Ashley Boval is a Social Policy student at Northwestern University and studied abroad through the IFSA-Butler Argentine Universities Program in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2015.
My experience outside of the U.S. is quite limited. I went to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico when I was eight, Saint Thomas in the Bahamas when I was five, and to Canada before I was old enough to form memories. Studying abroad was my opportunity to travel outside my realm of knowns, and so I jumped on it, deciding to study in Argentina for five months in order to really live somewhere exciting and new.
I was able to be both the tourist and the knowledgeable Argentine, pointing out everything that makes Buenos Aires so beautiful, which built my appreciation for it even after they left.
My mom nearly matched my excitement over studying abroad, a fact that greatly amused me. As it turns out, her excitement wasn’t completely selfless – she saw my adventures abroad as an opportunity for her to explore Argentina as well. She had never been to South America, or Europe either actually, so she and her boyfriend decided that a trip to visit me in Buenos Aires was just what the doctor ordered. I agreed; having my mom visit in September – when I assumed my homesickness would be at its peak – seemed like the perfect situation for me as well. And it was… but there are a few things that I wish I had known before they visited.
1. They will expect you to be their tour guide.
Having known nothing about Argentina prior to boarding the plane, my mom and her boyfriend expected me to serve as a quasi-tour guide, showing them the iconic spots in the city and filling them in on Argentine history. I was prepared for neither of these things, and our days were spent wandering around different areas of the city that I enjoyed. We never actually took that iconic photo with the Obelisco, nor did we enter any museums. I filled them in with as many fun facts as possible, and they left knowing that I had visited a museum dedicated to Eva Perón without fully knowing who she was.
2. You will explore some fancier food options.
In addition to guiding them around the city, my mom and her boyfriend also wanted me to take them to the best places to eat – something I was still figuring out on my own. Truthfully, this ended well for all parties involved because we explored and ended up eating in much fancier restaurants than I could afford on a student’s budget.
3. You get to become the parent for the week.
Cautioning my mom to watch for cars turning on green, encouraging her to speed up as we walked down the street, pointing out “pretty views”… I basically led my mom and her boyfriend around the city, as though I was the mom with two excited toddlers who just can’t wait to explore the world.
4. Your translation skills will be put to the test.
Most importantly, neither my mom nor her boyfriend speak any Spanish. While I knew this coming in, I didn’t quite realize this meant that, beyond being a tour guide and a wary parent, I was also their personal translator. Menus, street signs, men selling sunglasses, friendly Argentines who stopped to make conversation… two heads immediately turned to me and I would translate as well as I could.
While exhausting, it was incredibly rewarding to walk around with the two of them. They came to a foreign country without knowing the language and were able to appreciate the culture anyway. I was able to be both the tourist and the knowledgeable Argentine as we travelled around the city joking and pointing out everything that makes Buenos Aires so beautiful, which built my appreciation for it even after they left.
Having friends and family visit from home while studying abroad can be both overwhelming and incredibly rewarding. Before they arrive, be sure to make a list (with their input) of places that you want to take them: sights to see, restaurants, day trips, etc. This cuts down on the stress of not knowing where to lead them as well as gives you time to prepare little bits of information about each place you visit. If your visitor doesn’t speak the language, make sure to schedule some time without them so that you can get a break from playing translator.
And most importantly, remember that this amazing place is new and exciting to them, and they are happy just to be there with you. Have fun! You get the opportunity to show off what you have been doing abroad, so take advantage of it!