When I decided to study abroad in Peru, the homestay aspect of the program was what I was looking forward to the most. Immersing myself in the Peruvian culture through a Peruvian household seemed the ideal, and I was incredibly excited to meet my soon-to-be family members.
I received my housing assignment in mid-February and discovered that I would be living with a woman in the Miraflores district of Lima. Though I spoke with her briefly on the phone before arriving in Peru, I did not learn if she had a husband or kids, so honestly had no idea what I was getting into.
And a surprise it was. I came to my host mother’s home, hoping to find other students, at the very least. But no—I was the only student, living with a 67-year-old, very opinionated Peruvian woman.
In the beginning, it was overwhelming. I wasn’t accustomed to speaking Spanish at all times, and therefore I was nervous to begin conversations with or ask questions of my host mom. The fact that I didn’t have anyone else there for support made it even more difficult, but I must say, it was her personality that made me feel the most helpless and small.
Being a foreigner in a country completely new to me, I was expecting warm, welcoming words and introductions to the Peruvian culture. Instead, I was chastised if I didn’t say something correctly, judged if I didn’t wear makeup or do my hair in an acceptable manner, nagged to study and taught lessons about bronzing my skin or improving my beauty. I felt as though I had traveled back in time to when I was a child and my mother had to take care of me, or as though I had somehow found myself caught in daily beauty consulting.
I figured I would stick it out, to see if it would get better. Unfortunately, it didn’t. My host mom continued to criticize certain aspects of my appearance and show off the new clothes she bought that day. She would go out to the discotecas on weekend nights, to return to the house well after 3 a.m., turning on all the lights in the house and chatting loudly with friends.
After three months of dealing with her judgments and not being entirely happy, however, enough was enough. My negativity I felt within my home seemed to be seeping into other facets of my life, and I knew I had to make a change if I wanted to completely enjoy the last month and a half of my study abroad experience.
Luckily, just when I had given up hope on my homestay, a friend of mine told me her home had a bedroom available. After speaking with her host mom and getting to know the family there a bit, it was a done deal. I moved in within the week, and now I’m happy as can be, surrounded by a Peruvian mother, a Peruvian brother and sister, two other exchange students—and of course, a dog.
Homestays are such a crucial aspect of the study abroad experience. If I’ve learned anything through this rollercoaster, it’s that it definitely is okay to change homes during your program if you aren’t entirely happy, even if that means you move with one month left in the semester, like me. My mother has always taught me that at times, you just have to stick with the hand you’re dealt, but in the case of study abroad, I can’t say that applies.
You need to make the most of your time abroad, or you’ll return to IU feeling as though something was missing or something wasn’t quite right. Make the choices that are best for you, in every regard, and you’ll walk away with incredible memories and amazing stories.
It’s been less than a week in my new home, and I’m already feeling a million times better about my experience as a whole. Case in point.