Archive for August 2009

Guatemala article published on Matador Travel

August 28th, 2009 — 10:18am

I just wrote and published an article on studying Spanish in Guatemala over on, part of Matador Travel, an online community for travelers. An excerpt:

Studying Spanish in Guatemala: Quetzaltenango Vs. Antigua


Most foreign travelers looking to learn Spanish in Guatemala make Antigua their first and longest stop, charmed by its cobblestone streets and its lively bar and club scene. More serious travelers, however, take the 4-hour bus ride to Quetzaltenango (or Xela) for a different kind of experience.

While Antigua offers a lot, there are compelling reasons for giving Guatemala’s second city another look. Read more…

Stop on over, read it over and leave a comment if you’re so inclined. Thanks!

3 comments » | Travel

The word “safe” is a relative term (Lessons from Guatemala pt. 2)

August 19th, 2009 — 4:11pm


Toddlers on the backs of motorcycles. Hunching over a river of lava for a photo op. A waterfall hike over a rickety bridge (not to mention the police escort lest robbers attacked us on the way).

After four weeks in Guatemala, I’ve concluded that “safe” is a relative term at best.

It’s the little things…

Roasting marshmallows over the lava of Pacaya - a typical gringo activity outside Antigua.

Roasting marshmallows over the lava of Pacaya - a typical gringo activity outside Antigua.

Not unlike other American travelers outside the States, I had my fair share of moments thinking, “There would so be a guardrail there if this were the U.S.” But even in the more mundane instances of life, I couldn’t help but feel that we Americans are a bit over protective.

Take the children for example. Our host family had four girls under the age of 12. Almost their entire house was floored with the same unforgiving surface, including the landing next to their staircase, which in turn lacked “proper” guard rails. The entire house certainly wasn’t what I’ve learned to consider “child proof.”

And it’s not as if the kids never fell down. They did. They just learned that it hurt like crazy and so learned not to do it again.

It reminded me of a professor I had at Xavier who claimed that, if he had had kids, he would not buy them bicycle helmets. “I want them to learn to not fall on their heads!” he would exclaim.

A happy medium…

That said, I think there’s a middle ground between coddling kids and neglect, when it comes to child rearing, and between overprotective and dangerous, when it comes to safe habits in general.

Besides, as an urban dweller with a bicycle, I’m actually for bicycle helmets.

1 comment » | Travel

Total immersion is the only way to learn a language (Lessons from Guatemala, pt. 1)

August 17th, 2009 — 3:08pm

Recently my wife and I returned from Guatemala, after spending a month learning Spanish, living with host families and traveling. I’ve told countless stories to different friends since we’ve come stateside again, but I wanted to group some of my recollections into observations here.

When it comes to learning a language, immersion really is the only way…

We studied at ICA, a small Spanish school in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

We studied at ICA, a small Spanish school in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

Learning languages is a tricky thing. At some point, you have to realize that you’re not learning how to translate that language into your mother tongue. Your learning how to think, act, talk, live in that language. The difference is distinct, and yet I run into so many folks who don’t catch it.

Take learning Spanish in Guatemala, for example. We stayed with a host family in Quetzaltenango, and after one week of fetching the dictionary from the other room to facilitate conversation with our host family at dinner, we finally realized it was more trouble than it was worth. We stopped attempting to translate every word and phrase into English, and started piecing together the meaning of conversations from context.

The remolachas effect

At first I may not have understood what remolachas were, sure. But I knew that when our mamá shredded them up, soaked them in vinegar and dumped them in a heaping mound on our plates, I’d be stuck eating two portions because Laura couldn’t stand them.

And just as we left the dictionary in the other room, we left phrases such as, “¿Como se dice … en ingles?” at the door, so to speak.

When I returned from Guatemala a friend of mine told me a story of an immersion program he’d heard of. Basically upon admission students pledge not to speak in their native language for a month, except for emergencies.

Have you ever tried learning a language? Which ones? Got any tips?

Comment » | Travel

Early morning reading…

August 14th, 2009 — 9:23am


The Evolution of Blogging

Over at GigaOm, Om Malik argues for an evolution of blogging toward real-time, social publishing. Basically, context matters now more than ever after the rise of real-time mass messaging services such as Twitter, Facebook’s News Feed, Friendfeed, and the like. This explosion of short snippets of information and data points makes context paramount.

The Pushbutton Web: Realtime Becomes Real

Anil Dash describes a new set of technologies he dubs the “Pushbutton Web,” which he says will push online publishing ever further into realtime communication. He writes for a technical audience, but it’s certainly apropos in the wake of Facebook’s purchase of Friendfeed. I say that because I’ve had quite a few friends ask me in the last few days why Facebook buying friendfeed matters (many of whom had never heard of friendfeed before the news hit). My answer is that the Web values immediacy. Facebook, which has always been more ‘turn-based,’ can better compete with Twitter with friendfeed’s technology (not to mention their development team, which includes a bunch of ex-Googlers).


John Borthwick, CEO of a company called betaworks, describes the emerging Web as a stream, and offers some great analogies to the uninitiated for understanding what’s happening online.

Comment » | Journalism, Media, New Media, Newspapers

Young Journalist on the Job Hunt

August 13th, 2009 — 1:21pm

I recently got a question from a young writer type asking how to get into the publishing industry right now. Below was my advice. I had meant to post this months ago, but got sidetracked…

Bad News…

Layoff Sign

As for getting into the industry in general (in this economic climate), I’m not sure I have any good advice. Here’s my bad news first: Everywhere you turn it seems that more and more publications are laying folks off, cutting back circulation or stuck in a hiring freeze. It’s a bad job market, and from what I hear from friends, colleagues present and past, etc., it’s not a good time to be looking. You mentioned Southern Living, for example? While there, I was told the best thing about working there was the job security because they never let anyone go. Then this…

Silver lining…

But here’s my good news. You’re young, so you don’t need to be paid as much as someone who has been there forever and a day. You’re young, so you’re more tech-savvy (I used to cringe when people said that because I thought it reflected an ageist attitude, but now that I’ve worked for a while, I’ve basically accepted it as true). And you’re young, so you’re flexible and can take on long work hours, have more time learn a lot of different skills since you don’t have kids, etc.

My take…

So here’s my advice in general: I’d look at getting involved in writing as much as possible. I’d look into a company such as b5 media (a network of bloggers). They don’t pay much, but the experience you would gain by a) writing on a daily (if not hourly) basis would be invaluable and (b) learning the vaguely defined skill of “building an online audience” is extremely valued these days. If you can head into a job interview at a more traditional media company such as the ones you described and tell them how you launched a blog with b5 media and grew it from nothing to 10,000 visits a month – well, that’s going to mean a lot to them. Also check into mediabistro & Poynter – they have good job postings.

Finally, my last bit would be to look online (as in, look at new/online media companies) in general and avoid print. Print companies aren’t hiring right now and, to be honest, I don’t think they are all that exciting to work for (that’s my “new media” bias though). At Southern Living, I was given a lot of encouragement to try different things on their Web site, because I didn’t work on the print side of things, and it was awesome! I launched a podcast, a blog, picked up some (rudimentary) Flash experience and learned a bit about Omniture’s Web Analytics software. It was a true jack-of-all trades experience, but I couldn’t have gotten it fetching coffee for the food editors like some of the other interns who worked on the print side of things.

Anything you would add, subtract, disagree with?

Comment » | Journalism, Media, News, Newspapers

Back to top