When your host family becomes your family

The first time I saw the petite blonde lady named Beatriz and the man with the warm smile fumbling with brochures named Carlos waiting in the hotel lobby, tears filled my eyes. This is the couple I would be living with for a whole year- my Argentinian family.

Overcome with emotions, I went from being excited to nervous and began to worry. Would they like me, and would I like them? How would we communicate with one another, since we both speak different languages?

These are questions that everyone who chooses to live with a home stay or host family asks, regardless of the country chosen to study abroad in.  Living with a host family was one of the best decisions I made. For my program, there is not an option to stay on campus, since universities are just a series of buildings spread out around the huge city.

There was some misunderstandings at the beginning, when I had no idea what I was trying to say and they had no idea either, so we resorted to a lot of Google Translator and a dictionary on the dining room table. It was difficult not being able to fully understand what was trying to be said, but this did not last long. I immediately felt welcomed into their home and family, with all of the kids being in their late twenties and early thirties. This environment helped me see that I can make mistakes with the language, and my new home was a safe place to share what I had to say.

We started with simple conversations at dinner. I talked about how my day went, and, eventually, spoke about the political climate, the struggling economy, and my troubles with love. Today, I am fluent in Spanish, which was one of my goals in coming to this country. I did not honestly believe that it was going to happen, but my host parents, my professors, my Argentinian friends and people I encounter on a daily basis notice, and it makes me proud.

I had the option to live with a family where I would be very involved with them or I could have chosen a family where I was independent and did my own thing while living in their house. I chose to live with a family where I would be an active member of the family and perform a lot of activities with them. The option I chose really helped me overcome my homesickness, and see how someone my age experiences life here in Argentina.

There is a temptation to become a hermit and stay in my bedroom all day with the door closed, instead of chatting with one of my host siblings in the living room, playing the Spanish version of Scrabble, or lounging in the pool with my host mom. There are some days I allow myself to be a hermit, but I try to remain engaged with my family as much as I can while I am here.

In doing that, I have more fun, learn something new every time, and can practice my Spanish. Every minute I spend with them, I become closer to them, which is something I am very grateful for. Some of my friends in my study abroad program did not have my luck when it came to their host families, which makes me grateful that we clicked so well.

My host mom and dad have really become like my parents. They are concerned when I stay out late, ask who I will be with, advise me that I should not mix wine and beer when I go out with friends, ask me if I like anyone from my university and hug me when I cry and miss my family.

“In Carlos’ and my eyes, you are our second daughter so we take care of you like we would want someone to take care of our own daughter if she was in the same position as you in another country for a year,” Beatriz said.

I was given the option to change host families for this next semester and I happily said that I will be staying with the same family. I cannot imagine saying goodbye to them, so I am relieved that that will not have to happen for another six months.

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