From crisis to actor: How Augusto made it in Aotearoa

By Katie Stone

Reading time: 13 minutes

It’s been eight years since Augusto first set foot on New Zealand soil, and he still hasn’t decided what he loves most.

“I very much love the landscape - the mountains, rivers, forests, volcanos, beaches, the little towns, the hiking tracks,” he says. “I love that you can be free and happy and go out with your family on a short trip and come back and everything is still in its place.

“I love that you can progress. I love that in most jobs, your work is valued and you're not just a number. And I am sure that I am missing plenty of good things ...”

It’s a glowing review from someone who was once living off free food at backpacker hostels.

By Katie Stone

Reading time: 13 minutes

It’s been eight years since Augusto first set foot on New Zealand soil, and he still hasn’t decided what he loves most.

“I very much love the landscape – the mountains, rivers, forests, volcanos, beaches, the little towns, the hiking tracks,” he says. “I love that you can be free and happy and go out with your family on a short trip and come back and everything is still in its place.

“I love that you can progress. I love that in most jobs, your work is valued and you’re not just a number. And I am sure that I am missing plenty of good things …”

It’s a glowing review from someone who was once living off free food at backpacker hostels.

In 2013, the then-25-year-old was fresh off the plane from Argentina and clutching his first-ever working holiday visa. He had only one plan: to make a new life for his family. “I didn’t arrive here with the ‘traveller/backpacker’ mindset. I came with only one goal in mind – a proper job,” he says.

Just a few months before, he hadn’t even heard of a working holiday visa – or New Zealand, for that matter.

Hailing from Argentina’s second-largest city, Córdoba, Augusto always wondered if life could be better elsewhere. Córdoba is the second-most populated province in Argentina, with around 3.3 million people. Almost 41% of the population live in the capital city (also called Córdoba). It’s a city famous for its art galleries and historical monuments, including 17th-century Jesuit ruins.

Although firmly settled in New Zealand, Augusto is deeply patriotic about his home country.

“I grew up there, and I miss family and friends and the cultural differences. But I know life there is not easy.”

In his 20s, Augusto found himself becoming increasingly frustrated with Argentina’s ongoing social and economic problems. The financial crisis in 2001 led to the collapse of entire industries, followed by widespread loss of trust in the government.

The global recession of 2008 hit Argentina even harder, and the country is still struggling to recover today. Inflation has been running at around 30% a year for nearly two decades.

 

For many Argentinians, the only way to keep afloat is to work – which is what Augusto has been doing since he was 11. Although he managed to study at university for two years, he had to give it up early in order to support himself.

In 2010, he was working full-time at a car parts factory while co-owning a pub with his partner Flavia and a friend. The financial crisis saw both businesses shut down.

When Flavia announced she was pregnant, Augusto realised they needed to find a better place to raise a family. “I have always dreamed of leaving the country to explore and experience other cultures, and that was the perfect trigger to make a decision,” he says. “I knew at the time that my future was not in Argentina and knowing that I was about to have a baby just reinforced that.”

Their first plan was to move to Chile, just over the border. But after some research, they realised that things weren’t much better there.

Then, at a birthday party one day, they met a young guy from a country on the other side of the world – New Zealand. Augusto and his partner were blown away by the stories of his travels. “Coming from the lowest class you don’t get to travel like that, you don’t even think about going outside the country,” Augusto says.

Before departing to New Zealand in 2013

The Kiwi suggested they apply for a working holiday visa in New Zealand. “At that time, we did not know what a working holiday was and what’s worse, we didn’t know where New Zealand was!” Augusto laughs. “But I decided I had to make a trip like that and create a better future.”

New Zealand seemed to tick all the boxes. Within weeks, Augusto secured his working holiday visa and flew to New Zealand alone, with plans for Flavia to follow later.

Unfortunately, it was a rocky start.

Arriving in Auckland with no real plan in mind, Augusto managed to tag along with some fellow Argentinians to a backpackers’ hostel in the CBD. He quickly found that Auckland was out of his budget, so he hitched a ride with another group who were heading to the Bay of Plenty to find work. They were all hired to pick kiwifruit, but, with no transportation of his own, Augusto was told to leave after three days.

Working at the Sizzling Chorizo in Auckland before moving to Christchurch to live with his girls

He returned to Auckland and another backpacker hostel, which also hired him as a cleaner. Determined to save every cent, Augusto eked out his wages by eating from the hostel kitchen’s free food basket until he found a job washing dishes in a restaurant in Ponsonby.

Looking back, he says that 2013 was the toughest year of his life. “On one hand, I was in a first world country, learning another culture with all its mixtures and languages. But on the other hand, I had to focus 100% of my time and energy on working, looking for a better job and learning English to have better opportunities – and all by myself. I had no family support, no friends that I could lean on, and everything that I knew was not close by.”

Being away from his partner – and his pending firstborn – made the situation even more desperate. Most of the time, he barely had enough money to last the week.

Eventually, he secured a job as a labourer at a Christchurch engineering company. But it was nearly a year before he was reunited with Flavia and his new daughter, who was by then four months old.

For seven years, Augusto focused entirely on his work. He rose through the ranks from labourer to site manager and then supervisor. It was a job that would take him all over the country and to a comfortable salary. Not bad for someone who started with neither English nor any experience in civil engineering.

With daughter and Flavia, Wellington

But, despite his success, he knew he wasn’t happy. “I was away from my family for seven to ten months out of the year. I’ve missed plenty of pretty big important moments in my daughter’s life; it’s really heavy to know that that time is not coming back.”

Being away so often also began to affect his relationship with his partner. So, after some long discussions, he decided in May this year, it was time to leave the job: “I needed to start over. I’ve realised that I actually never worked on something that I really liked or wanted to do. I was good at my job as a site manager, but I didn’t choose that, I just became good at it.”

It was a decision that led to an epiphany: perhaps he could do something closer to his heart.

A few months ago, the family moved to Auckland. It was Flavia’s idea to take over as the sole income earner so that Augusto could take the first step towards his lifelong dream: acting.

He’s now signed with a talent agency and thoroughly enjoying it. “I had always wanted to act in a TV show or movie, and why not? I haven’t been this happy in a very long time,” he exclaims.

So far, things are going well. He’s taking courses with the talent agency and learning the ropes of the acting business. “I am very new to the industry, and I have no experience, but I am confident that I will fulfil my dream. It sounds cheesy but I don’t really care too much because I am truly happy. “I enjoy meeting super interesting people, going to film sets, seeing celebrities. I am doing this for myself and my family to live my life to the fullest possible.”

It also means that for the first time in his life, he’s not working – and he’s making the most of it. “I’m reading and cooking mostly,” he laughs. “Otherwise, walking and exploring new places with family. Going out for breakfast or dinner. Going out for a good movie. Having facetime calls with friends and family.”

The change has helped him take a philosophical view of his previous struggles in New Zealand, which are now a distant memory. “Things are different. I reckon that suffering and challenges were necessary to move forward and appreciate the values that we have and the potential as well that was within me.”

Homesickness is still strong, and the border closure hasn’t helped. He and his family miss their loved ones back home, and also the close-knit nature of their culture. “Latin American people are very affectionate, and we express a lot of physical contact with family and friends,” he says. “I found out that is not very welcome in a predominantly English culture. That is probably the only thing that I dislike about New Zealand.”

They have, however, managed to retain some aspects of their former life. He and Flavia regularly indulge in mate, a popular South American beverage brewed from the leaves and stems of the yerba mate plant (Ilex paraguariensis). They also cook traditional food as often as possible and are doing their best to teach their daughter Spanish.

New Zealand citizenship is their next goal, and they plan to apply early next year. They are also looking forward to building a small business together.

It may have taken a few years, but the Sosas finally feel like they are on the road to the life they always longed for.

“New Zealand is a young country with a lot of opportunities to explore,” Augusto says. “I love that in most cases, you can choose what you want to do with your life.”

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