Potluck of Cultures

MariaPaz

This is María Paz. She is from Chile. Moving to Atlanta has brought her closer to her parents, whom she misses every day. “In Spanish, we call that regalona, someone that really likes to be attached to their family I realized I am a mommy and daddy’s girl now! (laughs)”

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17498944_750621301752999_5748325578644169263_nFrom her colorful home-made house decorations and floral arrangements on the table, to the furniture she has refurbished herself and her workspace filled with templates and ideas for upcoming projects, MaríaPaz’ apartment is as warm and welcoming as MaríaPaz, her husband Guillermo and baby Clemente themselves when they greet us on the day of our interview. True to that famous warmth of Chilean people we always hear about! During the interview, even her words paint vivid pictures for us about Chile, Atlanta and her experience of leaving one for the other.

 

For MaríaPaz, the experience of living in another country, especially one where Spanish is not the primary language, has always been a dream. So, when her husband Guillermo was accepted to enroll in a master’s program at the Georgia Tech’s Architectural School, the couple knew this was the opportunity they had been waiting for. “I actually pushed him to move here, to go for something more challenging in his career, because he 17498516_750621231753006_7788773313939002361_n1wasn’t happy at his job and I know he’s smart enough to do something else.” Now, living in Atlanta is like a dream come true; although she does admit that when she first envisioned living abroad, she did not dream of coming as a dependent of someone else, as it means that she is limited in what she is allowed to do in the United States. Like work, for example. A creative mind, MaríaPaz has made her passion her career: first, through her studies in Integrated Design in Chile, a degree that focuses on the development of a complete design concept, then through her job as a designer for a Chilean retail brand. In Atlanta, she makes the best of a less than ideal situation by furthering her career, not through work, but through additional courses, like the course she took in New York to become a professional florist. “I don’t want to waste this time in the United States doing nothing, that’s why I decided to do something specific with my career. I studied at university for 5 years and invested time and money in it, so I want it to be useful! Not being able to work is just not useful for me.”

17436299_750621361752993_4396472990392995743_oWhen MaríaPaz is not busy with her crafts, she enjoys spending time with her family. For her, the time she now has with her son Clemente is a priceless gift and she feels grateful that she can dedicate herself 100% to him. She tells us that family life plays an important role in Chilean society; they are not just family, they are friends and they often eat together, celebrate together and sometimes even live together. Traditionally, when a couple starts their own family, they still remain in close contact with other family members. Considering the importance of family, for their families in Chile, the birth of their son Clemente in May of 2016  was both a moment of both great joy, but also a little sadness. “At the beginning, they were happy, of course, but now they are kind of sad too, because they are missing him growing up… So I keep in touch all the time through facetime; I send them pictures and videos every day and keep them updated about his growing up. With technology, at least you can avoid the distance a bit.” For her, the role of family in society is the biggest difference between her culture and American culture and she admits she was surprised to find that her image of family in the United States was very different from what it actually is. “In Chile, we usually live with our parents until we graduate from university, but here, when they graduate from high school, they leave their parent’s house to study somewhere else. We always thought parents here don’t care about their kids like we do, because they leave so soon. But this is not true. At the first day of classes, you see a lot of parents going to the university with their kids, dropping them off, etc. I was very surprised to see that.”

Luckily, MaríaPaz has found some amazing friends in Atlanta that help fill the void of being so far away from her family in Chile, especially in the Georgia Tech International Spouse Group. She jokes that she now has more friends and a better social life than Guillermo, because the group has introduced her to new friends from all over the world. She was excited to discover that, even within the vast array of different perspectives and cultures, it is still possible to find points you agree on. “It is l like having a family that is not your real family, but it is your family here.”

Even though MaríaPaz still misses her hometown Valparaíso, with its vibrant art, history, beautiful beaches and a rainbow of colorful buildings along the slopes of its hills, she enjoys her life in the United States. She affirms Atlanta’s nickname as the “city in a forest” and tells us that the only detail that is missing to make Atlanta the perfect place to live is the absence of the beaches and sea she loves so much. “Living abroad is a good experience for everyone. If I had to recommend Atlanta to someone that is coming here, I would tell them: don’t be afraid, because it is a very nice city, very green and very kind, with a good quality of life… You will not be disappointed!”

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Interview and writing by Tineke Van Varenberg

Make up by Denise Batista

Interview and Photography by Sonal Sukheeja

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