The Expat: Claudia Piedrahita

Born: Medellín, Colombia
Lives: Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza
Education: Business administration UC de Pereira, MBA at Universidad de Cuyo
Profession: Marketing manager at Viña Cobos
Currently reading: Cuentos Orientales by Marguerite Yourcenar
Last film: Grandes Héroes with my children
Gadget: A notebook and pencil

While on a work placement in Mexico, Colombian marketing manager Claudia Piedrahita met her future husband, an Argentine from Mendoza. After moving to Argentina nine years ago, she now works for a prestigious winery and is mother to three children.

Claudia says: “The first time I came to Mendoza was on holiday 12 years ago. At the time, I was studying business administration in Colombia and I had gone to Mexico on work experience, given that I was due to finish my degree a few months later. While I was living there, I met a guy from Mendoza. We started going out, then it became more serious and so I came to Argentina to meet his family and get to know his city back in 2003.

“We stayed together and carried on living in Mexico for a few years, and then we decided to get married. Obviously we had a few options on where to live – Mexico, Colombia or Argentina – but we decided on Mendoza.

“Before we moved here, I’d already visited twice and I valued Mendoza a lot: the quality of life, the possibility of having a family-based lifestyle and a relaxed existence away from the city. The family is a very central part of Argentine culture and lifestyle, and that’s what I valued. And I also wanted my children – who weren’t yet born at that point – to grow up in that kind of environment.

“My family was very happy that I was moving to Argentina after Mexico. That’s a country that Colombians perceive as difficult and they felt that we’d be safer here. In addition, I had been on my own for a while in Mexico and they felt I would be closer in Argentina than in Mexico, plus they could visit easily.”

Marrying first in Mexico at a registry office, the second wedding then took place at a Medellín church, with a party that lasted four or five days. Claudia adds: “It was wonderful as lots of friends came from Argentina, the Netherlands and from all over the place to celebrate. And once we were married, we didn’t have any plans set up and we were ready to live an adventurous life for a little bit.”

With the decision made, the couple landed in the Cuyo region in 2006 and set about building a life together. And while Claudia adapted easily to the family-oriented lifestyle, she found that gaining employment to be a more tricky business.

She says: “It took me a few years to get into Mendoza’s job circuit, doing something correct and legal. I’d worked from a young age and had always been well connected, but being a foreigner in Mendoza was a disadvantage, certainly in 2006. So although I had a strong CV with lots of experience, it wasn’t enough.

“Mendoza is very traditional and quite conservative with foreigners, so it was hard to get a job in the beginning. I hadn’t studied at a local school or university, I wasn’t somebody’s daughter and I didn’t have any social links. And that’s why it took a lot of effort to get work. When I lived in Mexico, it was the complete opposite: if you spoke two languages and had some differences, that was seen as an advantage. The way people work has changed over the years, but very often they will hire the friend of a friend, for example.”

Once she got a foot on the employment ladder, Claudia was keen to share her experience with the local wine industry and has since worked for several bodegas. She says: “From the moment I arrived in Mendoza, I wanted to work for a winery or in the wine industry. I started off in marketing for the Hyatt hotel and that’s where I started to connect with various wineries thanks to the events we would organize, such as Masters of Food and Wine. That was the bridge that connected me to the world of wine.

“Then I moved to Familia Zuccardi and now I’m marketing manager at Viña Cobos. It’s a great opportunity to be working for such an important winery. I’m very proud to be here and I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve been able to share my outside experience with them as well, and I deal with press and communication. It’s an activity that I’m very passionate about.”

Now a mother of three aged seven, four and one, Claudia admits that she doesn’t have much spare time although the family enjoys spending time in the countryside or having an asado in the Andean foothills.

She says: “I don’t have much free time with three children! When I’m not working I’m with them, dropping them off somewhere then picking them up. At the weekend, we try to be together and do family activities, having lunch or organizing an asado with everyone. My husband and I love being outdoors, being up in the mountains, and we try to do that when we can. But free time for a hobby – I’d be lying if I said I had one!

“My kids are very Argentine, and they speak with Argentine accents. I try to share my culture with them and we have travelled to Colombia to spend time with their grandparents there so that they have a good idea of their roots. Last time we visited, we took a holiday within the holiday and went to the beach, for example, and that helps them to have a positive image of the country.

“One way of sharing my culture is through food and I like to make a Colombian-style breakfast. On Sundays I prepare scrambled eggs and fresh juice so breakfast is Colombian. And as for coffee, I always drink it! I also try to teach them a few words we use in Colombia, so they can communicate and write via What’s App to their grandparents.”

Over the years, Claudia has got to know other areas in Argentina besides Cuyo although she still has her sights set on Patagonia. She says: “It’s a very big country and not easy to visit. But I have been to the north, to the Quebrada de Humahauca in Jujuy as well as to San Luis and Buenos Aires. I haven’t been to the south much, though – I’ve reached the south of Neuquén so I am just getting started with respect to Patagonia! We’ve also escaped to the beach but on the other side, in Chile. I’d love to visit Bariloche and the countryside looks incredible – the lakes and mountains impress me so much!”

After nine years living in Mendoza, Claudia’s most Argentine habit is drinking mate, which she loves because of the way it unites people. But besides her family and friends, what she misses most from Colombian is the landscape – and her favourite tipple.

Claudia says: “I’m from a region that has very green landscapes and I miss the green of the mountains, the humidity, the rain, the climate and tropical weather – nature is so exuberant there, and so generous.
“The other thing I miss is aguardiente. My friends laugh at me as I drink it when there’s something to celebrate but they drink it to cure their stomach pains!”

Buenos Aires Herald, January 31, 2015

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