It is universally acknowledged that it’s not easy for human beings to step out of their comfort zone, especially while adding the challenges of learning a new language, making new friends and getting accustomed to a new lifestyle.
I learned that lesson early in life, at nine years of age when I left my friends and family behind in my hometown of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Although I did not fully realize what future awaited me in the much-fantasized United States, I packed my most precious toys and held my parents’ hands while my brothers skipped along the airport walkways, leaving a group of sobbing relatives behind.
It was about a year prior to our big move that I answered the phone call that would change our lives. As soon as I picked it up, I knew it was someone calling from U.S.A. and I was ecstatic to hope that my dad would be taking us all there on a trip. My mom, brothers, and I rushed into the living room and huddled around my dad while he spoke in broken English, constantly grinning at us. Little did I know that our “trip” was going to last an indefinite amount of time. It turns out that my dad had been offered a job in a town we had never heard of: Austin, Texas. Nevertheless, my parents could not pass up an opportunity for their kids to succeed in a First World country, especially with the economy in Argentina spiraling downward. It took us several months to sell almost everything we owned and pack up the essential belongings we just couldn’t leave behind. I celebrated my ninth birthday crammed into my aunt’s apartment with everybody that mattered to me, and two days later we were off. I would now be thousands of miles away from them.
Leading up to our moving day, my mother started having terrible nightmares of the family arriving in Texas and seeing nothing but tumbleweeds rolling down abandoned streets. Alas, as soon as we arrived all of our pre-existing stereotypes disappeared. We spent the first two weeks sleeping in a hotel suite, and by day we were house hunters. After a lot of hard work, the home we ended up renting could not have been more perfect. Equipped with a large backyard, something we never had while living in an apartment in a city of 12 million people, the house also came with new friends. It was located on a corner with a cul-de-sac across the street that consisted of three different households with children our age. I did not speak much English, but with various hand gestures and lots of laughs, I had made my first American friends.
Our move took place in April, and since the school year in Argentina is from March to December, I had long finished third grade and had until August to start fourth grade. My parents, however, always thinking of their children first, had arranged to have my brothers and I attend the last two weeks of classes at Patton Elementary School, where we would officially start the following Fall. The point was for us to meet other students, get to know the teachers, learn more English and become familiar with the school grounds. For me, personally, it was torture.
I hadn’t fully recognized the change in my life until I was exposed to the American classroom culture, and my first experience with that was when I attended those two weeks of school. Everything was so different. The students’ faces were not the ones I had spent the last years getting to know. People were talking in another language. I did not comprehend the assignments. The school day lasted longer. Everything was off and I wanted to be home with my mom. That tough day lead to another, which went by faster than the first, and then another, which went by even faster. Before I knew it, the trial weeks were over and I had survived.
It took me the whole summer of 1998 and the first few months of fourth grade to accept and enjoy the fact that I was now a resident of the U.S. Thanks to my absorbent nine-year-old brain, learning English was relatively easy and within a year, I lost all traces of a Spanish accent. By the time Halloween rolled around, I had at least five close friends with whom I felt I’d known for years. I learned that kids were accepting of foreigners and were interested to get to know me. I started celebrating holidays we never had in Argentina, like Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. There were definitely days when I missed my family and friends terribly, and several nights when I begged my mom to move us back. Little by little, one day at a time, I began to like my new life in Texas and appreciate the one I’d led and left behind in Argentina.
Her story among the experiences of thousands of immigrants who leave their country to come to the U.S. each year. Many people move to the United States for so many reasons, and each one holds as much importance as the next. An estimated 13.1 million immigrants were legal permanent residents in 2011 according to the Homeland Security website. Starting a new life in a place where everything is foreign to you is extremely difficult, but sometimes it’s a better living than what you were used to. Sometimes it’s more difficult for some than for others. It’s not always easy trying to live in a new place, but as you adjust you see your new world through a different perspective.