Jobs in Buenos Aires
How to Live, Write, and Teach to Pay the Bills and Enjoy the City
It was time to settle down and find something worthwhile to do with myself. I had just traveled 3,000 kilometers south across the Patagonian steppe with my girlfriend in an effort to reach Ushuaia, the end of the world, as quickly and as cheaply as possible. The operation had involved a mixture of hitchhiking and overnight buses and had taken a little over two weeks, which included sightseeing stops at the caves of Las Grutas, the marine life-packed Puerto Madryn and the Perito Moreno Glacier—the world’s only chunk of ice that is still advancing. Aside from long hours walking along deserted highways, the voyage had been spectacular. However the south of Argentina had been expensive. Once back to Buenos Aires it took less than a week of lying around on my girlfriend’s couch for her to inform me that it was time to move out and get a job.
Starting a Journalism Job Search
Perhaps still high on the sense of accomplishment from hitchhiking to the southernmost city in the world, I felt capable of doing anything. I had also published several travel articles in newspapers back home, so I had some clippings and a little writing experience under my belt. Besides that, I had recently applied for a master’s degree in journalism at several universities and was keen to gain a little hands-on experience while I waited to hear back from them. I began by searching the Internet and travel guides for English publications based out of Buenos Aires.
Sometimes it is easier to get into the freelance writing market outside of English speaking countries, since there is less competition. Many expatriate newspapers in Latin America often are searching for fresh material. The best way to contact information the editor is with a query letter including your previous writing samples. Even better, propose your own idea for a possible article. Just be careful to analyze the newspaper to see whether they tend to publish freelancer’s work. You can tell by looking at the authors’ source or bios: if you see that the majority of articles specify “Associated Press” without a specific author at the beginning or end, the newspaper probably only buys articles from large syndicates. Newspapers that list most of their articles as being written by “staff reporters” are similarly difficult to break into. There are exceptions to every rule of course, and the right query and experience may land you work anywhere.
Journalism Job Found
My search took only a few days and produced fairly quick results. Almost at once I discovered The Buenos Aires Herald on a newsstand and mailed off a letter of introduction. Several days passed without a response before I thought to take a closer look at the newspaper. When I did, I noticed the majority of articles were bought from a mixture of English and American newspapers, and I realized I was waiting in vain.
In San Telmo, the archetypal romantic porteño neighborhood, I encountered a second-hand English bookstore that carried copies of another English newspaper, The Argentimes. I took a copy back to the hostel where I was staying and read it from cover to cover. Within an hour, I had sent a cover letter complete with clippings of a few of my previous publications. A week later I was discussing article ideas with the editor over a mate cocido—a characteristically Argentine tea.
Less than a month into my stay at Buenos Aires and I already had my first assignment—I was to write an article about hitchhiking across Patagonia. To find a little privacy I moved out of my hostel to a cheap hotel by the famous Plaza Dorrega. As I began working on my article, the sound of tango wafted through my open window, instilling my writing with the peculiarly “dramatic” characteristic I had come to recognize as distinctly porteño.
Indeed San Telmo seemed like the perfect place to begin my career as a journalist. With its Bohemian edge, it came as no surprise that the neighborhood was one of the purported birthplaces of tango. Cobblestone bricks were occasionally interspersed with plaques commemorating locals who were “disappeared” during the military dictatorship in the 1970s. Many of the streets were lined with cafes and antique markets and a Sunday fair was a constant reminder of the city’s endemic sense of nostalgia.
English Teaching Jobs
Unfortunately writing did not pay the bills, though it provided a good way to get some experience under my belt. I began firing off resumes to every English teaching academy I could track down in the province.
Although there are numerous English teaching academies around, do not expect to walk right into a full-time teaching job. Many of the jobs are with agencies that send teachers out to residential addresses. Often they will start you out with no more than a few classes a week for a trial period. If you stick around and if they are satisfied with your teaching, they will begin to offer you more classes as they get new students. They pay decently per lesson, but one of the problems with this kind of work is that you will have to travel around the city to give individual lessons, often out in distant suburbs. If you are going through one of these institutions, you should be prepared to support yourself for several months before you begin making enough to cover your living expenses. In the beginning you may struggle to make ends meet but with time you should be able to accumulate enough lessons to provide you with a reasonable income.
Argentine job search engines like Zona Jobs, Bumeran and Computrabajo are good places to start, though in my experience it often helps to find the address of a particular English academy and just show up looking sharp and ask to speak to someone in charge. It is good to meet people face to face. However, if you are limiting your search to the Internet, it is also a good idea to send your resume to any agency whose contact you discover. You never know when an academy is searching for extra help.
Make sure to get a cell phone before you begin your search. The high number of pickpockets on the trains and subways has created one positive benefit—it is quite cheap to get a hold of a second-hand phone. Hawkers sell new phone chips right on the trains, often for less than three dollars—this is possibly the reason why the number of registered cell phone numbers is nearly twice Argentina’s population. You will need to buy phone cards from a corner store and the credit goes quickly if you make a lot of calls but it is a good way to at least establish a reliable contact. Be cautioned that from a cell phone, it is usually cheaper to call another cell phone than to call a fixed phone, and vice versa. When I was searching for apartments and jobs I often used a call center to phone fixed lines. You will see them everywhere, they are called locutorios.
With a little persistence you should be able to find something in or around San Telmo for under US$300. But be careful to check out the neighborhood before making a decision. Although Buenos Aires is generally fairly safe, many of the nicer neighborhoods are surrounded by more dangerous areas. If the rent of a place seems too cheap to be true, it probably is. A good way to familiarize yourself with the city is to ride the buses instead of the subways when you are moving around. Although greater Buenos Aires’ bus system is incredibly complex, with hundred of different bus lines crossing through the city and suburbs, they have all been organized into a pocket sized directory. The Guía T comes complete with maps detailing bus routes and even pictures of the number, color, and shape of each individual bus line to help you distinguish between the often chaotic mix of diesel-fuelled monsters that tear through every other street in apparent disdain of the need for mufflers. You can pick up a copy of the “T Guide” at most newsstands and corner stores. The alphabetized list of street names and their corresponding location on the map is a must when searching for addresses.
Like anywhere, searching for a shared place is often the cheapest option, and websites such as craigslist offer plenty of advertisements. The latter is good because it is often used by other expats searching for roommates. In the meantime, San Telmo is literally packed with hostels and cheap hotels. Many hostels in Buenos Aires offer discounts if you pay in advance for longer periods of time—especially during the off-season.
Alternatively, Argentina Exchange is an agency that helps students and youths find apartments, volunteer positions and occasionally jobs. Once you have paid their membership fee (around $15), they will search for apartments for you and even set up interviews to check places out and meet landlords. They also give out free passes to clubs and organize social events where you can meet other foreigners living in Buenos Aires.
Over a period of around six months I ended up being offered lessons teaching with several different academies. Although I already had a year of experience teaching English in Japan, it did not seem to offer me much advantage over others who were also the job hunting. Several people staying in the same hostel began teaching lessons despite their lack of experience. As in most cases, a TEFL certificate certainly helps, but is not entirely necessary. Apart from this I ended up writing several long articles for The Argentimes complete with photos and got a great set of clippings for my portfolio.