The Expat: Rob Schlesinger

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Born: Boston, raised in France
Lives: Las Cañitas
Education: Masters in International Business at Lille ESCIP
Profession: Commodities trader
Book: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Film: Mama
Gadget: My Belgian beer glass from Leffe

Franco-American Rob Schlesinger was only ever meant to be in Argentina for six months on a university exchange programme. But the love triangle of falling for Buenos Aires as well as falling for his girlfriend from El Salvador and his job as a commodities trader, he stayed on and he’s now lived in the city for the past seven years.

Rob says: “The first time I touched base in Buenos Aires was in August 2007. I was an exchange student at UADE studying international business for six months – my school had relationships with Cancún in Mexico, with Ecuador and BA and after researching where to go, I had no doubt that I wanted to come to Argentina.

“I knew it was the capital of culture in South America and I had other friends who had already been here on the same exchange. I had a good school friend, who, once I got here, opened his doors to me and gave me a room. I was so impressed with how cultural that house was, with people from Ecuador, Germany and from England living there and I got stuck right into everything immediately. That was in Palermo.

“My Spanish wasn’t too bad as I had already done three months’ internship in the north of Mexico earlier that year although it wasn’t perfect. I managed to organize my classes from Monday to Wednesday then I had the rest of the week off – once a month I’d travel and I went to Iguazú, Chile and Uruguay. Then I had to choose where I wanted to go and do my internship and it could have been anywhere in the world. But those six months passed by like they were three weeks and I loved it so much in Buenos Aires, I decided to stay and get an internship here. Six years later, that is now my job.”

Staying on
Despite his relative youth, Rob felt very comfortable making his decision to stay in the city and a large part of that came down to the group of friends he had initially made. That, and the job that was created for him during his internship.

“What kept me here was mainly the people that I met, plus the city is amazing – but I’d also say the beef kept me here – I’m a huge beef lover! Back in the day, a lomo was ridiculously cheap! El Desnivel used to be amazing, for example. And castellano – I love speaking it. And of course, the nightlife is also a factor – I was 21 then. Museum, El Living and Shamrock were all part of my infancy in Buenos Aires!”

The second reason that has kept Rob in BA is his work as a frozen foods trader, although he didn’t have the smoothest of beginnings. He says: “I was unpaid for at least a year and a half so I was very demotivated. They gave me the internship so I could develop the Western African markets, which is huge for frozen food imports from South America. As I speak French, my boss said ‘let’s cut out the other middlemen.’ It wasn’t the easiest task as I had no clients, no budget and no motivation. I spent a lot of time telling my boss I couldn’t do it anymore. Until I sold my first container. Then a week later, I sold my second one. Then he started paying me, and I was profitable for the company. My boss then considered for a long-term career job and now I couldn’t see myself not working for my company.

“The company was very young, starting in 2006 or 2007 and it grew tremendously. We were five or six employees and now there are over 30. I export chicken carcasses, beef lips, hens, and sell pork tails and heads and feet. Tons of things that no one would ever imagine they would eat once in their life in 40-feet containers, which weigh 28 tons. I never ever, ever, thought I’d be doing that but I still have a smile on my face when I say I’m a trader for West Africa. It’s one thing selling high-quality beef to Asia or Russia but there’s a market for every animal that is produced. It’s a dynamic job and you can win big, but you can lose big. And as it’s a world market, it never sleeps.”

Rich experiences
After seven years in Buenos Aires, Rob now lives with his girlfriend Syl in Las Cañitas and has done the round in terms of residing in other neighbourhoods.

“I’ve lived in almost all the Palermos as well as Almagro and Tribunales. In terms of comfort, Las Cañitas, where I now live, is the place to be. I feel very safe living there, it’s right next to the park and there are very nice places to go for tea or to eat steak.

“Living in Almagro was a very rich experience as we got to live like residential porteños. It was special being there. We’d go to El boliche de Roberto and that is one of my favourite spots. You can see a man or woman singing tango in front of 30 people, sharing love and passion about their city.”

Rob took tango dance classes for a few months with his girlfriend but stopped going because he’d travel a lot. Now his spare time is devoted to playing soccer or travelling to new places.

He says: “I play lots of football and used to take wine tasting classes with a French guy. I spend a lot of time with friends and when we can go to the countryside or somewhere outside of the city, it’s always welcome. The last trip was to Gualeguaychú for Carnival and we stayed 40 minutes away from the city – there were 25 of us and it was a bunch of fun. We rode horses, went canoeing, swam in the pool, played hide and seek, and made asados and drank lots of booze!

“In the city, I love going to eat at Tito’s, which is five block from my house. The French fries are spectacular, the food and the people are amazing and it’s very convenient. A bar I go to for a get-together is Magdalena’s Party and I really like the brunch there. I also really like Antares for its great beer. I’m from northern France so we get a lot of Belgian beer and I can find something similar at Antares.”

And of course the third reason that kept Rob here was his girlfriend. “We met on St. Patrick’s Day in 2008 on Reconquista. She played hard to get and we are still together after six years! As I’m French and Syl’s from El Salvador, sometimes it can be problematic to understand each other’s culture, but we’ve learnt to be flexible about both cultures and that has brought us closer together. We discovered this city together and have made mutual friends together and she is a companion in my life here, the good times and the bad times. Argentines are always surprised that we live together but also go out together – they think it’s crazy.”

Friends for life
In the early days, Rob says he used to befriend most people, but he admits to now being more choosy about his friends, because it can be hard to watch then come then leave. He says: “When I first came here I used to hang out with exchange students but they came and left, and came and left. I got fed up with having to make new friends and as sad as it sounds, I had to filter them by asking how long they’d be here for. The great thing about those first years is that I have great friends who I can now stay with anywhere around the world but now, over the past few years we have friends we can now count on. I can count on one hand my true, true, friendship with Argentines. But I never hang out with other French people – I mostly hang out with central Americans, Venezuelans, North Americans and other Europeans.”

And after seven years, Rob has taken on one particular Argentine trait: “My most Argentine characteristic is being more outgoing, because the French and the Americans aren’t like that. Even when the country is going badly Argentines are always happy. I like that a lot, and it’s that warm blood that can make you a good friend after a casual meeting, which also crosses boundaries easily.”

Buenos Aires Herald, May 3, 2014
Ph: Diego Kovacic
Enjoy reading about Rob? Meet German B&B owner, Silke, who lives in Salta.

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