My home away from home
My host family is the greatest. I won’t go into too much detail in terms of personal information, out of respect for their privacy, but I wanted to at least mention a few thoughts on living with a host family, as it is a huge part of my study abroad experience. The basic info, then: I live in an apartment with Mom, Grandma, brother and sister (older than I am.)
We don’t sit down for dinner together every night, since we have such different and busy schedules. I mostly talk to my host mom, when we both happen to be home. When you’re in a foreign country and don’t know very many people, it’s a comfort to know there is at least one person who will consistently be around to ask you how your day went.
Aside from the fact that it’s a great opportunity to practice my Spanish, and that I like having a mother figure who will listen to me, the conversations with my host mom are important to me because they are an opportunity to share our cultures. We talk about the difference in systems of health care, education, politics. She teaches me that voting here is mandatory and takes me with her to vote so that I can observe. We compare details about social interactions and values, and she teaches me Argentine expressions and slang terms. And then there are the smaller things, which to us are just as interesting: differences between the yogurt here and the yogurt in the United States, or types of desserts and candy bars.
If you walk down the streets of Buenos Aires and pay attention, if you sit in a café and listen to people’s conversations, if you go to a supermercado for groceries, if you ask a stranger for directions, if you ride the bus, take classes, and go to bars/theatres/museums, you’ll get a sense of the different culture in which you’re immersed. But to throw yourself into a house of strangers, that’s how you’ll really learn – about yourself, about adapting to living with them, about their culture. Living with a host family, of course, provides first-hand knowledge that is harder to gain from the streets/bookstores/classrooms/etc. It also provides each student with the unique experiences that she won’t have in common with every other student in the program who also took the class on Argentine History or went on the trip to Mendoza.
What’s going to stick with me the most, I think, from my entire study abroad experience, will be the memories of my host family. Funny little stories, like how the other night I got home from a bar at 4am to find my host grandma in the kitchen eating pie out of the pan with a spoon, holding it out to me and asking, “Want some? Eat, eat. Did you dance with any good-looking men tonight?” Small details, like the fat white mug with the chipped handle that my host mom filled with tea for me when I had the flu.
My camera has been sitting in a drawer since I got here. I have a feeling I’ll return to the States without very many pictures. But I know that for the rest of my life, whenever I make tea the way my host mom does (scoop of honey and a big squeeze of lemon), I’m never going to be able to taste it without thinking of how my host family took care of me when I felt so miserable and homesick, and of how they always made sure I felt at home.