Explaining what it’s like to live with a host family is extraordinarily hard. It’s almost as hard to explain as it is to live.
Imagine living on your own for two years without ever having to tell anyone what you’re doing, where you’re going, and when you’re coming home. To go from two years of being completely independent back to answering those questions is extremely difficult. It’s like when you go home for summer break back to a house with rules and expectations except this is five months adding the element of different cultural expectations and a different language.
Living with a host family isn’t so much about answering the questions of who you’re going with and where you’re going and when you’re getting home, but by habit, you say those things anyway.
Voy a salir con mis amigas y probablemente voy a regresar después de once y no necesitan esperarme. [I’m going to leave with my friends and probably will return after dinner, so you don’t need to wait for me.]
That sentence is on my top three most frequently used sentences. After sí [yes] and ¿qué significa esta? [what does that mean?]. Almost always the response includes a smile with a thumbs up followed by a serious face drop to ten cuidado Meri [be careful, Marie]. Once in a while though, the response is something along the lines of, “Do you leave so often because you hate my cooking!?” And when that happens, it’s like a slap in the face reminder that I live with a family again.
The fact that you have to tell people you’re leaving isn’t the hard part. The hard part is finding out what your host family holds high. For example, it took me 70 days of living in this house to realize that my host family really cares about the family eating together whenever at all possible. It also took me 70 days to realize that spending the entire day in your room except for times when you’re eating dinner is okay, and they don’t do it because they hate you.
Obviously, I’m not speaking for all Chilean families when I say this, but of all the houses (6) I’ve seen since being here, there is no living room like we have in the US. There’s no place where you watch the latest episode of Parks and Rec together while eating pizza or drinking chocolate milk. Instead, the gathering place is the bed of the parents where they catch up on their latest soap operas or watch the breaking news about another earthquake strike. Some nights, dinner, which consists of bread and tea, is spent in the bed as well. The idea of family bonding is extremely different here than in the US, and that’s what has been so challenging about moving in with a new family.
In my house, family bonding is even more different from some of my friend’s houses. I live with a host mom, dad, and sister—all of whom are much older. Living with a set of grandparents has its pros and cons. Not going on adventures and only leaving the house together when we have a meeting to go to are absolutely on the con list.
However, pros include things like grandkids running through the house and the understanding that comes with having raised four children. I still get asked questions about where I am going, but it’s more for them to know where I am in case an 8.4 earthquake strikes. They’ve grasped the idea that I’m a 21-year-old who will be going out and living life outside of the house. They also understand that after a game of fútbol [soccer], I might not have the biggest desires to sit at the dinner table and eat with everyone. Sometimes a tray filled with food, a bed, and Netflix is all you need at the end of the day.
So, yes, living with a host family is really hard and isn’t always butterflies and rainbows. However, since moving in 87 days ago, I’ve learned over 100 new vocab words (especially food), tried 100 new kinds of food, and made little 7-year-old friends—all of things I would never had experienced if I chose a program that doesn’t require host families. Don’t get me wrong, those programs have their pros too, and I probably would have adjusted a little faster to a live in a dorm that I’ve lived before. Although, living in a dorm would have meant I would have never found my Chilean friends, I would have never tried cooked cabbage with hotdogs and potatoes, and I would have never had a host mom to hug me when a lady stole my smart phone on the bus.
Even though it took 70 days of this 151 day journey, I am very lucky to live in a house with home cooked meals and pieces of cake next to my bed when I get home after a day of class.