I’d just like to say that my Argentine host family is absolutely insane, but I love them with my whole heart.
First off, we have Renata (Rena), my 14 year old host sister. An avid deportista de hockey de campo (field hockey player), Rena is in the peak of her teenager brat phase. Obsessed with Instagram, pictures of herself, and Billie Eilish, Rena definitely has tried my patience at times throughout my time in Argentina, but I think she does have a good heart deep down. Rena likes to avoid showers after field hockey practice, much to my host mom’s dismay, by claiming she’s trying to “salvar agua para ayudar la gente de Africa” (save water to help the people of Africa). Throughout my 3.5 months in Ushuaia, I saw Rena the least out of all the members of my family, because she was always out partying at the boliche with her friends (promising her mom not to tomar alcohol), practicing field hockey, or traveling to various regions of Argentina, from Mar del Plata to Rio Grande, to compete in field hockey. Once, she was gone for 3 straight weeks competing, and the serenity of the casa in her absence was honestly kind of nice. We never really developed a great relationship, although I tried many times to reach out, and I think it’s because to fit me in the tiny casa, my host mom gave me Rena’s room (leaving Rena to sleep in the bed with host mama). Honestly, 14 year old me would be pissed about that too, so I don’t blame her.
Next, we have Enzo, my 19 year old host brother. The first time I ever met Enzo, I asked if he was in high school or had graduated. He told me he had to repeat his last year because he “snowboard mucho, estudiar poco”. Essentially he’s an Argentine snowboard bum, who spends most of his time shredding the gnar down the local ski mountain, Cerro Castor. He still takes classes, but at the weirdest hours: from 9:30pm-11:30pm. I think waiting for him to come home was one of the major reasons my host family ate dinner so late at night; thanks Enzo! He also had an entire room dedicated to growing weed (very illegal in Argentina). The door to this room was always closed so I never knew what was inside, until the night before we left to go to Chile. I was looking for my suitcase, so I popped inside the room and was thoroughly surprised by the 7 weed plants hanging everywhere. Enzo was essentially always stoned and slept until 1pm every day, but he’s a really nice kid and we got along well. He kind of became a meme within my program, because my friends loved hearing crazy stories about Enzo.
Juan is my host mom’s boyfriend of 4 years. He’s honestly the sweetest man ever, and he was so fun to have around the house. In the evenings or on weekends, we would watch Harry Potter together in spanish and chat about crazy news stories. Juan took English classes after work in the evenings, and one night he said he would buy me a torta (cake) if I did his homework for him. However, refusing to accept the bribe, I sat down and helped him work through present participles instead, and together he learned how to write phrases like “I am eating”. Later, my host mom and him joked around with me about how I am very “ética” (ethical) since I refused to help him cheat. Juan also loved to try to pronounce my name with an english R-sound, so he would go around the house saying “Grrraaaaace” and I would respond “Juuuuaaan” from downstairs. It was a good relationship. On my third-to-last night in Ushuaia, I discovered that Juan is a fantastic guitar player and folk singer. At 3:30am, Juan, my host mama, other friends, and I were all dancing along to Juan’s amazing songs, and I knew I was really going to miss Ushuaia.
Finally, we have the one, the only, Natalia Prieto – my host mama. I am honestly so incredibly lucky to have her, as she brought light into my life every day in Ushuaia and helped make my experience as wonderful as it could be. She has so much love in her heart, and would always talk with me about random things, never judging when my Spanish was a little slow. At meals, Naty would make an effort to make me feel included, explaining things to slowly whenever I was confused, and describing new concepts and vocabulary. On day 1, she told me that “su casa es mi casa”, and I knew that if I ever needed help with anything at all, I could reach out to her. She took off work the entire first week of my time in Ushuaia to make sure I would be well-adjusted. She drove me to the local pool so I could get a membership, took me to her friend’s casas, and even took me to the dentist. Every weekend, she would invite me to an asado (like a barbeque) with her friends, and we would spend hours talking, drinking vino, and eating SO much red meat of all varieties. One weekend, she offered to drive a bunch of my friends and me to Laguna Esmeralda, a beautiful local hike at a glacial lagoon, and we spend the entire Saturday hiking through deep snow with her friends and my friends. It was such a cool cross-cultural experience for everyone! Naty was also very invested in what I was studying, and would always ask questions about climate change topics we were studying in class. It was really fun to share what we had been learning, and I could tell that she was developing more of an environmental conscience as time went on. Naty was so supportive throughout my time in Ushuaia as well, especially when I went through a break-up and I lost a family member at home. She always made sure that I felt loved and comfortable, thousands of miles from my United States home. On my last night in Ushuaia, she gave me a Tierra del Fuego photo book and wrote the sweetest message:
This means “With all of my love for my beloved daughter Grace… I will never forget you. I am so grateful to life to have been able to get to know you. I love you very much today and always. Natalia 6-12-19.” When Naty drove me to the airport and we had to say goodbye, we both cried! I am so so grateful to have had such a wonderful host mama in Ushuaia, and I dearly hope that I’ll see her again some day.