Despite graduating with a good degree, North Carolina native Jed Rothenberg found himself in limbo in the intervening years after college. But some vague plans concocted with his brother, whose employer happened to have a satellite office in Buenos Aires, led him to Argentina. Nine years on, Jed runs his own business and has a three-year-old son.
He says: The first time I came here, I was completely blind – I’d been to Mexico, which was the closest I’d got to Latin America as such – and it was on a whim. I flew down with my younger brother to see what would happen, with the idea of being here for six months to a year. I’d saved up about US$3,000 and Josh, last minute, was able to sort something out with his company. That dictated which city we would go to – and here we are nine years later.
“After college, I hadn’t really found my way. I’d graduated with a degree in psychology and I was lost. I didn’t see myself fitting into the corporate cogs of the American way of society, I wasn’t gaining any experience to move up any ladder and so I thought the best remedy would be to explore the world. After graduating, I was waiting tables and thought ‘why I am doing it here, I could be waiting tables anywhere.’ I went to the North Carolina coast, to Wilmington, where all the lower-end jobs were taken given that it’s a college town – and I ended up in a jeweller’s store selling diamonds. The same thought came back, that I could do that anywhere, so I started to save every penny I had in order to travel.
“I’d mentioned it to Josh in passing, and he expressed an interest in travelling. I didn’t expect much to come from it but then he worked out a transfer, so I said ‘let’s go for it’. What did I know about Argentina? Nothing! Except that as my dad and Josh worked for the same company, he had visited the same branch in the 1980s and early 1990s, and had said it was beautiful; lots of steak, lots of leather. I was one of those idiots who looked at a map and thought there was a beach here – but I’m the kind of guy who hates going into a movie and knowing what to expect, so that’s the way I like to travel.”
An early mistake?
With a small amount of help from Josh’s company, the siblings at least had some accommodation sorted out for those first few days in Buenos Aires.
Jed says: “We shacked up in a hotel for the first two weeks that Josh’s company directed us to that was in the middle of Villa Urquiza and there was nothing around. We thought, ‘shit, have we made a big mistake?’ It was 100 percent barrio.
This was January 2005 and at that time there were one or two websites that listed some out-of-date and badly translated information. We were so lost, travel novices, and had no idea what was going on! But we got lucky, found a place online and moved to Recoleta.
“It was another rough start… a studio with beds barely divided – the kitchen was so small you could touch all four walls with your limbs. We stayed there for about two months, then pulled the trigger on that and rented a place in Barrio Norte, as Josh’s company arranged to be guarantor. It was rough in the beginning and we were ready to kill each other. I had these delusions of grandeur that I’d get teaching jobs at once but I didn’t, I wasn’t making much money and my US$3,000 was running out fast. It was three pesos to one dollar at the time so it was fairly inexpensive, but I was burning through cash.”
Jed started to settle down, however, once the brothers moved to Barrio Norte. Making friends started to open doors for him, and he stopped teaching and moved into sales quite quickly, before eventually setting up his own company, Landing Pad BA.
“I went to one of the first BA Expats meetings and that led to getting some sales work for a company. I started living it up in the city and I had some money so I could go out and have a good time. We ended up moving into Torre Dorrego in Palermo on the 22nd floor – there was always a party. We were going out all the time, the dollar-peso ratio was good and we were living in this massive apartment like kings up in the sky; that sealed my interest in staying here long term.
“But I got pigeonholed in sales and wanted to be creative and grow a business. The job got old quite quickly and it wasn’t keeping me interested. Two things happened: one, it was on Rivadavia and my daily route was walking past this old hat shop, which has since become part of my Man Tour that’s available on the Landing Pad BA website. The other was that I thought back to that first year and that there still wasn’t much up-to-date info for tourists telling you what’s happening. So I decided to give it a crack and set up my own website, Landing Pad BA, in early 2009.”
Of course, setting up one’s own business is never as easy as all that, and less so in Argentina. Jed says: “It’s a double-edged sword – nothing is etched in stone so if you have the persistence, money and effort, you can find a way to get things done. But that also counts against you as there aren’t any written rules for doing things. There are a lot of grey areas which can be frustrating, and there are always little barriers and speed bumps along the way that can cause some frustration. But if you can put in the elbow grease, you can make thing happen – it’s just the way Argentina works. It’s not black and white, and it doesn’t work like the US, Canada or Europe – it will force you out of your comfort zones.”
Nine years on and Jed now has a young son who was born in Buenos Aires. He says: “My son is now almost three, and it’s hard to tell if he’ll be more Argentine or more American – his sleeping patterns are definitely Argentine! He wakes up at 8.30am but he doesn’t want to sleep until one in the morning, almost mimicking our patterns. He’s a real night animal and we have to coax him to bed. We like going to the park – he loves it so much he says chau to the plaza when we leave. Plus, he’s learning how to try to behave so he comes out for dinner with us. It’s coming along!
“I’m a bit of a hermit now that I have a son and only sneak out the house a couple of times of month, but I’ll turn up at events every now and then. I’ll see a couple of Argentine friends from time to time but we’re at different stages of life so we have less in common now.”
After that brief spell in Villa Urquiza and time spent living in Recoleta and Palermo, Jed now lives in San Telmo. He says: “It’s dense and everything is super close, which is a big advantage, I like to go to the market every other week to see if any new artists have popped up. I have my go-to regular restaurants and we have a great butcher so cooking at home isn’t a big deal. I like it here.”