A student’s host family is a huge part of their experience, and it was the aspect of studying abroad that most terrified me before I came. I had the opportunity to fill out a family placement preference form, but I didn’t expect that to make much of a difference. The things that end up making or breaking a host-guest relationship are rarely ones that can be captured on a simple form.
But IFSA works some magic.
Like most students in my group, I loved my housing situation. And even among those who didn’t love their situation, no one was so discontented that they needed to switch families (though I am told that in a normal-sized group of about twenty there will often be one student who requests a switch). It seems like an impossible job, making the right matches, but IFSA does it with an accuracy I can’t imagine.
Recently, we accidentally created an amazing window into the similarities, differences, and mundanities of our daily experiences with our host families. The students staying for another semester asked the others to describe life with their host families so they could make an informed decision about where they wanted to live for the next semester. I was fascinated by the collage of stories that arose. I also thought it could serve as an informative and therapeutic resource for any future students who were as nervous about living with a host family as I was. So I got permission from the authors to reproduce 7 of the descriptions here (starting with my own).
At the authors’ requests, their writings are anonymous. The accounts have been minimally edited, with these exceptions: The names of family members have also been taken out to protect their privacy (except in the case of my own family, because their names are already on this blog). Since these accounts were given in the context of a Facebook message thread, context-dependent phrases (introductions, references to other members of the conversation, etc.) have been omitted. All omissions are marked with ellipses within hard brackets—[…]—to distinguish them from the authors’ ellipses. A few clarifying notes have been added in brackets, but non-Spanish-speaking readers may want to use the translator at www.spanishdict.com if they want to decipher our Spanglish. One account has been corrected for typos because it was a condition reproduction, but others have been left as is. I hope you will understand that these accounts were written in the most casual of contexts and forgive the lack of formal style. As the curator of this collection, the typos and informalities are some of my favorite aspects of these accounts, because they help distinguish the voices and color the writing.
Without further ado, I present to you, Seven Accounts of Host Family Experiences, as Told by the Students of IFSA Ciclo II 2013:
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Marlene is a host-mothering ninja. She executes her duties with surgical precision and impressive mastery. I love her because she is quiet, supportive, caring, thoughtful, and flexible. Whether or not she is eating, she always sits with me while I eat (it’s almost always just the two of us because the others are at work or watching TV). Sometimes we talk and sometimes we don’t, and it’s just as comfortable either way–that’s how chill she is. She keeps the house neat, clean, and pretty, and she does laundry 3 times a week. As with everything she does, she puts great care and attention into her cooking, and it is fantastic. Rich and flavorful and dutifully Tican. I have spaghetti sometimes but almost all other lunches and dinners start with a hearty serving of rice and beans–just the way it should be. She gives me a lot of meat, but has cooked for vegetarians in the past. Also, she takes great pride in cooking with minimal salt and fat.
Carlos is a jolly taxi driver, but I haven’t managed to bond with him much. He spends most of his time watching TV in their bedroom (which opens onto the dining/living room).
María is 26 and just got her licenciada in accounting and a new, higher level accounting job. She is very sweet, but a little louder and more spirited than her mom. She regularly graces the household with her beautiful bilingual shower singing.
José is 23, studying architecture at a private university and working at an evidence repository. When he is home he is usually watching TV in his room. He loves fútbol.
Overall the family is a very comfortable one to live with. Everyone is warm but I still feel like I have plenty of space in our tiny little house (it’s two stories and each is about the size of a large classroom). I’m generally gone on the weekends, so I don’t end up doing much with the family, but we have done a few things and there were a few more I was invited to but didn’t go to, mostly family gatherings. Interest in watching or talking about sports would also go a long way towards participating more fully in the family life.
The neighborhood is safe as far as I can tell, though it’s clearly middle and lower class. There’s a supermarket just around the corner and a great gym two blocks away. The campus, however, is a grueling 700-meter, 8-minute slog away (if walking slowly).
Internet is almost always great. Room is pleasingly minimal, though some might not be pleased by the minimalism that would characterize the remaining floor space if a twin bed were to replace the single.
Bottom line: Perfect family for me.
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I live in San Francisco, about a 30 minute walk Southwest of UNA. There is a bus, but I have never taken it. The neighborhood seems mostly peaceful, but it definitely isn´t the nicest part of town. My house is comfortable, spacious, and downright gorgeous. It of course is in a quinta guarded by vicious (read here: harmless) dogs of all breeds. My room is pleasant and very blue. The bathroom is equally pleasant and very yellow. All the services and amenities are present and in proper working order. My host mom does laundry once a week and regularly loses socks. Occasionally I end up with other people´s clothes, but I have not tried to keep them, haha. I have to wash my own underwear and hang them in my shower. I don´t know if that was tmi… The food is amazing and almost perfectly vegetarian. (My host mom tries to abscond chicken broth in food- the horror- first world problems) I do believe there must be drugs in the gallo pinto- it is incredible. I have both a mom and a dad in their late 40´s early 50´s. My host sister is 21 and goes to a different university. I am always invited to family events or gatherings. Most of the time I go, mostly because I want to experience tico families. Sometimes I feel that the expectation to join in family events is too strong, but I might just be paranoid. That said, I have a hard time turning down invitations and, even though it is self-inflicted, I miss some independence. I´m not particularly friends with my host sister, although she is good for a conversation once every week or so. My host dad is hilarious. He always tries to speak English and rarely succeeds. His favorite phrase is ¨Cómo le how are you?¨ in the mornings. It goes without saying (but of course I´m saying it anyway) that he is obsessed with fútbol. The entire family is Saprisista [fans of Saprissa, San José’s team]. The reason that I have decided to switch families is based solely on my relationship with my host mom. From your responses, I don´t think I´m alone in saying that of all the members of your families, you spend the most time with your host mom. Unfortunately, I´m not an exception. Everything about our personalities and values clash. Although we are cordial to each other, I feel that there is a mutual and ever-present dislike hiding beneath the surface. She isn´t an inherently mean person or anything. I´m sure she will be a good host mother to another student. In most aspects, she has been a good host mother to me and it may seem petty to complain or want to switch. However, because we have the opportunity to switch, I choose not to spend another 4.5 months with a person I neither like nor respect. This semester I have learned the true range of my patience and tolerance. Main idea: my host situation has been awesome, I just can´t stand my host mom for another 4 months.
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my host family is pretty awesome. it consists of a host mom and dad, and they have a daughter but she moved out during my first couple weeks here and ive only seen her a couple times since and ive never talked to her. both my host parents are super funny most of the time and are always asking if i need anything. not in an annoying way but after meals and stuff they make sure i liked it and that i had enough food and things of that nature. my host mom makes my bed every day, and monday and thursday are laundry days when she washes my clothes and towels and puts new sheets on the bed. one of the things that makes them really funny is because my host mom always says my host dad is ‘crazy’…its hard to describe really they are just fun loving and super sweet. they are in their mid-50’s, my host dad is retired and i dont think my host mom worked. it took a little while until i started talking to them and i spent a long time in my room at the beginning of the semester, but thats more because i was shy because they were always willing to talk to me. my bedroom is really nice in my opinion. i have a..queen?..sized bed that dominates quite a bit of the room but i also have a good sized dresser, a desk with drawers, and a wardrobe/closet that has hangers and rod and the other door opens up to shelves. I also have my own bathroom so that is super convenient…my room is located in the back of the house so i dont disturb anyone else with my strange sleep patterns aka not sleeping at night (: the food is sooo good and my host mom does a good job when it comes to preparing food for a vegetarian. breakfast is pretty much always a bowl of fruit, fresh oj, fresh coffee, and some kind of bread. the exception is when i get cereal with sliced bananas, but i still get the oj and coffee. lunch and dinner are usually just casados, so salad, rice, beans, and some kind of potato or lentil, sometimes fish, and sometimes plantains too. the frescos are super good […] as far as family stuff, every once in a while i get invited to stuff but ive always been busy so i havent gone to anything…they are pretty chill and we dont live by any family. i will add that there is a neighbor, […], who is guatemalan but lived in the states for about 42 years so ill see him a couple times a week and he talks english to me (: super nice guy. i usually see him at the bus stop whenever im going out at night. im about 3km from the u but there is a bus that picks up and drops off about a block from my house and goes to right by central park and its 215 colones. i usually walk but its nice to have the option. I live in mercedes norte and its a quiet place and nothing really happens…ive heard a couple stories but nothing bad. there are also a few supers and a panaderia really close so thats nice. as far as internet goes, ive had a couple incidences with horrible internet but they usually are resolved when i unplug the router for a minute, and a couple times i just go out closer to it. when i first came they changed services because the last one was really bad and its gotten a lot better. it was a bit incomodo right after my host sister moved out because it made my host mom really depressed and she vented to me once or twice but she is better now, it was just a shock. she is just a super sweet little lady that liikes to host students because she gets lonely and bored. i have loved this experience and i cant wait to come back for a visit!
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I live with my mom and one sister now. The sister is 24 but is never ever home. The mom works a lot and I’m home alone A LOT but I really like my host mom we’ve bonded over her burritos and food and we laugh a lot. She told me she is extremely chill and hands off and just wants us to have a good time. The grandparents live next door but the grandpa is really really sick…it doesn’t look good. I don’t really do activities with them ever, sometimes they go away for the weekend an I’ll be home alone grandma makes me food. But I live by the [San Pablo] mas por menos [a grocery store] […]. And take the por tibas bus stop 430 colones. But I like my family but if you want to going places and being like really really apart of the family I wouldn’t recommend it, but I love my mom.
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Ok, I personally love my host family. I live with my host mom and two host sisters (24 and 25 I think). One of my sisters is a teacher and the other is a dentist so they’re gone during the day but usually home for dinner. The girls are super nice and talkative and always have funny stories to share from their days at work. My host mom is super relaxed and lets me do whatever but just asks that I text her if I’m going to miss a meal. Her food is delicious and she is super conscious of what I like and don’t like. She always tells me that if I don’t like something just to tell her and she won’t make it again. She’s great about making me a lunch to take to school if I don’t have time to come home and always asks if I want to take any snacks on weekend trips. My family doesn’t really sit down and eat together all at once. My host mom always asks me what time I want to eat and the girls just eat whenever they get home. The TV is almost always on when we’re eating and I find a lot of our conversations centered around the strange Costa Rican TV shows here haha. I live in Santo Domingo which is a little far away but right on the Por Tibás bus route in case you ever want to go to San José (buses to Heredia are 300 or 430 [colones] depending on how patient you are). My house is big and clean and I have a large room with my own bathroom. My house is also located above a delicious panadería. I love my host family but I don’t really do any extra activities with them. If you’re looking for a family to be super involved, this is not them. This family is helpful and incredibly nice but very hands off.
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Anyway my host family consist of [my host mother] (mi mamatica), [my host father] (el macho de la casa), [my host sister] ([…] shes 23) and [my host brother] (who turns 14 next week, my bro). […] My host mom is obsessed with her nails and talking shit about other people, so thats probably why we get along so well hahaha. She loves some good gossip and talking about crazy people. Anyway she basically just cleans watches telenovelas and csi/ncis all day. She lives the live. My host dad is like a 13 year old boy trapped in a 40 something year old body. He like literally talks like mae pur vida mae [slang typical of adolescents and young adults, particular males] 24/7 its adorable. But anyway he is super nice and always makes jokes and force feeds me shots of random alcohol behind my host moms back. If you need a secret drinking partner he is your man. […] my host sister is probably the smartest person i met since in costa rica, not that is saying much. (sorry that was mean). Anyway she is always studying cause she is in grad school and works on her thesis all weekend but she is super cool and nice. Ummmm she loves chick flicks so thats like all we do with our time and ummm look at pictures of thor aka chris hemsworth aka god all the time. She never goes out or anything but she is cool to hang out with at home. [My host brother] literally looks like a wii character, pobresito. Anway he is like the nicest cutest middle schooler ever. He is obssesed with mindcraft and video games and food (his parents made him go on a diet) but yeah he is super funny and tries to scary me when im not looking all the time. He is a good egg.
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basically i live with one lady, [my host mother], i think she is like 65 but she’s the sweetest cutest lady ever and holds my hand across the street. she has two kids (the daughter is studying in spain and the son lives by paseo de las flores). he has a kid […] and he’s cute and tries to speak english sometimes. anyways they come over sometimes but not much. [My host mother] doesnt really do anything too crazy, she likes to clean and cook (makes bomb ass food and is good for vegetarians), she goes to church sometimes, visits her hermano in grecia. like i said she doesnt really do much and is accustomed to her ways (that being said she is 65). the house is pretty small but its nice and quiet and in a good neighborhood, almost in barva. im not alone that much but sometimes which is nice, she lets me do whatever i want and doesnt judge me or anything if i ever wanna go out just tells me to be carefull. she recently got a dog “dukey” and he is a little black terrier and super friendly i love him already and he’s only been here for 2 days ( i snuck him into my room today…) but yeah nothing too extravagant but its been good for me. [My host mother] is the sweetest though and so loving, i’m sad to leave her! she’s hilarious too sometimes… like she thought norway was part of the united states and she said i got a cold because of the type of cement they have in costa rica. so those are always some good stories to tell.