Following their dreams down to Buenos Aires
US expats remake their lives after 9/11
By Irin Carmon, Globe Correspondent | September 26, 2004
BUENOS AIRES -- In a previous life, Jason Rosado wore suits, shook hands, and climbed the management training ladder. Playing by the rules eventually got this Bronx native appointed a JP Morgan vice president at age 27.
But Rosado, manning the turntables at Bar Kimia with a Yankees hat dipped low over his eyes and turquoise athletic wristbands to match his ''What's Up Buenos Aires" T-shirt, has long since traded his corporate job for a new domain.
Later this month he and globe-trotter roommate Grant Dull, 28, will unveil What's Up BA, an innovative bilingual travel and culture webzine. The party at Bar Kimia is to launch the new Young Expat Society of Buenos Aires, or YesBA, which has more than 1,000 members after just a few months.
Both are at the vanguard of a larger trend that has lately been luring a few thousand young Americans away from their lives in the States to this enigmatic and vibrant city, which in the wake of economic collapse offers the high life on the cheap.
''I guess I'm a post 9/11 case study," says Rosado. ''I worked in the shadow of the World Trade Center. I bought my Banana Republic suits there because I made a lot of money, and I danced salsa on the 106th floor. But 9/11 put things in perspective for me. I needed to get out of the corporate world and, you know, follow my dreams."
He is not alone. Whether bored by their post-college lives, driven out by political disaffection, or mindful of the increasing importance of the Spanish language, young of America are flocking to Buenos Aires.
While exact figures are difficult to collect, the US Embassy here estimates there are 25,000 to 30,000 US citizens living in Argentina, about half of them in Buenos Aires.
Rob Batchelder, the US consul in Buenos Aires, says that even as the economic and political crisis of 2001-2002 drove out an estimated third of the long-term US-citizen residents from Argentina, short-term visits from the United States have skyrocketed. He cites a recent report that showed a 70 percent increase in North American tourist arrivals to Argentina each year from 2001-2003.
The city is uniquely poised to play host. The advent of the euro has made old haunts like Paris and Barcelona prohibitively expensive. The Argentine peso, on the other hand, once one-to-one to the dollar, has sunk to three-to-one, allowing Americans here to indulge in wine and steak dinners for the price of a McDonald's Happy Meal back home, and to buy fine leathers at bargain-basement prices.
''If you took the same amount of money to London or Paris that I brought here to live for five months, you would probably spend it in a week," says Virginia Brumby, 25, of Tifton, Ga.
Back in Washington, D.C., where she moved after graduating from Washington and Lee University in Virginia, Brumby began learning Spanish and took a second job to supplement her government gig. She quit both when she raised enough money to come to Buenos Aires, a place she had never even seen.
Here, like countless short-term expats, Brumby teaches English, and tutors the children of an affluent family. Her main vocation, however, is to take advantage of Buenos Aires's cosmopolitan pleasures. Much of the infrastructure from Buenos Aires's glory days, including real estate, is intact and newly accessible.
''I rented a coffin in New York for $900 a month," says Dull. ''Now I'm renting a three-bedroom in Palermo, one of the coolest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, for $200, and doing steak lunches."
When he hasn't been hopping from continent to continent, Dull, originally from San Antonio, has spent three of the last five years in Buenos Aires.
''The city is just exploding culturally," he says. ''Any night of the week, you can go out and have a blast. Plus, Argentines are also very open to foreigners."
Young people are probably less likely to be fazed by the prospect of safety hazards related to the Argentine political and economic crises, which in the last year have settled into relative stability. In fact, some see the post-crisis atmosphere as having distinct advantages beyond merely making the city affordable.
''People are frustrated and disappointed, but they're releasing that energy with an impulse to creativity," says New Yorker Lloyd Nimetz, 25, who studied here as a Williams College student, returned as a Fulbright scholar, and stayed on. ''There's a creative boom in this city, with a lot of underground art. . . . And you have so many foreigners who come here with an artistic bent because of that."
Dedicating oneself to art and literature is easy here, especially with a little preparation.
Jocelyn Shardlow, 24, of Minneapolis, spent the year and a half after graduating from the University of Wisconsin saving money and working two jobs. Now in Buenos Aires, she's been able to take six classes in language, literature, art, and yoga for the equivalent of $150 a month.
''Even those with more established roots in American life are giving it all up. Growing bored after eight years as a senior vice president at a health care company, Dallas native Michael Koh, 31, went around the world but kept returning to Buenos Aires.
''Out of all the places I had been around the world, my heart was still in Buenos Aires," Koh writes in an e-mail. Since moving here, he has been working in tourism, studying Spanish, and developing a real estate business aimed at foreigners.
For Rosado, Buenos Aires has meant a renewed chance at creativity. Born to Puerto Rican parents with limited education, he attended prep school and Wesleyan University in Connecticut on scholarships. Despite his wide-ranging interests, after college he went straight to the bank.
When he decided to leave JP Morgan, Rosado considered graduate school but chose travel.
Pointing to the turntables and white boards scrawled with website- and video-related to-do lists in the apartment he shares with Dull, Rosado says, ''This is my master's program."
Irin Carmon writes regularly on student travel. She can be reached at www.irincarmon.com .
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.