Who is Sharon Salt?
You might have noticed that Vivi is no longer the only one writing on this site. Wondering who this new Sharon Salt is? Read an intimate G-chat conversation between Vivi and Sharon – about their experiences in Buenos Aires.
VIVI: Que tal?! I’m sorry I’ve been delaying this interview … isn’t it strange when you interview so many people, but you put a lot of weight on some interviews? This feels like an important post- introducing Sharon Salt officially on MyBeautifulAir. You’ve been writing for the site since February, so the time has definitely come for a proper intro.
SALT: Haha, yes, I get that.
VIVI: So what’s new in Buenos Aires? Any trips to see the fam soon?
SALT: I actually just got back from a trip home.
VIVI: Ok so where is home?
SALT: Outside of Chicago. It used to be a small farm town but now my parents have moved to a proper suburb.
VIVI:: What’s it like there? (I’ve never been to the midwest!)
SALT: Beautiful. Really, really flat.
I went to school in Vermont — you know, which is absolutely beautiful there with all the mountains, but I always feel like I can breathe easier in the midwest. There’s nothing interrupting the sky, and you can just see forever. We didn’t actually farm — my mom’s a nurse and my dad a doctor — but it was a farm town, like FFA was pretty big, and there were ag-focused classes at my high school. Some of my friends raised goats or chickens or lived on farms.
VIVI: So why did you choose Vermont? What did you study?
SALT: I went to Middlebury College because it has such good language departments: foreign languages but also English. I ended up studying Chinese, mostly for the challenge, and I just fell in love with it.
VIVI: So you like a challenge? That must have been what sent you to china? Tell me about that.
SALT: Yeah, absolutely.
I kind of always knew I’d live outside of the States for as long as possible, and I had been to China before. So after I graduated, I went to China – to Shanghai and then Xiamen, which is this small island/city across the strait from Taiwan. It kind of felt like living in an amusement park.
VIVI: When / why?
SALT: I studied abroad in Hangzhou, and we did a big trip up to Beijing and Inner Mongolia, which is, surprisingly, a part of China, so I had seen different regions.
But it’s much different when you’re like, okay, what do I pack with me to LIVE in a place, and the idea of not really knowing when you’ll come back, and the idea of living without peanut butter for so long! 😉
Though I suppose Argentina’s not much better on that front. (Thank God for Mil Mantecas!)
Xiamen is in the process of becoming this great vacation place, a good place for expats and tourists too, but it’s not quite there yet. So not too many people are there, and they keep trying to build all these fantastical parks and buildings and getting money to build more, and it’s kind of halted at the moment, but they have big plans for it. Anyway, right now, it’s still all palm trees and beaches, beach parties — I didn’t know there were places like that in China.
VIVI: So why did you want to live abroad, in general?
SALT: Well I was fortunate enough to travel when I was younger, and I knew how I felt after long trips — that I had really learned a lot and grown in a way that I couldn’t get from home.
Just participating in other cultures and becoming more tolerant, more flexible, and interested.
VIVI: Seeing life constructed in a different language / experiencing life from the perspective of a different location/ culture?
SALT: Right. Language has always been a big thing for me, and a part of me also felt like, I didn’t have a reason to go anywhere, so I could go anywhere, and why not abroad?
VIVI: I’ve asked and been asked that question ‘why did you move abroad?’ often. It’s very hard to answer on a surface level. For me personally, there were so many experiences that lead to moving abroad. It was deeply personal, an inherent part of my identity, tied into how I related with others, how I saw the world, what I was running away from, my relationship w my parents, and the economy. I feel like these things don’t always come out when talking about “why move abroad” … because its hard to put into words!
SALT: It’s just a mess of words and an emotional soup for me too, definitely.
VIVI: Emotional soup – love that.
SALT: I’m not saying, either, that moving abroad is The Only Way — not even for me!!
It has been a process for me. Once I got to China, asking myself, “Okay, why am I here and what do I want to do with this?” I second-guess myself a lot, and I think that’s natural, everyone does
VIVI: Moving abroad makes one very introspective, no?
SALT: I think I’ve gotten stronger second-guessing myself abroad.
The way I explain it is that if you graduate and move to New York and get a job, you might not be happy and you might second-guess yourself, but fewer people are going to sit there and tell you you’re doing it wrong.
And yes — it makes you introspective, which I probably didn’t need, to be honest, to be MORE introspective.
VIVI: Were people disapproving of your choice to move abroad? (my family was.)
SALT: Luckily, my family was very supportive, and I don’t think it surprised anyone.
But sometimes if I’m trying to untangle things over here, I feel a little bit of the “Well why did you leave, you made it harder on yourself”.
No one’s ever said anything quite to that effect, but it comes out in conversations sometimes, an undercurrent of it.
VIVI: I experienced that so often – I felt like since friends/acquaintances couldn’t even fathom moving/living abroad, there was sometimes a fundamental disconnect.
So what lead you from China to BA? Walk me through the story.
SALT: Well, basically I was in China, and my first job hadn’t worked out, so I was teaching English. I was living with one of my best friends in Xiamen, and I was beginning to think about grad school, which led me to think about all the things I wanted to do before grad school; one of which was to learn another language, and to live in another place.
I don’t think grad school has to be the end-all be-all of everything, but I could also pretty easily imagine getting tied down to a good job in the States or something, too, because that does happen.
So I just decided to move to Buenos Aires and try it. I used my teaching money to book the flight and arranged to sleep on a friend’s futon, gave myself six months to see if it would work.
Again, I had this feeling like, I don’t have a reason to go anywhere, so I should really just let myself choose. My friend and I in Xiamen would always say “we can do anything but we can’t do nothing” for those kinds of things — I don’t know if that makes sense.
Well, and I already spoke Chinese, so. I just wanted to learn something new. I got to BA in February of 2012.
VIVI: So – why BA?
SALT: I had studied for my TEFL in Chile the summer after graduation, and I stopped over in BA for a week to visit another good friend of mine — this guy and the friend I was living with in Xiamen are two of my best friends, I love them so much. So I had been here before, and he knew I was looking for somewhere to go, so he kind of planted the idea in my head.
And then I just did it. Though, there was a time when I wasn’t so sure I was actually going to go through with it. I met someone in China right before coming over to BA.
So that, again, emotional soup.
VIVI: It’s all a big web of reasons and connections. How was the transition from China to BA? How shocked were you – or how would you compare the two?
SALT: Ah, what a question!!
The transition itself wasn’t toooo bad. I’ve learned to adapt pretty quickly, I think, but for example — just general issues of safety here are still alarming for me. I was an idiot and my purse got stolen from me in the first week in BA. Whereas in Xiamen, I could go for a midnight run if I wanted down to the beach and nobody would be anything but the nicest to me.
VIVI: Ouch. Robbed in the first week. #trauma
SALT: That took a lot of getting used to, and it didn’t help that I was living in Once, either.
You can never let your guard down. Even last week, when I was in the States, I was asking my mom, like, “Do you think it will be okay if I put my purse on the back of my chair?”
SALT: It’s a good lesson though. I grew up in a small farm town, went to school in Vermont, then went to China, so I needed to learn.
VIVI: Living in BA can be a rough real world wake up.
For me i feel like i lost a lot of innocence seeing things like homeless kids in the streets, or people huffing paint on the sidewalks, etc, in BA. Even though I felt worldly – BA is a fallen city in a lot of ways – it was a new sight to my eyes.
But knowing that never deterred me from loving BA, and since you overstayed your six months … guessing you must have started to love the city, too ?
SALT: Yes, we have a bit of a tumultuous relationship though.
For the first six months, it was very much like: “wait, I love you, so why won’t you let me find a decent job?” That’s always been the struggle for me here: money.
VIVI: The money is a struggle for that entire country! The damn peso!!! I always felt like I had to doubly justify being there because I wasn’t making enough money. Even when I did make money, it was in pesos, so it was only valid in BA and had no power to translate.
SALT: Trying to explain it to other people, it’s just like, where do you even start? I just started buying plants with my extra money.
SALT: Right, I don’t know. I wanted a dog but that would not be a Responsible Decision at this point in my life, as my mom frequently reminds me, haha. So I started buying plants with my extra pesos. Also I just love how everyone has plants on their balconies here, it’s lovely.
VIVI: Haha, sounds like my mom too. She’d be like: “make wise decisions Vivi – there are consequences”. In one way – the inflated currency is liberating – you stop doing things for money. You do things for love and passion. But … ideally you’d make money for your passion … ideally.
SALT: Right, but it’s just walking the tight rope in the meantime, doing what you want to do when you can but still somehow (somehow!!!), and raking in enough that you can pay rent and maybe buy some lentils and rice. It’s hard, too, because I’d love to be able to know how long I’m going to be here. I want to stay, but I don’t know how long I can stay.
We’ll see. Sometimes things have a way of coming together.
VIVI: I believe that.
Tell me about your Argie boyfriend.
SALT: My friend who was here when I moved down introduced me to Agus, my boyfriend. It was so nice because we all got along so well and three of us would hang out, and then about a month in, we realized we had something.
VIVI: What do you think about dating an Argentine? Lets face it – they get a bad rep.
SALT: You know what?
It’s the other Argentines who promote that the most, I think! Every time a Porteño hears I’m dating a Porteño, I get the “Ojooo, ojo, eh, ojitoooo.” But Agus is obviously different or I wouldn’t be with him. Though I’m sure they’d make the point that that’s what all the girls think, haha.
VIVI: Haha I dont know … my Argentine boyfriends fit the stereotype in many ways – but there were so major advantages that came along with that, as far as I was concerned.
They were very affectionate, and caring, brought me into the family, and chivalric – which I like! Also very passionate and sensitive – my ex cried all the time! They are a very different breed from the stoic American man, and they work out a lot … so they’re hot!
SALT: Yes, all of this, absolutely. I know, one of the things that surprised me the most was that they didn’t have the same fear of commitment – generally speaking, of course.
VIVI: Aha!!! Here’s my favorite topic. Do you have a fear of commitment? I think a lot of expats do – myself for example.
SALT: The easy answer is yes. With guys, I’m not sure…
My go-to excuse is that I’m very picky, so I only pursue seeing someone if I feel like it’s something — doesn’t even have to be Something, but at least little s something, you know?
But you could argue that I’m scared of commitment, sure. Though with Agus, it was like, no questions asked, here we are and we’re so good for each other.
SALT: Were you with someone when you decided to go head back stateside?
VIVI: No – I have been single for over a year and a half. my last Argie boyfriend cheated on me, and it was so traumatic that I exclusively started dating gay men, which was fabulous.
SALT: No! He cheated?! That outweighs all the +s of the stereotype ….
VIVI: Haha yes. That part of the stereotype was also proven true. #liveandlearn
SALT: Boo. Don’t like.
VIVI: Right? #karma haha
I found that I had a hard time committing to anything, because it would mean that I’d have to commit to Argentina, and in my mind, committing to AR meant abandoning my own country.
Im not sure it was rational. I think our entire generation has a noticeable fear of commitment.
SALT: That’s interesting. It makes sense, in a lizard-brain kind of way.
In terms of jobs and where to live, I definitely fear committing. I know I want to go back to the States eventually, so that can be hard to admit when you’re dating abroad. I know I want to raise my family in the States, but how do you bring that up?
I think oftentimes people can hear that as a kind of “Well the States are better,” which is not at all my point – but the States are mine.
So how do you compromise that?
VIVI: You’re speaking to my heart. But, I also think that raising a family knowing two countries would be pretty rad. Bilingual kids are pretty smart.
SALT: Absolutely. Bilingual babies? I DIE.
VIVI: En serio!
It is really hard to bring it up! As modern women we are under all of these pressures – negotiating between personal ambitions and career goals, romance and a biological clock, being told by the world that we can’t have it all, and then sacrificing even more to live abroad … which adds a load of confusion.
SALT: Very very true. You sacrifice even more to live abroad in a lot of ways.
Not only do I have to figure out how to marry my personal ambitions and career, but I often feel I don’t even have the foundation of my career yet, that I’ve just thrown a few precious years aside for the hell of it. Which of course isn’t entirely true — in my heart of hearts I know this is for me, and that it’s building up to something — but when you don’t yet know what that something is, it’s terrifying!
VIVI: I am fully convinced that the brave choices pay off, if you play it right.
It reminds me of what Steve Jobs said – that you just have to trust that the dots line up in the future, but its very hard to feel that when in our formative twenties.
SALT: Reminding yourself of that all the time can be hard, and you lose sight of things from time to time. I’m not sure where I’m going, but I know the direction, and I’m picking up things on the way.
VIVI: Do you have any examples of your past dots connecting to the present?
SALT: Well, in college I took two writing workshops and really enjoyed it, but didn’t think much of it, but that got me interested in short stories, which led me to write a few posts for The Hairpin, just for fun, which got me this job with you. I always liked writing, never really thought of it doing anything for me, but it is.
VIVI: I love that!! You were actually a dot-connection-trust-the-universe experience for me.
SALT: Really? How’d that work?
VIVI: I spent about ten months designing MyBeautifulAir, working with my friend Tatiana on the new design. It was so much mental / design / organization work, and when it launched, I didn’t really know what the site was. Then i felt this big urge to leave BA not long after.
I was terrified – asking myself, why did I just put all of this work and energy into this site, if only now to abandon it?
But I couldn’t fight this feeling, (I really tried) that I was supposed to go home for awhile. So I just trusted that whatever would happen would happen … and if it meant the site was abandoned – so be it.
I had enough posts already written to keep posting for a month, and during that time, I kept recieving all of these inquiries, so I decided to find someone to write for the site.
It was a complete moment of enlightenment – that by leaving, I didn’t abandon my site at all – it just put me in a position to make it a platform for others to contribute, too. By stepping away, I was enabled to make my site much bigger (and better!) than I could have by staying in Buenos Aires as the sole contributor.
It was very validating for me to be able to enable another writer. You reminded me a lot of myself (pretty sure you’re cooler than me though), and I thought about how I struggled so much to find writing opportunities. To be able to give them to someone in a similar walk of life felt amazing. And – Tatiana, who designed my website – is now my business partner – and we design other people’s websites!
So … dots connect, I’m a believer!
SALT: It’s great that you were able to listen to yourself when you needed to go back. Moving abroad, there’s an element of adventure there — but going home can be hard to come to terms with.
I love that you guys are partners now. Dots do connect.
VIVI: Going home is an adventure too, luckily. I see myself back in BA – eventually.
So, thanks for connecting dots in our intersecting webs!
Also, why did you elect to write under a pen name?
SALT: Well I’m just scared of the internet in general, like a loser. It’s the Wild West and it’s scary!
VIVI: The final frontier! Is the fear of someone you don’t know finding you – or someone you do know finding you?
SALT: I wish that, now that we all know the rules, we could start from the beginning. I’m more afraid of someone I do know finding me. Definitely. Give me a creeper any day.
I guess just the idea that some people take things from the internet and think it makes up all of who you are, that it somehow represents you as a real person — when it doesn’t! Not at all!! That’s what gets me.
VIVI: Speaking of, I found you in The Huffington Post looking like a super model….story please.
SALT: Basically, my friend’s friend was starting a travel site, fathomaway.com, and asked if I would throw together an article for them, so I did, about the Chinese wedding photography industry. I had those pictures from when I was researching it while I was abroad in Hangzhou, so I sent them, and they used them, and it got blasted across the internet for a hot sec. It‘s absurdddddly airbrushed.
VIVI: It still looks just like you though, and it’s beautiful.
SALT: I mean, it’s me! for sure! But it’s strange. They had to pin me into these tinyyy dresses, because I can’t even buy clothes in China, let alone wear little sample sizes. They crammed my feet into these tinyyyyy high heels.
VIVI: Ok – i have a client call in 5 …. what else needs to go in the interview? Interview aside – this was an awesome convo.
SALT: Definitely! It always good talking to people who have been in similar situations to where I’m at now, to get out of myself and remember that everything is more than okay.
VIVI: I have to remind myself that on an hourly basis!
SALT: How do you feel now that you’re back in the States though? At peace with the decision, I hope?
VIVI: I still feel very attached to BA, and as I’m in the process of starting up my own business, I have lots of doubts and moments where i feel insufficient. BUt if i took away one thing in Buenos Aires, its that: If i could move to that city, knowing no one, at 23, and in 3 years, go from barely surviving to thriving – I can do anything. ANYTHING. That experience gave me so much faith.
SALT: Good! That’s exactly what I’m looking for, and I’m happy to hear you found it.
VIVI: I feel at peace – its a journey. Hope to have another stop in BA though, soon!
SALT: The only bummer about this is that we still have never met in person, which is just so funny to me, working for/with you!
I’m always explaining, Well, I know Vivi, yeah, but…..some day soon though!
VIVI: haha right? #modernlife
Seriously though – stick around BA!
Gotta go take this call!
SALT: Okay bye!! Enjoy your day.
VIVI: You too!!