Buenos Aires, the large, crowded capital city of Argentina, has many of the environmental problems that other large cities struggle with, such as toxic waste and air pollution. However, it also has significantly less green space per person than what the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends. A 2014 policy to make Buenos Aires a greener, more environmentally friendly city states that the city has 5 m2 of green space per inhabitant rather than the 10-15 m2 per inhabitant which the WHO recommends. In terms of trees, the city has 1 tree per 7 inhabitants, compared to the WHO recommendation of 1 tree per 3 inhabitants (Plan Buenos Aires Verde, 2014).
For my fourth and final co-op at Antioch College, I had two main objectives: first, to immerse myself in the Spanish language in order to successfully complete my Spanish Language Focus and Spanish Capstone Project before graduation, and two, to do research to be used as the basis for my senior thesis. Additionally, I had enough credits to accommodate a six-month co-op, rather than the usual three-months. With all of this in mind, I decided to go to Buenos Aires, based on recommendations from peers and connections Antioch has in the city. In order to fund my co-op, I applied to two scholarships; the Lloyd Family Co-op Student Fellowship in Peace Studies and World Law and the Great Lakes Colleges’ Oral History in the Liberal Arts (OHLA) Undergraduate Fellowship, both of which I was awarded.
The OHLA Undergraduate Fellowship gave me the opportunity to seriously pursue oral history as a methodology for my research. As a student of anthropology with a focus on environmental issues, I already knew I wanted to study an environmental problem using qualitative research methods. Through online research I learned about the lack of green spaces in Buenos Aires and reached out to a contact in the city, Melina Scioli (founder of Club de Reparadores), who informed me of city policies and directed me to NGOs doing work to ameliorate this problem. When I arrived in the city a couple of months later, she introduced me to a non-profit organization called Un Arbol Para Mi Vereda (A Tree for My Sidewalk).
Un Arbol Para Mi Vereda is a non-profit organization with a mission to plant more trees in the City of Buenos Aires and the surrounding area. The organization was founded around the year 2012, with a project that involved planting trees in empty sidewalks and building interdependent relationships between neighbors and the trees. Five years later, they are involved with many environmental projects including helping maintain gardens in schools and neighborhoods, helping businesses with composting programs, organization tree planting events for businesses looking to offset their carbon footprint, and the project I was mostly involved with, a year-long undertaking with the city Agencia de Protección Ambiental (APrA or Environmental Protection Agency) to cultivate 8,000 of 20,000 trees the APrA plans to cultivate every year in order to eventually plant around the city.
Facebook for Un Arbol Para Mi Vereda: https://www.facebook.com/UnArbolParaMiVereda/
A couple weeks after I arrived in Buenos Aires in July, I started volunteering for Un Arbol Para Mi Vereda on Wednesdays and Fridays. My mornings were early, as we drove across the city for about an hour to arrive around 9am in the green house/growing area of the APrA in Villa Soldati, located in the southern part of Buenos Aires. At the green house, we shelled the seeds we gathered, mixed dirt, sowed the seeds, transplanted sprouts and saplings into larger containers, and watered the plants. A few months into my stay in Buenos Aires, I started volunteering more often, anywhere from three to four times a week. It was meaningful work, and fun work. We used our bodies, worked with plants, drank mate, shared conversation, and occasionally began the work day with stretching and yoga.
This project was particularly interesting for me because it combined many of my interests from socio-economic issues to relations between non-governmental organizations and governmental institutions. Villa Soldati, where the green house and the laboratory building for the APrA is located, is comprised of many poor neighborhoods with marginalized populations, many of whom are immigrants from Bolivia, Paraguay, or Peru. The tree cultivation project I worked on also had a scholarship program which paid people from these neighborhoods to work in the green house and learn how to cultivate trees. I was also able to learn about a project by the APrA in a nearby neighborhood called Villa 20, in which residents and the APrA transformed an abandoned lot into a food garden, which gave residents access to fresh, local, chemical-free produce.
Through working with Un Arbol Para Mi Vereda, I met many other individuals and organizations working on projects to increase green spaces in Buenos Aires or to better the environment in general. Meeting these people significantly enhanced my oral history project for OHLA, and by the end of my time in Buenos Aires, I was able to complete over 20 interviews with distinct individuals.
My goal with the oral history project was to learn about what motivated people to work with plants (or with environmental issues), what significance people assigned to their work, especially in terms of framing their work within larger environmental issues, what challenges existed, and what they saw for the future of their work. Oral sources “help us question the boundary between what is of concern to history and what is not” said the famous oral historian Alessandro Portelli. I believe this is especially pertinent to my project as I engage with the past and the present. Since my research focuses on current issues and work that is being done in the present, my project is both part exploration of the past and part documentation of the present. However, this line between past and present is not definite and is constantly changing. When collected ethically and archived properly, I believe oral sources can be an invaluable resource for education and strategizing, which other communities can learn from now and in the future.
Over my approximately six months in Buenos Aires, I learned so much about many of the exciting projects that people are working on in the city, while simultaneously improving my Spanish. Many of the people I met shared an enthusiasm and energy for their work that was inspiring and captivating. Many also seemed to share a conviction that our environmental crisis is not only a physical, material issue, but a cultural one. I left Buenos Aires believing more strongly than ever that a cultural transformation is necessary in order to truly change our current destructive ways in which we interact with our environment.
Thank you to the Lloyd family for awarding me their co-op scholarship, the GLCA OHLA for awarding me their fellowship, Un Arbol Para Mi Vereda for letting me work with them and making me feel like I was part of the team, Meli Scioli for introducing me to Un Arbol Para Mi Vereda, the APrA, my Spanish professor Didier Franco, the co-op faculty for all of their guidance, and all of my friends and family for their friendship and support.
My third co-op was a mixture of immersing myself in place, connecting with my roots, and searching for clues to my future. It was emotionally challenging, but immensely rewarding because I was able to contribute to a cause close to my heart and critical in this day and age.
The place was Nagasaki – the city that experienced the second and last atomic bomb attack in history. For the three months, “place” was intimately connected to my work. Nagasaki housed all the memories of the atomic bomb attack in its museums, monuments, statues, and mostly importantly, in its people. My experience working for nuclear weapons abolition would have been completely different had I had not been in this city.
This immersion in “place” was also important for my education. I took a co-op class called “Sound, Sight, and Sentiment: Phenomenology of Place,” which focused on thinking about a place in many difference ways, not just geographically. Through this online class, I was able to explore Nagasaki in detail, documenting my experience through photographs, audio, and writing.
Check out the Story Map I made of Nagasaki here.
Check out the vignette I made of Shiroyama Elementary School, the school that was closest to the atomic blast, here.
Not only did place inform my work, it was also important for me personally. While I grew up in Japan during my early years, I had never been to Nagasaki – where my grandfather went to medical school, where my mother was born, and where the Fujii family grave still lies. This co-op gave me a chance to connect with my roots and family history. Walking through the city, I felt like my grandfather was watching from above, and I hoped he was proud of the work I was doing. While he survived the bomb because he was away for summer break, many of his teachers, colleagues, and classmates did not. Though he never talked about his experience in depth, we know of all the lives lost and that he came back to Nagasaki just 10 days after the bombing. I was also able to meet a distant relative who my mother calls “sister Junko,” and her family. The remote sense of “home” I felt for Nagasaki increased knowing that I had family there too.
For my co-op job, I volunteered as a Foreign Affairs Aide at Nagasaki University’s Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (RECNA). RECNA is a new research center, founded in 2012, that works toward realizing a world without nuclear weapons, through academic research, policy recommendations, and information dissemination.
My duties mostly consisted of translation work, both ways between English and Japanese, helping with other English related activities, and assisting RECNA in hosting events and conferences. Translating documents in English to Japanese is important for making information readily available to the Japanese public, especially those who are elderly and interested in the nuclear weapons abolition movement but cannot read English very well. There were two large conferences while I was interning: the First Meeting of the Panel on Peace and Security in Northeast Asia, which met to discuss the proposal for a Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone; and the International Conference in Nagasaki, which included a Youth Forum and the United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues. My highlights were meeting the Mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, and helping the Youth Communicators create a statement and recommendation for a world free of nuclear weapons, to present at the Youth Forum in front of government officials from Japan and abroad.
While I was in Nagasaki, I also worked on my Japanese Capstone Project, which focused on peace education and anti-nuclear weapons activism in Nagasaki, with an emphasis on “young people.” I learned an incredible amount through conversations with students, educators, hibakusha (atomic-bomb survivor), and many others; attending events; and conducting formal interviews. I learned that intense educational focus on the nuclear bombings is unique to Nagasaki (and Hiroshima) and differs widely once you step outside these cities. I also learned that while there are many ways for youth to get involved, most involvement happens during elementary, middle, and high school, and ends once students enter college. I chose this topic for my Capstone Project because I am among many concerned about the loss of memory and momentum for the anti-nuclear weapons movement that will occur someday soon, when the last hibakusha passes away.
I hope to continue studying issues related to peace, conflict, and international relations. This co-op cemented in me the conviction that this is the type of work I want to be doing. I really love that co-op has the ability to transform your dreams and make you more aware of what kind of work you want to do and what kind of possibilities exist outside of what you hear about in the classroom. And as I do after every co-op, I feel eternally grateful for all those who supported me and helped me through this experience.
I surprised myself with my second co-op job. Since I worked at a law firm my last co-op, some may think working for an attorney this co-op is the opposite of a surprise. But the thing is, all summer and all fall, I dreamt of living somewhere warm during the winter. I thought I would end up in New Zealand, Mexico, or California. I definitely did not anticipate spending the winter in Chicago.
But here I am, having conquered a month in the Windy City! I have learned to equip myself on snowy days with hats, scarves, gloves and layers. And I have enjoyed some very mild weather as well, since Chicago is having an unusually warm winter. But most importantly, I have been learning a lot at Law Office of Phillip Brigham, LLC, working as a legal assistant to attorney Phillip Brigham. He is a solo practitioner mostly focused on criminal defense, civil rights and family law. What makes him special is his mission to provide affordable representation to people who would not otherwise be able to obtain representation in court, and to always be working on at least one pro bono case, even though none is required by Illinois law.
I have learned more about the work of a lawyer in the last month than I ever could have reading books, searching online, watching movies, or even just talking to someone who would know. Working closely with Phillip on a day-to-day basis, I get a peak into all of his cases, his meetings with clients, and out of office work such as going to depositions, going to court dates, and obtaining files from court. I have also learned how to draft different types of legal documents and do legal research. And most of all, I get all of my questions answered regarding things that I would not have otherwise even thought to ask if I had not been exposed to this job.
My typical weekday starts with making lunch and eating breakfast before taking the train downtown. This is one of my favorite parts of the day because I get to listen to music and read my book on the train. Once I get to the office, it is straight to business. My long running job right now involves reviewing hours upon hours of video footage of street surveillance cameras and looking for our client. The footage is often blurry and of very low quality, which prompts me to wonder why this is so in this day and age when technology is so advanced. Besides this being a rather tedious job, it can be boring as well, so I remedy this by listening to fun podcasts, such as Radiolab. (I’m learning so much about science and technology!) I also help with different cases Phillip is working on by reviewing files and drafting documents. Some recent ones have been divorces, child custodies, an attempted murder, and an international child abduction. At the end of the day, I make the same trip home, and spend the evening making dinner, doing homework, chatting with my roommate or snuggling with two cats. I squeeze in some exercise if I have time. And I would say my biggest personal challenge right now is learning to consistently get eight or more hours of sleep a night. On weekends, I like to walk around and explore different parts of the city, meet up with my friend at Myopic Books, try out different restaurants, or run on the Bloomingdale Trail. Public transportation is great in Chicago, and it has made it really easy for me to get around.
Once again, I have found myself truly appreciative of the unique experience that is cooperative education at Antioch College. Not only do I get practical work and living experience that I would not have gotten at a different institution, but I am also able to take advantage of Antioch’s great network of alumni and colleagues and learn from those who are making a difference in people’s lives. This co-op alone has already taught me so much about the legal process and how our justice system works. I am still undecided about law school and feel no pressure to change this as I am still a sophomore in college, but when I do make this decision, I am sure to draw upon this experience of working for Law Office of Phillip Brigham for direction and insight.
For my first co-op at Antioch College, I headed to New York to work as a paralegal intern at a law firm called Outten & Golden. A paralegal intern helps the paralegals, who in turn, are the ones who help the attorneys do their jobs. The attorneys at Outten & Golden advocate for workplace fairness and employee rights for workers in New York as well as throughout the nation.
My day starts with a commute that is longer than ideal, but is pleasant enough to be able to take a nap. Once I arrive in the city, I walk 15 min to reach the red brick building in which the firm is located. I make sure to get there with plenty of time to spare, because it takes a while to get to the 29th floor through the morning rush.
My work hours are from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM, with an hour for lunch, which we are allowed to work through, but they are pretty insistent on you taking your lunch hour. This is just one way in which you can see that Outten & Golden treats it’s employees well. They also have a happy hour with drinks and finger food to welcome new employees, as well as hand out free totes with the company logo on it to all of it’s employees.
During work hours, I spend most of my time at my desk, entering data, pulling legal documents from court websites, and receiving calls from prospective clients or calling back ones who left messages on the company voicemail. I also print documents to be compiled into binders, as well as scan documents from clients. However, I believe the majority of my learning has come from talking to prospective clients. Everyday, I talk to people I’ve never met, and hear about all kinds of workplace experiences, many of which are unpleasant and exploitative. Co-op is about getting work experience, and I’m getting a great one, while simultaneously learning about how many bad experiences there are as well. The hardest part for me is not getting too emotionally attached to people’s circumstances, because after you tell them that you will get their information to the attorneys and that they will get a call back, you never know which ones you yourself are going to have to call back to say that Outten & Golden will not be taking their case.
I was talking to my cousin a month or so into my job when I realized just how much I had learned about employment and employee rights in the short time I had been there. My cousin has been working at a movie theater for many years and she told me about the blatant gender discrimination that she experiences at work, as well as how she works overtime, but doesn’t get paid for it because her boss makes her sign out, so that as records go, it looks like she’s not working those extra hours. These are issues Outten & Golden addresses often, and I became very excited discussing these issues with her. I realized I had become even more passionate about employees being treated right. I really wanted to fix the situation my cousin is in, and can only hope things will change for her soon.
I always wanted to know exactly what career I will be pursuing. But over the years I’ve come to understand that it is a complicated process and that I don’t need to know the future in order to live meaningfully now. And through this experience of working at a law firm, I’m figuring out that there are so many complex questions you need to ask yourself about what kind of work you want to do. It’s not just, oh I want to be a lawyer, a teacher, a cook, or a surgeon. You have to ask yourself: What kind of environment do I want to spend the majority of my day in? Do I want to be outside? Inside? At a desk? Moving a lot? Or, What kind of people do I want to surround myself with? And what physical activity do I actually want to be doing?
Every day at the office I think about what kind of work I want to do most. And everyday I come up with some answers and more and more questions for myself. I think this was a great first co-op for me, and I am very grateful for all who helped me through this process and for Outten & Golden for having me.