The Expat: Andrea Muñoz


Born: Bogotá, Colombia
Lives: Caballito
Education: Five years of chemical engineering and art at Universidade de los Andes, Bogotá
Profession: Photographer and almost a sommelier
Book: Jodorowsky and Manara’s Borgia: Flames from Hell
Film: Phantom of the Paradise
Gadget: My camera

Although she was on the verge of completing a chemical engineering degree, Colombian Andrea Muñoz left education behind in search of a change. And so she packed her bags and upped sticks to Buenos Aires three years ago. Now living in Caballito with her girlfriend, Andrea is due to qualify as a sommelier this year and also works as a photographer.

She says: “I came here on October 5 three years ago – I left my parents at Dorado airport in Bogotá and that was very hard.

“I’d decided to stop studying for my chemical engineering degree at the same time as my art one as I felt that I wasn’t passionate about those things any more and I wanted to reinvest my energy. I wanted to work and study at the same time, as my parents weren’t going to help me any more – not after five years at university! I thought about going to South Korea but I was too late to apply for a scholarship. However, I had some school friends who were studying to be teachers or undertaking post-graduate courses in Buenos Aires, so within a week I sold everything or gave everything away and with what I earned, I came to Argentina.”

Opening doors
Although she had those friends with whom to touch base and help out in the early days, she had to fend for herself quite quickly after several of them returned to their homeland. Andrea says: “It was hard as everything was so different to what I was expecting. It took me a long time to find my direction and to understand what everyone else thinks Argentina is about. It’s great for a tourist, I think.

“My parents didn’t want me to come here, obviously, as I was already studying for a degree in Colombia. But I needed to do something else and felt that I had to look abroad for that. In the beginning I lived in hostels or at friends’ houses – I don’t remember how many times I’ve moved now! But when my friends returned to Colombia, I felt very alone – even though it’s only five hours away by plane. So I tried to get work in photography but it was very hard, so I started to get work in gastronomy. That’s when more doors started to open, at Cabernet in Palermo, at the Faena and Hilton hotels in Puerto Madero and Salgado Alimentos. I’m actually really thankful to gastronomy for opening those doors when I needed them to, whether it was in the kitchen or in the salon, and I’ve learned a lot.”

All this contact in this world led to Andrea to further improve her professional possibilities so she is studying sommellerie at CAVE wine school. However, her passion for photography hasn’t waned. She says: “I’m about to finish my sommelier degree, which, after engineering, fits nicely. I want to know all about Argentina’s products and in a few years I hope to be able to talk about wine like an Argentine, with that same passion and commitment. It’s a product with surprising potential and you can experience it easily here, from grapes to wine styles. But I also do a lot of photography, mainly taking charge of personal projects. I am still trying to get into that area and make contacts.”

Breaking stereotypes
Andrea says she isn’t the typical Colombian, and often tires of the stereotypes associated with her homeland. She says: “Colombians are a bit warmer than Argentines, for example, and less individual. They are also more positive once they commit to something. Colombians can be very charismatic, but I break the stereotype that Argentines have – I don’t dance salsa, I’m not that friendly – such as Pablo Escobar or associating me with cocaine. I don’t avoid the subject but I get tired of the same themes – there are more important things such as literature, art or biology, and it bothers me when Argentines talk about those preconceptions that should have been put to rest by now.”

During her three years in Argentina, Andrea has visited few places but plans to visit more to enhance her sommelier knowledge. “I loved Mendoza; that trip was the first time I had left Buenos Aires. I felt really connected with the mountains as Bogotá is surrounded by them. It really made my heart beat! In Bogotá we have a lot of contact with the countryside so it did me a lot of good. I think porteños tend to forget about the campo. I went there with my best friend from the US who came to visit me, and we went to a tiny winery with an amazing view of the mountains.

“I still need to see the whole world but Mendoza was a good place to start. Next I want to visit Patagonia and try their Pinot Noir – it’s an expensive wine here but I love it. And I also love Salta and its colour palette. Colombia is green so those magentas and ochres are amazing to my eyes.

‘Just call me Andrea’

“But I have been to Rio and that was amazing because in Argentina I’m the one with black skin but I felt like just another person when I went to Rio! When I went to a kiosco once, the girl called me negrita and I know it’s a nice or endearing thing here, but it still bothered me – yes, I have brown skin but the look is different ‘towards me’. I have lots of minority characteristics: afro hair, brown skin, part of the LGB community but call me by my name, Andrea, not negri nor negrita, even if it is meant to be tender. I’ve never not felt included, however.”

Andrea lives in Caballito with her girlfriend Bárbara, which has brought her some stability after living in various parts of the capital. “Bárbara and I met while I was working at a restaurant and we caught each others’ eye. It took a lot time for us to get together to go out but once we did, that was it and we haven’t been apart since. She’s the total opposite to me but we complement each other. Colombia is a more closed society that is totally influenced by the Catholic Church and there aren’t any laws such as equal marriage like Argentina has, for example. Although Colombia is opening up, it’s a slow process.

“I’ve lived in Recoleta, Belgrano, Palermo, all over. This is a quieter neighbourhood and there are lots of schools, vegetable shops and Asian supermarkets – it’s a middle-class neighbourhood. It’s not very close to the subway but I like living there as you can get everywhere easily.”

Although she’s now lived in Buenos Aires for three years, Andrea admits to missing everything about her homeland. “I miss seeing the mountains: it’s so obvious but I used to get up and see the Cordillera Oriental every day. I miss the variety of potatoes such as the pastusa or the criolla as there aren’t very many types here. And you can’t compare the number of fruits that Colombia has with Argentina. I miss the music, Carlos Vives. Plus, when you leave Bogotá, in an hour you are in a totally different climate.”

But she also loves various aspects of Argentine culture, and has even adapted some of the local slang to her mother tongue. Andrea says: “I’ve studied a lot of Argentine history – I really feel like I could be another Argentine! I’ve learned so much about art, for example, and I love it, Pablo Reinoso, Marta Minujín, and the cultural offerings. The collections at the Bellas Artes museum, for example, are so accessible. Colombia has great stuff but Argentina’s is incredible. Plus I love the architecture; it’s really stunning in Microcentro.

“I’ve also adopted the vocabulary. Phrases, everything that Bárbara says I’ve incorporated, from boludo to posta and fachero. And I love Argentine food such as locro and other stews, the Andean side of food where Argentina finds its Latin American roots, rather than their European ones.”

Buenos Aires Herald, October 18, 2014
Ph: Mariano Fuchila

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