The Expat: Silke Schefold

Amanda mes 04-2013 031
Age: 44
From: Stuttgart, Germany
Lives: Salta
Education: Social Science degree at Schwenningen
Profession: Co-owner of Carpe Diem B&B
Book: Das Herzenhören by Jan-Philipp Sendker
Film: Tinkerbell
Gadget: Computer and YouTube

Taking a sabbatical year from her career, Silke Schefold headed to Argentina to unwind and learn a new language. What she wasn’t expecting was to fall in love around the communal dining table at a Mendoza mountain lodge then open a small hotel with her soon-to-be Italian husband.

Silke says: “I came to visit Argentina in August 2004, almost 10 years ago to start my sabbatical year. I’m a social worker and took a year off from that, and my idea was to visit the whole of South America and study Spanish. I stayed for a week in Buenos Aires and I found out that I needed to start learning right away as I couldn’t go very far with English! So I went directly to Mendoza and went to a language school there. I went for two weeks, after which I was so tired I said to myself ‘I need to go to the mountains to get some fresh air.’ And that is where I met Riccardo.”

The Italian is now her husband and father of her young daughter and together they live in Salta, running a B&B. But it took several months of coming and going before the couple could settle into a life together.

She says: “He was on vacation in Argentina and we met after just three weeks at the communal dining table in a small hostel up in the mountains. We sat next to each other and started talking – and fell in love! We spent the next 10 days together – then he had to go back to Italy. But he had been in Argentina with the idea of coming back to live, and over those next two months he sold everything, quit his apartment and put what was left in a container to ship.

“Meanwhile, I went on with my sabbatical year and in the November we met again and started to travel in order to find a nice place for him to live. He had the idea of Patagonia so we travelled all the way to Ushuaia, spending a few weeks there. Then we went on to El Calafate, Bariloche, always spending three or four weeks to get to know the place. Everywhere was very nice but too cold or too windy so none of these were options.

“We returned to Mendoza and spent two months there but we didn’t find the right house so we tried Salta. Then in May 2005, Riccardo bought this place.”

Following the heart
And then, Silke had to return to Germany as her sabbatical year was over. “I went back to work and did what had been planned, but in those six months I decided that I too would live in Salta with Riccardo. I came in January 2006 to live here. I followed my heart and felt that I couldn’t say that it might be too difficult or that I was scared, so it was an easy decision. I felt that I had to do it, that I had to try. And I could always go back to Germany.

“So many people asked me ‘aren’t you afraid?’ and I’d say “of course I am afraid, but it’s part of the adventure.’ And my parents and family said I was welcome to always come back, but that I should try. So I did.”

Several months later, Silke and Riccardo got married, and held their wedding reception at the B&B that had taken shape by then.

“It was about a year and half remodelling the house and we finally opened the hotel in May 2007. It was a really difficult process, undertaking trámites to obtain a visa, a work permit. Then my parents were meant to visit so we decided to get married when they were coming so we would have at least two people at the wedding! We had a few friends but as we were new, not that many. In the end there were 13 of us including us and my parents. We didn’t get married in church but had a civil wedding in our house, and also held the party there.
“Then I got pregnant and we now have a little daughter who is five. Step by step I established myself!”

But before all of these life events could take place, there was the question of bring the B&B to life. She says: “The real project, which was really demanding, was to be able to live and work here, to have this hotel. The first weekend we opened, the tourist board kept sending people to us and we were full for that first week as it was Easter. Of course that didn’t last but it was a good experience!

Greater freedom
“The most challenging part of the project for me was doing it in Spanish as my language was very poor then. As Riccardo is Italian, he advanced very quickly so he did all the talking and planning. I was at his side but he translated everything for me, and I needed to have a lot of confidence in him as I couldn’t do it by myself. I didn’t understand what people were saying. Today, however, we speak Spanish together – it’s normal for me now but for the first two years it was in English.

“It was also difficult for me to understand the different mentality here. Sometimes the people working for us on the reconstruction wouldn’t accomplish what they said they would, and in Germany it’s different – people usually do what they say. So that was very hard for me in the beginning as I couldn’t understand. Then after a while I realized it gives you more freedom because if I don’t accomplish something because it’s too complicated, then I don’t feel as bad as I did before. People accept that you don’t have to be perfect here! In Germany, it’s more demanding. So at first it was a negative experience, but now it means an easier life.”

The city of siestas
Although Silke had previously always lived in small cities in her homeland, adapting to the way of life in Salta was fairly seamless, she says. “I like the people here very much as they are friendly, and I also like having a siesta! Everything is very slow but friendly. In the beginning I tried to make friends and found everyone was so nice that I thought that they all wanted to be my friend. Then I found out that they are like that with everyone, which was a bit of a disappointment! But soon I found people like me, expats or people in mixed nationality relationships. When Amanda was born, we started to spend time with other parents, so that was a good experience. We have a nice group here.”

Of course, her daughter is a fusion of nationalities, although she only has one officially. Silke adds: “I think she’s a mixture of everything: she’s Argentine because she lives here, but she also lives in our house so she’s bilingual in German and Spanish. I always try to give her a lot of my culture, such as songs and stories, so she lives in two worlds. One Argentine characteristic is that she loves clothes – I don’t like them very much – and she loves pink and glitter and parties. She isn’t shy about dancing, which we always were in Germany. Typical for here!”

Buenos Aires Herald, April 26, 2014
Ph: Silke Schefold

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