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Damon Wilson, Córdoba

Who are you?

My name is Damon. I’m 33 and was born in the United States in the San Francisco bay area in a city called Santa Rosa. For the last 10 years I have lived in San Francisco which continues to be my favorite city in the world.

I’m an industrial engineer by trade and after working for a large IT consulting firm in the US I now work for a startup software analytics company managing our large accounts.

I currently live in Córdoba, Argentina with my girlfriend who was born here. We rent a 1-bedroom apartment in Nueva Córdoba.Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I’ve been living in Córdoba, Argentina since August 2013 so I only have about a month of full time expat experience under my belt.

In 2010 I backpacked around South America for 6 months. Argentina was definitely one of my favorites. I had only planned on staying in Córdoba for a few days as a stop while travelling from Mendoza to Buenos Aires. However I loved this city. I’ve always had an affinity for college towns and Córdoba is certainly one of them featuring 7 different universities including Argentina’s oldest and most prestigious. The buzz and energy of the city full of (attractive) students kept me here for weeks. Well that and I met a girl. We’re still together to this day.

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While I had done a fair amount of backpacking I’d never lived as an expat in a country despite having a strong desire to do so. I moved abroad to experience living in another country, to learn another culture, to learn another language, to learn another way of life. Living with my girlfriend and developing our relationship was another key motivator for me moving abroad.

What challenges did you face during the move?

My main challenge was finding an apartment that satisfied what I was looking for. Before coming to Córdoba I tried to do as much legwork as possible from the US to find an apartment. I even thought I had secured a place however the owner gave it to someone else on the day that I was travelling to Córdoba so I had to start from scratch upon arrival.

The language was also another challenge for me. I typically have no problems expressing myself in Spanish however as an intermediate I often get lost in group conversations and when people speak fast or unclear. I’m normally a fairly talkative person however in group settings with Argentines I’m often quiet and doubt my abilities. That is of course unless we’re drinking Fernet.

A third challenge for me was the pressure to get settled quickly. I negotiated with my current employer to keep my job while I moved to Córdoba. This was a great benefit however the move ended up coming at a very busy time for me and the company. And between looking for an apartment and getting my life setup here, I also had a ton work to complete. Taking a break from apartment hunting to jump into the lobby of a noisy hotel to take an important business call on Skype was a little stressful.

How did you find somewhere to live?

My search started with the local newspaper (La Voz inmuebles) which has classified ads online like Craigslist but with less features and less crazy people. Here you can find temporary apartments for rent although the quality of the photos listed on this site baffles me. While most have a few grainy photos of one room in the apartment, many are listed without photos making the search from abroad quite difficult.

The best option I found were the inmobiliarias (rental companies) which have temporary rentals in addition to offering plain unfurnished apartments. Since I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of buying furniture I went with the temporary option.

Just walking through the streets of Nueva Córdoba you’ll run into an inmobiliaria every couple of blocks and a Google search of “inmobiliaria temporario en Córdoba” produces another handful of results to choose from. You pay these companies a commission so they have a vested interest in insuring that you find something that you like.

I ended up finding a temporary apartment to rent that met every one of my requirements. I wrote about my full experience about finding an apartment in Córdoba on my blog.

Are there many other expats in your area?

No, there are not. I believe the majority of Argentina’s expats reside in Buenos Aires. I’ve met 2 other expats through the Spanish language school I’m enrolled in however Córdoba doesn’t seem to be the popular expat destination.

I’ve only been here for a month but have had trouble connecting with other expats. If you’re reading this and live in Córdoba, Argentina definitely reach out as I’d really like to connect with other expats here.

Even in my original stay in Córdoba during my backpacking trip I remember that fellow gringos where a rare sight here. Outside of the hostels you just don’t run into many foreigners.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

I find the locals here to be very friendly especially when they learn I’m a foreigner. Perhaps it’s because foreigners don’t come here too often?

I’ve only lived here for a month so the number of locals I’ve gotten to know intimately is limited however one of the things I’ve enjoyed is the amount of personal interaction that goes into each shopping experience.

The other day I went to a hardware store to get a zapatilla (power strip). In the US this would involve me selecting the strip off the shelves and paying for it at the register while saying no more than maybe 3 words to the clerk. In Argentina it’s a full interaction. After explaining what I was looking for and making my selection I talked with the store owner for 15 minutes about fútbol (he was a Boca Juniors fan while the other guy working in the store supported Belgrano of Córdoba), life in the US and asados. It was awesome. Interactions like these are the norm when dealing with the store owners.

One common theme in my interaction with locals is that they are surprised I’m here when they learn I’m from the US. Given the current economic and political situation in Argentina, many locals have dreams of a better life outside of Argentina and are often surprised I’m here. I assure them that their country has plenty of amazing things to offer this American.

What do you like about life where you are?

There are a lot of things I like about living in Córdoba, Argentina.

I like the variety that this area offers. Last weekend I went hiking and fishing in the foothills with my girlfriend’s brother. There are several small towns neighboring Córdoba reachable by bus that provide for excellent day trips. The nightlife here is also very good. When the students are in school every bar and disco in the Neuva Córdoba area is packed on Friday and Saturday night. I don’t know what is in the water here but the people are very good looking.

I like the Dólar Blue. Argentina certainly isn’t the cheapest place to live however when compared with San Francisco, things tend to be cheaper here. However with the strong black market for US dollars – known as “Blue” Dollars – I can trade my home earnings for an additional 30-35%.

I like that everything is new. Going to the store in San Francisco to buy bread is not fun but here it is. With my intermediate Spanish everything becomes an adventure and I like that.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

I don’t know anyone here. My girlfriend is the only people I knew here before moving and during times when she is gone or we’ve had an argument I feel very lonely in this new place.

There are certain small things and customs that I miss from back home. I miss the coffee from the US. The coffee here is not good, in my opinion. I miss NFL Sundays with family and friends. I miss free refills and unlimited water at restaurants. I miss good Mexican food – although the Argentine’s love meat rivals my own.

I’m currently working for a US company while here in Argentina. I’m incredibly blessed to have this opportunity and there are hundreds of great things about it however one thing I dislike is that I’m not as ingrained in the community as I’d be having a local job here. I wouldn’t trade my setup for anything however it would be nice to interact with the locals all day rather than with the Americans who are my clients and coworkers.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

I think living abroad is an amazing experience. In just one short month I’ve had so many great things happen and learned so much about myself. So my first piece of advice for those hesitant on trying to live abroad – as I certainly was – is to go for it. Things will work out.

My second piece of advice is don’t pay for anything with a credit card. Those companies will convert pesos to your home currency at the official market rate. Instead bring cash and change dollars to pesos at the black market rate and that steak dinner and bottle of Malbec instantly becomes 30-35% cheaper. If you weary of travelling with lots of cash, another option is the money transfer service Xoom. With this service you can transfer pesos to yourself at a rate that is slightly less favorable than the current Dolar Blue however still well above what the official market rate is.

What are your plans for the future?

I plan on living in Córdoba, Argentina for a minimum of 6 months. After that period of time I’m going to re-evaluate things and make a decision as to what I want to do. Staying here longer is certainly a strong possibility. The 2014 World Cup is right next door in Brazil and I’ve always wanted to go.

Despite the country’s poor economic condition I feel like there is a lot of opportunity here especially for foreigners who are not dependent on the unstable Argentine peso. I plan to explore some of these opportunities during the next six months and see where that leads me.

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