The Expat: Tess Thomas

Born: Nederland, Colorado
Lives: Palermo Soho
Education: Psychology degree from University of Colorado Boulder
Profession: Owner of Bentley Cooper
Currently reading: The Dark Bride
Last film: The Untouchables
Gadget: My MacBook Air

Sometimes even the best-laid plans unravel, as Colorado transplant and dog owner Tess Thomas found out three months into a year-long stint in Buenos Aires. Following a breakup, the recruiting and talent management consultant spoke no Spanish, had to move house and was unemployed. But two years on and she’s turned that situation on its head.

Colorado transplant Tess Thomas.
Colorado transplant Tess Thomas.

Tess says: “The first time I came to Argentina was in November 2012 on a recon mission with my then boyfriend as we wanted to spend a year abroad here. He’d previously visited Buenos Aires, although I hadn’t, and we came apartment hunting. We’d been together about three and half years and decided on BA because the economic situation meant it was a place we could afford to be in, we could learn a new language and you can easily take dogs to South America.

Under the microscope
“We planned the move for several months and I quit my job to start my own headhunting company; I was basically unemployed. We didn’t know anyone and had no language skills or support group – living here was put a magnifying a glass on our relationship, on both the good and the bad. And we quickly realized we’d outlived our relationship and that moving forward, we probably weren’t right for each other. We broke up after three months.”

With two dogs – Cooper and Bentley – two suitcases and a whole load of puppy paraphernalia, Tess moved out of the shared Recoleta apartment but instead of returning to Colorado, she headed a few miles north – to Palermo.

She says: “My ex and I had built a life together in Denver and when we came to Buenos Aires, I’d got rid of everything: the house, the furniture, my car. Going back meant I would have had to start from scratch again and after the breakup, that didn’t seem possible.”

Positive thinking
And so Tess decided to make the best of a seemingly impossible situation and threw herself into reconstructing a new life on her own. Two years on, the outcome has been a positive one.

She says: “I embraced the fact I didn’t know anyone or this city. A lot of shit happened when we broke up and I had to stand on my feet. It forced me to grow up in certain areas and I had sink or swim. It blew my world wide open into so many other areas and for that, I’m thankful.

“My family thought I was crazy to stay in Buenos Aires but a lot of friends understood, although they expected me to go back after six months. And I took everything day by day, then suddenly it had been a year, then two years.

“After focusing on work and getting my life back in order, six months after the breakup, everything fell into place workwise and friendswise. I was introduced to a larger expat group and also made some Argentine friends – and that’s continues to be part of the draw for me. My closest friends come from all over the world and can bring their own experiences and cultures – and that has been one of the coolest things about living here.

“I went back to Colorado last May and that was a good experience as everyone could see I was flourishing plus I could see that their lives have continued, and I’m not hurting them or myself by being here. It was important to see that everyone was fine, and for them to see that I am happy.”

Back on track
Although, as she says, she was unemployed in the early days while setting up her own company, the recruiting and talent management consultant closed one deal which kept her financially afloat. Tess adds: “That commission wouldn’t have lasted me long back in the US but here it gave me a cushion. Then I got a long-term consulting contract with a client in San Francisco and have been with them for over a year. I couldn’t ask for a better situation or opportunity and that’s afforded me my life here. I can work remotely 99 percent of the time – that was my saving grace.”

Now settled in Palermo Soho with Cooper and Bentley, Tess’s routine revolves around work, socializing, travel, and her dogs. She says: “I work a lot, between 40 and 80 hours a week depending on the time of year, but I can afford to travel and I’m using this opportunity to live here, with quick access to Brazil and Uruguay – I probably went to Brazil five times in the past year!

“For a while, there were a lot of first dates as it was a question of getting out there again, which, in Argentina, is its own unique experience! Then I started dating someone last May, although there were about a hundred failures before that!

“My boyfriend is absolute sweetheart and doesn’t speak any English, and I didn’t know a lick of Spanish having only taken a few classes before we met. When we started dating, I was once again forced into the sink or swim situation! But my Spanish has tripled since. We still don’t understand each other a lot of the time, and I often get his directions wrong, but it’s fun and interesting, and he’s about to start learning English.

“When I speak Spanish, people tell me I have a very strong porteño accent and I will wear that as a badge of honour for the rest of my life. Every cab driver, though, thinks I have a Brazilian accent because of the way I look, and think I’m lying when I tell them I can’t speak Portuguese!”

Stuck on Soho
Living in trendy Palermo Soho, Tess makes the most of the neighbourhood: “I love it. I go out at night at lot, mostly to restaurants or bars, not so much to clubs, but I see a place with my dogs during the day, write down the address then visit it for dinner in the evening.

“I’m a couple of blocks from Plaza Serrano where all the young Argentines go but I love the fact you can tell it was a traditional working-class neighbourhood that has opened up with cool cafés and shops. I didn’t like Recoleta; Palermo is hipper and cooler and it’s fun to people watch or make fun of the tourists!

“I have a mix of friends, both Argentine and foreign, and a large group of acquaintances – it’s common to walk around Palermo and see a couple of people I know. I do have a handful of people in whom I can confide and as most expats know, there’s an endless supply of fun and things to do. There’s always a birthday, a going away or welcome back party, so it’s usually a matter of turning things down. My closest friends here are British, which is funny, and after spending time with them, apparently I pick up some weird tones – I wear that as a badge of honour too!”

After two years in Buenos Aires, Tess says her least Argentine characteristic is picking up her dogs’ poop although she’s adapted to late nights almost like a duck to water. “I’ve always enjoyed good food and wine, but the fact I have been out at 3am and then gone to another party knowing I’ll be home at 6am is crazy! I can handle one night like that a month! Also, in the US when I meet someone I always want to lean in and kiss them so it gets a bit weird. I think we should do more hugging and kissing so I’ll try to implement that there.”

Buenos Aires Herald, January 10, 2015
Ph: Mario Mosca

Enjoy reading about Tess? Meet Peruvian chef Julio

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