The Expat: Rachel Clough

From: Buffalo, New York
Lives: Moreno, Buenos Aires province
Education: Philosophy degree at Boston College
Profession: Jack of all trades and stay-at-home mother
Book: Rules of Civility
Film: Life of Pi
Can’t live without: My Kindle

rachel cA decade after her first visit, New York transplant Rachel Clough ditched her Jimmy Choos – first in the Big Apple then in Buenos Aires – and now lives in Moreno, Buenos Aires province. Most recently working for a recruiter, she is mother to two-year-old twins and is organizing a horse auction with her trainer partner.

Rachel says: “The first time I came to Argentina was on holiday over Thanksgiving 2005. The summer before I dated an Argentine polo player who promptly dumped me before the season ended, but he had talked a lot about South America. I’d never been so I booked a ticket and came down.

“I had the best intro to Argentina ever! Get to the airport, my flight is cancelled, Aerolíneas Argentinas. Shocking. They booked me onto American Airlines. I booked a car to pick me up from the airport but I didn’t speak any Spanish to take me to the apartment I’d rented. I arrived five or six hours later and when I do arrive the airport is closed because there’s a strike. The car obviously can’t pick me up because I’m five hours later and can’t drive into the airport as the roads are closed because of the strike. All I have is a piece of paper with an address. I basically hailed a gypsy cab outside the airport and God bless the taxi drivers in Argentina because here I am, blonde, stupid and not speaking a word of Spanish and I hand him a piece of paper. The landlord’s not there to check me in because I’m five hours late. We buzz the doorman, who calls the owner. I stayed in Las Cañitas for a week – and loved it.”

On sabbatical
Despite the bumpy start, it was a life-changing holiday and Rachel then returned to Buenos Aires a year later for some more action. “The idea at that point was to take a sabbatical in 2007, and I quit my job in New York at the end of the year and came down here for a few months. I’d been doing turnaround for a recruiting company, which meant I was hired to go in and reorganize. Super stressful. I was done and needed a year’s sabbatical. I was so stressed I’d get up in the morning and throw up because my job meant I had to go in and fire people. I got paid well, but I was not a happy person.

“So I thought I’d take a year out, learn Spanish and ride some horses. I had horses in Florida, I was riding competitively and I wanted to do something a bit different. The original idea was to start a business focusing on tourism, training and bringing people over to take lessons but that didn’t work out. But horses were a focal point of life here. After flitting around, I went back to Florida for the horse show, then moved back here for good in 2008.

“Then I took on a consulting job for a company in New York which was supposed to be for a couple of months and it turned into a bigger project. In October 2008 they said I could work anywhere and it didn’t matter where as it was a global company. I wanted to come back to Argentina so they happily sent me here.”

Working in Argentina rather than being a tourist was certainly a different challenge for the New Yorker. Rachel adds: “I had to hire people, do interviews and prepare contracts as I was director of the local company. It was a successful project and there was a team of 15 by the time I left. I always ran into complications as start-ups are start-ups but I remember once I flew back to New York for a meeting and was on the phone with one of our Argentine partners. He said it would take two weeks to do some certain paperwork and I sat there for a second then told them: ‘I’ve spent the past year in Argentina and if it’s going to take two weeks, I’m going to hold you to a New York two weeks.’ So I asked him the question again, there was a long pause and he said eight weeks was probably a better estimate! Fine, I could work with that but it was about managing timing and deliverables that were a hazy concept for our local company, but not so much for a Fortune 500 company.”

Fun times
When her move became more permanent, Rachel headed straight back to familiar territory, Las Cañitas. “I was loyal to my neighbourhood and I loved living there! And I loved being in Buenos Aires. In New York, I lived to work, I had a tiny apartment, got up at six in the morning and got back at 11 at night. And I got here and it was like technicolour. I had the typical expat romance with the city, and I was happy with that, plus the possibilities were endless, especially in 2008, and it felt like there was a lot going on.

“I was a 30-something on sabbatical, having fun with my gay best friend. We did the clubs, we danced all night, sleeping in in the morning, I drank a lot of wine, rode horses. We had such a good time that year. It was the year of saying yes. ‘You want to go out tonight? Yes. You want to take Spanish classes? Yes.’ It was a total life changer. And so I stayed.”

The language barrier remained a problem for a while, however, as she explains. “It was a nightmare! But people have always been very nice about it. But like anything, you try and you struggle. My friend Philippe and I took classes together and muddled through but we had fun. It gets better eventually. One day it suddenly comes together and you don’t even know how that happened. I always say I’m a gringa and I still have the accent si o si!”

Another dimension
Rachel’s life took on another new dimension when she got together with Martín, a horse trainer and father to her two-year-old twins. “We were friends for a long time and then life changes happened – he was single, so was I – and friendship turned into something else. Horses and horse shows, as well as friends brought us together. We stayed in touch, he got divorced and we were still friends, then a few years and a few babies later here we are!

“Now I’m at home with the twins who are turning two, and I help out at Rancho Pampa, the training farm, on the business side managing the PR. Right now, I’m helping organize a horse auction that takes place on April 26. But the plan is to go back into the corporate world when the kids start school.

“We live on a dirt road so when it rains you probably aren’t going to get into our house – it’s a little bit different from the studio apartment in New York. We have 38 and counting horses, two kids, seven dogs, six cats and assorted other flora and fauna. It’s a little bit of a life change! Jimmy Choos to alpargatas, as one does!”

One difference that Rachel notices living in the countryside is the contact with other people. “In New York you share a wall with who knows how many thousands of people in your high rise – you don’t know your neighbours. Maybe you smile at them in the elevator. Here, where we live – which isn’t the campo though it’s more countryside than Buenos Aires – everyone knows you. I go to the butcher and they ask ‘how are the twins?’ For better or worse, your business is everyone’s business. And that’s being part of a community whether you like it or not.”

Buenos Aires Herald, March 29, 2015

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