The Expat: Lia Barros

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Born: Curitiba, Brazil
Lives: Palermo Chico
Education: Post-grad in Psychopedagogy, just started a PhD in social science
Profession: Founder of Buenos Aires Para Brasileiros and Buenos Aires For Expats
Book: Lecciones de Seducción
Film: August
Gadget: Samsung phone

When Brazilian lawyer Lia Barros moved to Argentina for love at the age of 39, she hardly expected to be starting over for a second time a few years later. However, the mother-of-two has taken it all in her stride. After starting a blog with the aim of sharing information with other Brazilians in a similar situation, she now runs two blogs that are her full-time job.

Lia says: “I’ve been coming to Buenos Aires on holiday since I was a child as my mum’s family is from here. But thanks to the coincidences of life, I met someone who lives here and because of him, I came to live here in December 2007.

“I’m a lawyer and in Brazil I worked for some big companies, such as H. Stern and ExxonMobil. Then I got tired of doing that as it was very demanding. I was travelling here and there, sometimes taking my eldest daughter with me. It was hard, just working and working. So I decided to do a Master’s in translation studies and moved from Curitiba to Florianópolis. And when I met this certain someone who was a Canadian living in Buenos Aires, I was in a very calm period and didn’t want much more other than the beach and to study!

Making the move
“We started to go back and forth, and at some point we decided it would be easier for me to move here than for him to go there. It wasn’t an easy decision to make because even though I had some family here and spoke the language fluently, I didn’t have any friends and it was completely different for me. I had to adapt to another country and another culture. In Brazil we live with a North American structure whereas Argentina lives with a European one, so it was a big change.”

Despite being from a neighbouring country and having the benefit of language on her side, Lia still found the Argentine culture hard to get used to.

She says: “It took a year to adapt as I missed my food, my things, I was comparing everything all the time. That was the hardest part. After a year you get used to it, and after two years you say ‘well, that’s it.’ I was 39 when I arrived and was starting over. I needed to do something because I had come from a workaholic life and studying to suddenly doing nothing, so I began to write a blog. I wrote about what I was seeing here for a Brazilian public who was coming here to live like me, sharing the difficulties or what was easy. Then, as my ex-husband is Canadian, I also started to write for expats. It was very personal. And this slowly became a job, and it’s what I do now. But in the beginning it was hard to come here from a different country to live with a different person in a different environment with no job.”

She adds: “Plus, when I arrived was when Argentina was going downhill, economywise, whereas Brazil was on the up. There was a big difference between the two countries, and despite the love they have for each other, there is also quite a lot of hate and they compare each other all the time. There’s an idea that South America is all the same, but these two countries are very different. In Brazil we follow certain rules that are avoided here, and which you get used to avoiding.”

Meet and greet
In the early days, besides writing her blog, Lia worked for her now ex-husband’s import company, which helped her to meet some people. She says: “In the beginning I would always go to all the teas and all the meetings, then I got tired of that after a few months! It was a bit alien! I needed to work and do something productive that didn’t involve going to teas or spending the afternoon listening to ladies talking. It wasn’t my style at all!

“But I was still looking to meet Brazilian or American expats, as I wasn’t into Argentina. I was living within a temporary society. I got in touch with the Brazilian embassy, which was always looking for people to represent other Brazilians living here, and then they called me to do that. This was a point for change as I started to meet people who weren’t just coming then going, and that helped me to adapt. That was my second year and making those connections helped me. That was the moment of big change when I started to live like Argentines do.”

And, given that her blog has struck a chord with the Brazilian public means writing it is now a full-time job for the mother of two. Lia says: “I was asked by a Brazilian magazine to give some tips about living in Buenos Aires. They asked what I wanted to put in my biography and I asked them to put the name of the blog. Well, after that, it exploded and companies started to call me as they wanted to feature in my blog. All the skills I had in marketing were put to good use and so now, four years on, it’s my 24-hours a day, seven-days a week job!

From suburbs to city
While she now resides in Palermo with her children as well as her mother, Lia first lived in the northern suburbs. “When I moved here, I lived in San Isidro. The northern zone of Buenos Aires is beautiful, Martínez, Olivos, Pilar, all those places. But you put yourself in a bubble a bit as you don’t need to come to Buenos Aires for anything. You have everything there, even nightlife, unless you want to go to the theatre. The biggest shopping mall in Argentina, Unicenter, is there and that was 10 blocks from my house. All the restaurants you have in the city are also there. If you live in the northern suburbs and your kids go to school there, you don’t need BA. I used to come twice a month, for one day, and do everything at once. It was like living in the province, where people sleep a siesta and stores close from 2pm to 7pm.

“But I moved to the capital two years ago when I split up from my husband and that’s when I really got into Buenos Aires. That was my second adaptation. And as I was more adapted, it felt like BA was calling me. My blog had already grown and I needed to be in a place that would help with that so I decided on Palermo. In the beginning I’d walk around a lot as I’d come from the jungle to the city!

“I like everything about Palermo and I don’t think I can see myself living anywhere else. It’s true! You can do everything you need within 10 blocks, you have all the best nightlife in Buenos Aires in Palermo. It’s the place, if you want to go running, or go to a bar or café, and you have public transport to get anywhere in the city. It’s where everything happens, whether it’s Soho or Hollywood or Botánico and I don’t live in a bubble any more!”

Buenos Aires Herald, May 17, 2014

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