Before this summer, freshman Francesca Stamati could only imagine going to Argentina to visit her dad’s side of her family — she had never even left America, let alone met most of her 100-or-so cousins, aunts and uncles who live 8,436 miles away.
Stamati was the only child of her four siblings that had never visited their family abroad. The only introductions she’d had of her enormous family were through sparse FaceTime calls and random visits from her dad’s siblings.
She felt that in order to connect to her family — in South America and at home — she had to see them in person. To close the gap between her and her family members, Stamati, accompanied by her sister Bella, decided to spend the summer in Argentina.
Just minutes after telling her father she wanted to visit her extended family, her plans to travel were already in motion — he decided he would go with them for the first ten days of their trip, and a text to the Stamati extended family group chat alerted the family that him and the girls would be in Argentina over the summer. Before the end of the day, Stamati was in contact with her second cousin who would soon be one of her closest friends, 16-year-old Bianca Cirelli.
“I didn’t even know Bianca even existed, she didn’t know I existed,” Stamati said. “But when I met her we just got close so fast.”
Their relationship started last November with a once-a-week Skype call, bonding over Argentine and American music, school drama and Netflix shows. Their monthly calls grew to non-stop texting and constant reminders about how soon they’d finally meet in person.
Once they finally did meet in person, you would never have thought they hadn’t before. Stamati fit right in with Cirelli and her routine — everyday family traditions such as eating choripán sandwiches and drinking mate became second nature. Cirelli found herself surprised that she connected so quickly with someone who lived thousands of miles away from her.
“She did a lot of Argentinian things with me,” Cirelli said. “The relationship was great — we got along really well.”
Stamati got the chance to meet many people outside her biological family. Since they were unable to host her during her three-month trip, they recommended that she stay with family friends in Córdoba.
Her host family consisted of a host mom, dad and two 12-year-old twin girls that she referred to as her sisters. She spent time with the girls having contests to see who could roll their “r’s” the longest, making TikToks (their favorite) and taking on the role of “big sister” by solving problems between them.
“I became really close to them,” Stamati said. “I talked to them all the time and I still call them on the phone.”
Her host sisters weren’t the only sisters Stamati bonded with on the trip.
Stamati’s 19-year-old biological sister, Bella Stamati, moved to college when Francesca was going into 8th grade. Traveling together gave them an opportunity to share experiences that nobody else in their family could relate to.
“We have so many inside jokes now that I don’t have with my brothers,” Bella said. “It just strengthened our relationship a lot.”
Speaking an entirely different language than everyone in their extended family also aided their relationship’s growth. They had to tackle the Spanish language barrier together — they had grown up hearing it when their father talked to his siblings on the phone, but they never had the chance to use it themselves. But according to Bella, they thrived by relying on each other to communicate to their family.
“Sometimes we had to pull out Google Translate when they were trying to speak English to us,” Bella said. “They would act out what they were trying to say — and the other way around.”
Her strengthening of her Spanish was just one of the factors that led to her overall new understanding of her Argentinian roots.
During the first ten days of her trip, Stamati and her father Miguel visited his childhood home in Santa Fe. He reminisced about the staircases he used to slide down and the windowsills he would sit in. These memories gave Francesca the first-hand opportunity to learn more about her father’s past.
“It was just crazy to see something that was part of his childhood,” Stamati said. “Now it’s ‘I’m there and I’m seeing it’ and that was really cool.”
Stamati has now been away from her extended family for three months. She doesn’t have plans to go back to Argentina anytime soon, but texting every day almost makes it seem like they’re still together.