Deby – American in Argentina -Expat Entrepreneur Success Story
Here is another interview of someone who decided to move abroad and then started her own business.
Meet Deby, an American Expat in Argentina
Tell us a little bit about you and what made you move to Argentina?
I was from California in the US. The San Francisco Bay Area. I was in high tech. I had my own computer consulting business for over 20 years. In 1998 I started to dance Argentine Tango. I had danced in a few places in Europe and in other cities in the U.S. In 2000 I made my first trip to Buenos Aires to dance tango. I fell in love with Buenos Aires. It was so different. So elegant. It was like Europe with an edge. By the time I made my 3rd trip, I knew I wanted to live here. There were many reasons I came here to live. I always tell people it was “El ritmo de la vida.” I have always liked the night. Here I could go to dinner at midnight and have more of a choice than just Taco Bell. Not only that there is always someone to go with. I once had an Argentine friend say to me “If you are alone in Argentina, you have problems.”
What were your first impressions – was it much of a culture shock?
I had been here 16 times before I decided to move here, so I wasn’t in major culture shock. I think many issues that people have when they first come, I didn’t have. I think once I became more fluent in Spanish and really adapted to the culture and understood what was going on, then I went through some “adjustments.” I believe that there are various levels one goes through when they immigrate to a new country. Maybe the first 18 months is culture shock, but after that, you either adjust or you don’t. At some point you find yourself less of your old culture and more of your new culture. I think most bi-cultural people feel that they are not part of any culture sometimes.
Do you travel much around Argentina or South America? Any favourite places?
I haven’t traveled as much in Argentina as I want to. I have been to Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay. I love Colombia. I have pretty much liked everywhere I have been. One interesting thing about Argentina. I have traveled pretty much everywhere in the world alone. I never felt strange. I do find here in Argentina a bit unwelcome as a solo female traveler.
Is this your first expatriation? If no, where else did you go? What do you enjoy about expat life?
Yes, this is the first time I have lived outside the U.S. I don’t think of myself as an expat. I think of myself as an immigrant. I live like an Argentine, not an American living in Argentina. To me, an expat is someone who never stays long in one place. They just don’t live in their home country or they don’t plan to stay long and will go back at some point to their home country. They never really adapt to the culture they are in. An immigrant is someone who plants roots in the country and plans to stay. That is me and many others I know.
You are from the States. What do you miss about the US?
Not much. Sometimes the convenience of places like Target or Costco, big box shopping, the low prices and variety. Peets Coffee. There used to be a long list. Now, really I only ask that people bring me Peets.
What advice would you give to anyone moving to Argentina?
It’s not easy to change your country. You need to be prepared to make a lot of changes. To forget your life as you knew it and to move on to make a new life. I don’t think you can make a move “because you heard it was cheap” or it is a “fun place to live” or because “you can dance tango” all night long. You need to move here because you like it, with all its defects.
How necessary is it to speak Spanish?
You are kidding right? In my opinion, it is necessary. You are living in a country where Spanish is the national language. There is no press 2 for English. If you want to integrate into society and become a part of it, you have to speak the language. If you don’t speak the language you live in a bubble and that is not living here. I think it is the main reason most people leave or only choose to live here part time.
I was teaching tango and dancing with a partner. I decided I needed to do something different. I didn’t know what to do. Tango had been my whole life here. One night I was looking at the women in the milonga dancing tango and how they were dressed. I decided I could do better. I started Devora M – a Tango Clothing range. It’s been a real education in how to do business in Argentina. I love designing the clothes, buying the fabric, and working with the factory to make them happen. In my time here, I also opened a Bed and Breakfast – and now I teach English in Buenos Aires.
What advice would you give to anyone willing to set up his or her own business overseas?
Overseas is a big word. I can only talk about here in Argentina. You need to have thick skin. It has been difficult. Learning to do business here has been a challenge and an education. You need to be prepared for lots of ups and downs. The downs are big downs. Have a good support network and make sure you know exactly what it is you want to do. I owned a business in the US and I never encountered the problems that I have encountered here. It doesn’t matter. I have learned to not get upset, to just take one day at a time and to keep going. I figure if it doesn’t work out, I can always do something else. I have become an Argentine. I only worry about now. I can’t worry about tomorrow.
Thank you Deby!
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