How My Host Mom and I Almost Moved
Growing up, I moved with my parents twice across the country, and we often reflect on the moving experience as a stressful but exciting time. For the first two months of my semester abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a real estate agent weekly showed the apartment I shared with my host mother to potential buyers, and we would exchange awkward pleasantries in my slowly-developing Spanish. Two months into my semester, the realtor stopped coming, and within a few weeks, my host mom broached the subject that she had sold the apartment and we would be moving.
I was shocked when Maria told me. You can’t move when you have a host student, I thought. It had taken me four weeks to understand the public bus system near our apartment, and I had started making friends at the outdoor fitness classes at the nearby park. Of course, I was only thinking of how it would affect my semester, and quickly realized that Maria was probably also nervous about leaving the neighborhood she had grown up in since she was 14.
The details of our move were continuously changing, with alterations revealed to me practically every day during our morning tea and medialuna. Maria had purchased an apartment a couple of neighborhoods away, but it needed to be renovated from an office to an apartment before we could move in. Unsurprisingly, home renovations in Argentina share similar challenges to those in the United States, and construction almost always takes longer than predicted. It became a daily joke during dinner to ask when our moving date was, and the response was a quickly-moving target that fluctuated throughout June and July.
Without more than seven days’ notice, it was the night before la mudanza (the move). I was all packed, I had enlisted one of my IFSA friends to help me move my suitcases to the new apartment, and I had even (conveniently) eaten through all my Argentine snack food so that I would have less to carry. I had thought all the surprises were over. When I got home for the day, Maria called me into the kitchen amidst the cardboard boxes holding our kitchen appliances, and told me there had been a change. The rainy weather we had been experiencing that week meant that the new plaster couldn’t dry in the new place, and the walls couldn’t set until it was less humid outside. Although we couldn’t move into our new home, we still had to move out the next morning, so the buyers could move in. Maria told me we would be staying at her dear friend Cecilia’s apartment two blocks away until we had walls in our apartment. This intense, abrupt change would have freaked me out a few months earlier, but by June, I wasn’t even taken aback. I felt glad I wouldn’t have to learn new public transportation routes, but dreaded having to unpack, repack, and unpack a third time.
I never ended up seeing the new apartment. Buenos Aires continued its rainy June weather, and the walls took three extra weeks to dry, after I had already resettled into life in Wisconsin. I talked about moving to my friends for months, but ended up only seeing pictures through Whatsapp of the new place later in the summer. In our temporary home with Celia, I grew to understand briefly the ways of a second Argentine family, something that other students never had the opportunity to do. Little did I know that Cecilia used to own a traditional Argentine restaurant, and loved cooking authentic meats and empanadas for her guests. I was also invited to the tea parties Maria and her friends enjoyed at Cecilia’s, and become familiar with two of Cecilia’s adult children.
When I imagined my study abroad experience pre-departure, I pictured the famous sites I would see, and thought those memories would be the ones I would hold dearest. Now that I’ve been back for three months, however, I realize I equally treasure the experience I had with my host mom almost moving. Some of the most positively impactful experiences come out of seemingly undesirable situations. Had I not embraced my ever-changing living situation, I would’ve missed out on the chance to taste some of Argentina’s most deeply-held traditions. Navigating a stressful situation in a foreign culture brought me closer to my host mom, and I feel grateful Maria shared with me stories about growing up in the apartment she sold. There are decades of family history in those rooms, and I will always relish that I was able to connect to her family, knowing that the painting above my bed was painted by her grandfather as a gift for my host mother.
Besides learning to appreciate the positive surprises stressful situations bring, almost moving taught me not to take myself so seriously. I mean, how could I have planned that I would be woken up one Saturday morning to Maria’s brother uninstalling the ceiling fan above my bed? While I still crave planning and structure, I now feel more comfortable relinquishing the need to know the future and can find the fun in exploring the possibilities. Now, during my senior year of college, I find myself calling on my learned humility from my time in South America to calm the nerves of not knowing what will happen come graduation. Come humidity or high water, I know my experience almost moving will remain in my memory as I navigate future uncertainties.
Liz Schnee is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and studied with IFSA on the Argentine Universities Program in Buenos Aires, Argentina for Spring 2017.