Every month, Fulbridge features a Fulbrighter from around the world to get a sense of what life is like in different placements. This month, Lisa Gagnon, a 2017-2018 ETA in Latvia, talked with Teagan Faran, a 2019 Arts grantee in Argentina. The interview was lightly edited for clarity.
Why did you choose Argentina? Argentina is the birthplace of so many genres of art that are inherently multidisciplinary. Tango especially called to me after I played violin with a group in my hometown back in high school.
Where are you located and what organization are you affiliated with? I’m playing with the Orquesta Escuela de Emilio Balcarce, El Martino Orquesta Tipica, and have a lot of one-on-one advisors through the Universidad Nacional de las Artes and around Buenos Aires.
What is your research project/topic? I am researching different performance traditions to better understand how to strengthen communities. I am looking to expand our Northern American concert styles to be more multidisciplinary and better reflect our urban populations. I’m also learning traditional folk playing techniques.
What does a normal weekday look like for you? Usually I wake up around 7:30 to prepare for the day. I box at a local gym and will stop by the open air market for any produce I need to make lunch and dinner. I usually have around 3-4 hours of rehearsals or lessons each day coupled with another 3-4 hours of personal study. I’ve chosen to live in San Telmo in the South of Buenos Aires and a lot of my rehearsals take place in Almagro, so I get to travel around the city every day too which I enjoy. San Telmo is also special because of its historic market – with any extra time in my day I go there to practice my Castellano with the artisans who are always incredible friendly and helpful.
How have you gotten involved in your community outside of your direct research project? I’ve been attending the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (you may know it as the Mormon church). There I’ve taken up the role of playing piano for the choir and teaching English to those who want to pursue education or work in the States.
What have been some challenges? Getting accustomed to life outside of your home country is never easy. Argentina is the country with the third highest inflation rate, so there is an air of uncertainty around the city. Logistically speaking, the accent here is also very different than other Spanish speaking countries so that took some getting used to! Being Asian in South America also is an adjustment, so managing my emotional energy is also a priority.
I think I have never quite felt like I fit in perfectly anywhere. Growing up, I saw that I wasn’t as Asian as my friends who went to Chinese school, but I certainly wasn’t “just white” either. At Sunday School, I knew that I went to the same church as everyone else there, but my Dad wasn’t a member like theirs was. In Ann Arbor, I wasn’t “just” a classical violinist, but I certainly didn’t feel like an authentic jazz player either. As a result, I’ve spent some time thinking about what it means to belong to multiple communities and how sometimes it makes you feel like you belong to none. But there is a lot of beauty in an outside perspective, and I am hoping to build on that good fortune here.
What have been some highlights? Since I’ve arrived, I’ve been able to start learning bandoneon (an instrument invented in Germany and used in traditional tango). My trip to Salta was also incredibly special to see the diversity of Argentina.
What was your best presentation or professional experience so far? I was honored to play alongside two of my professors at La Scala de San Telmo in a performance that fused jazz and tango.
Also, our mid-year conference was a great time to share the progress we’ve all made in the past few months and to get re-inspired for the second half of the grant! We were set up in Rio, so it was a real blessing to get to see a neighbor country as well. One of the most eye-opening parts of Fulbright for me is that you are essentially moving to another world where no one knows who you are. You get to really decide for yourself who you want to be and how you want to exist in your community. The conference was a great reminder of this and the diversity in communities that Fulbright brings to us.
What will you miss the most? I’ve really fallen in love with mate (mah-tay) culture – the sharing of a comforting warm beverage that happens every day in rehearsal or in lessons. It creates a sense of immediate brotherhood and care for the people around you.
Why should prospective researchers apply to Argentina? You should come to Argentina if you are really interested in expanding your worldview and getting a different perspective on how society functions. It’s really a land of contrast – so many warnings about danger on the streets, but also some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Everyone in my neighborhood looks out for each other.
Music is “Pablo” by Jose Martinez, arranged for two violins by Leonardo Saurez Paz. Teagan recorded both parts. Footage taken on a Google Pixel 2, featuring scenes from the San Telmo Market, the Day of Remembrance, and day-to-day Buenos Aires events. Check out more of Teagan’s videos on YouTube here!
Teagan Faran is a multidisciplinary violinist who grew up outside of Buffalo, NY. She graduated in 2018 from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Music in Violin Performance and is currently living in Buenos Aires. In addition to being a Fulbright student, she is also a Turn the Spotlight Fellow and runs the all-arts collective Red Shoe Company. After her Fulbright grant in Argentina, she plans to return to school for her Masters to open up pathways to continue to explore.