward to writing about these additions and hope you will be too.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Our first blog post from a parent in Spain!

I'm very excited that Tutor Amigos (http://www.tutoramigos.com) got it's first post in a blog from a parent of one of our students in Spain! An excerpt from the blog post, is copied below but go to the original post to see a couple of videos from their side of the Atlantic.

La profesora invisible

"Nunca había contratado un profesor particular, principalmente porque no le hacia falta, sus notas no eran excelentes pero tampoco suspendía, yo misma podía ayudarla si lo necesitaba, y aunque en ocasiones me hubiese gustado contratar un profesor particular, representaba un gasto económico que no podía asumir.

Pero la niña va creciendo y las tareas se van complicando, había suspendido un par de exámenes parciales. Se lo importante que son los estudios, así que preferí cambiar mi mentalidad: pagar en educación no es gastar, sino invertir.

Llamé a un par de estudiantes universitarios que habían dejado su teléfono en el instituto, bueno…, para nuestra economía representaría un esfuerzo...

Casi sin querer encontré en internet una publicidad que me llamó la atención: www.tutoramigos.com: clases particulares online en vivo y ayuda con tareas escolares.

¿Era posible recibir clases particulares a través de internet?"

The full blog post is available here


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What the research does and doesn't say: a nice summary

Cruising through my google web alerts this week I came across an article that I wish I (or my google alerts) had found last year when it was written. "Teaching Math to English Language Learners: Can Research Help?" by Suzanne Irujo, ELL Outlook™ Contributing Writer, does a nice job of summarizing much of the same research I came across while developing the concept of Tutor Amigos. Even better is that she puts it in historical context and gives many examples of the English and English-speaking situations that tend to confuse ELL Math learners. If you are just starting to research this field or looking to connect some of the dots, check out this article.

Monday, February 18, 2008

"Too" Early Exit programs

Imagine yourself as a kid. Now imagine yourself as a kid who has just moved to a foreign country...let's call it Hopelandia. You don't speak, read or write Hopeland-ish...but you want to. You get pulled out of your regular classes for a few hours everyday to learn basic Hopeland-ish while everyone else is learning math, science, social studies etc.. After 2-3 years, you are declared proficient in Hopeland-ish and mainstreamed to the regular classes. Unfortunately for you, that conversational Hopeland-ish you learned isn't enough to understand the academic Hopeland-ish that is being used in class, in the text books and on the state exams. Your grades suffer, you get frustrated....oh by the way... you are poor, so there is very little help...sorry.

Early-Exit transitional models for English Language Learning (ELL) students focus on the “speed at which students are mainstreamed than content-area learning.” (Brisk, 1998) When I started researching the need for an online tutoring service for Spanish-speakers, I found this as a program model used in many school systems that promote a "learn English first, then learn academics", mentality. Supported by many as the "American" thing to do...it almost makes logical sense. Almost.

What research shows is this "learn English first" model is a tough row. Why? Because for the most part, the teaching of English and the teaching of academic content are separated. There is a big difference between conversational English..the English you use in social, context rich settings, and academic English. Conversational English usually takes only 1-2 years to attain where academic English can take anywhere from 4-7 years. So what happens in this 2-5 year window? That's what we call the Academic Achievement gap where only 21% of 8th grade ELL students passed Reading and Math in 2005.

What research says is that continuing the teaching of academic content in the student's native language over a longer period of time, while they are learning English, is the way to go. The student can continue to develop cognitive skills appropriate for their grade level and not fall behind the English-speakers.

Seventy-five percent of all ELL's in the US speak Spanish in the home. What Tutor Amigos does by working with non-profit organizations and tutoring Math in Spanish is fill a gap where Early Exit programs, or lack of qualified Hispanic teachers, leave Latino English Language Learners in a void.

In the end, many of us never had to go to school in Hopelandia. But there are 2.7 million others that do now and need to have access to tutoring resources that are readily available.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Message from the Founder

Goodbye 2007 and welcome 2008!

2007 was an incredible year as we made the leap from a promising idea to the real world with Tutor Amigos. We have so many accomplishments to celebrate from developing, launching and then relaunching our website to tutoring our first students and starting an online tutoring trial with the Boys & Girls club of Lawrence, MA. I am very thankful to all those whose time, interest and effort have helped us take these first steps. I also want to thank our students who, whether they realize it or not, are pioneers in education. Their curiosity and willingness to try something new has enabled us to blaze a trail that we aim to have many more students follow in 2008.

2008 is starting off with a bang. We are already busy moving forward with an exciting new initiative and..a wee bit of recognition.

Semi-finalist for the 2008 Echoing Green fellowship
First, I received word that Tutor Amigos has been selected as a semi-finalist for the 2008 Echoing Green fellowship among nearly 1,500 applicants. Echoing Green is a provider of seed funding and support to social entrepreneurs "with bold ideas for social change in order to launch groundbreaking organizations around the world."

The Tutor Amigos idea is simple: to connect over the internet, math tutors in Latin America with Latino students struggling in their transition to the North American math classroom. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Latinos that need our service the most, are least likely to be able to obtain it due to low incomes and lack of access to a computer/broadband. Can this be overcome? I believe it can by partnering with nonprofits, schools and communities who serve Latino immigrants.

Do you know an organization that needs help? Contact me:
jonathan(at)tutoramigos.com and let's talk.

New initiative
Grant funding aside, my goal is to create a socially missioned, yet self sustaining organization. To this end, we have launched http://www.tutoramigos.es to offer our services in Spain. Spain is an attractive market in terms of computer/broadband penetration, a strong currency, a common language and a common need for academic support in Math as well as Science and English. I believe with our strong value proposition, we can make some waves across the Atlantic in Spain and create another current to ride as we continue to experiment and learn in 2008.

As always, questions and comments are welcome.

All the best,

Jonathan