Indiana University Overseas Study

Archive for the ‘Homestay’ Category

Settling In

Susanna Sorrells - Seville, Spain

After so much preparation and suspense, I am finally here! Sevilla, Spain is now my new home for the next few months. While I have only been here for about two weeks, I feel perfectly at home. Getting used to a new city, a new culture, and a new home can be difficult and sometimes scary. But for me, it was the opposite. I went into this experience with a pretty open mind, assuming things would work out the way they should and it would all go smoothly. Luckily, no flight delays or lost luggage affected my travels. The only thing that threw me off was my good friend, jet lag. Arriving in Sevilla at 10:00 am local time (3:00 am for me), meant I was mostly just tired upon arrival. After about two days of trying to get on a normal sleeping schedule, I felt 100% again.

settlingin1

I have always considered myself fairly flexible and adaptable. While some people fear change, I tend to embrace it. Even though I may have been ahead of the game in terms of adaptation just because of who I am as a person, there were still many external things that helped me. The first was—and still is—staying busy. In my opinion, nothing can trigger homesickness, stress, or anxiety more than just sitting around. The first week I was here I think I walked a minimum of ten miles each day.

With our orientation group, we were always busy. Each orientation group consisted of about 14 students all from the CIEE Liberal Arts program, living in the same “barrio” (neighborhood) and would meet at a central location. My group, for example, met at Iglesia de Santa Catalina each morning and from there we toured the city, our study center, and the local university. Just walking around with my orientation group helped me learn my way around the city. I went from using my GPS to walk somewhere down the street to knowing my walk to and from important places by heart. Learning your way around the city seems too complicated and overwhelming at first, but once you get out there, walk around, learn landmarks, and just go for it I promise it is a lot easier than it sounds.

settlingin2

Besides becoming familiar with the city, my orientation group also brought me to a great group of friends. Going along with the idea of staying busy, hanging out with other students, who you may or may not have known before your departure, can really help to make a new city feel like home. And finding something to do shouldn’t be a problem – you have a whole city right at you front door. Now that orientation is over, our program offers a wide variety of activities outside of classes. From things like tours of local cathedrals and parks to weekend trips to other cities in your country, my recommendation is to sign up for as much as you can! These trips and activities are often included in your program, so why wouldn’t you go?

My newfound group of friends and I sat down together and signed up for basically any and all activities. Even if you don’t have a set group of friends after orientation, these types of activities are a great way to meet people. I am very grateful my program offers so many activities and trips like this. So far, my friends and I have been to Sevilla’s cathedral and palace, taken a day trip to Jerez, Spain, and this upcoming weekend we are going on an overnight trip to Granada, Spain. These are all with our program, CIEE Liberal Arts, and the trips allow us to learn so much about the culture in and around Sevilla.

settlingin3

Not all study abroad programs have the option for students to live with a host family. Here, however, it where the majority of students in my program call home. Living in the home of an unfamiliar family was unknown territory for me. But this was another aspect of my study abroad experience that helped me adapt. I live in a beautiful home that is centrally located with my host mother, her daughter, another student who I was friends with before coming here, and a cat. We have our own rooms with access to a shared bathroom, laundry, Wi-Fi, and three meals a day.

While this sounds great—which it is—I will admit it was a little awkward at first. As Spanish is the native language of Sevilla, my host mom only speaks Spanish. And while Spanish is my minor, I am not fluent. This led to an interesting first couple of conversations. However, as we talked and became more familiar with each other, conversations have become easier. Now, living in a homestay is great because I get to experience more authentic culture, the comfort of being in a real home with home-cooked meals, and being a part of a Spanish family.

settlingin4

The final, and probably most significant, reason I adapted so easily is my outlook on studying abroad as a whole. Like I said before, I came in with an open mind. But just because you have an open mind does not guarantee you will automatically adjust. I wanted to come to Sevilla to learn and see everything the city has to offer. I wanted to meet new people. I wanted to work on my Spanish skills. I wanted to do all of the things I now have the chance to do. They say if you put your mind to something, you can do anything. “They” are absolutely correct. My open-mindedness and adaptability skills helped me adjust so quickly, but it was my attitude and my willingness to put myself out there that really allowed me to flourish these first two weeks here.

Susanna Sorrells

Immediate Anxieties and Long-Term Goals

Christy Margeson - Nagoya, Japan

As the rollercoaster of a year that was 2016 neared its end, sweeping without pause into the next, just as swiftly did my living environment evolve. During the second week of January, I moved out of the dorm and in with my first-ever host family. Commuting to class is inevitably more cumbersome—an hour-long commute via train, compared to my previous two-minute walk to campus—but I would wager that those who have lived with a host family would almost unanimously agree that lengthy commutes are a small price to pay for such a unique, intimate cultural immersion.

I’ll be the first to admit that it was quite intimidating moving into a Japanese-only (very little to no falling back on English) household with a family I had never met before—I still sometimes find myself clamming up at the dinner table when they speak a little too quickly, constantly doubting my listening abilities. However, even after my short time here, I’m already finding myself more deeply immersed in Japanese culture than I could have imagined while living in the dorm.

I sometimes watch Japanese variety shows, for instance, with my host family after dinner; these programs are simultaneously ridiculous, and so quintessentially Japanese—as well as a convenient way to stay up-to-date on Japan’s pop culture—that I’m not sure how I got by without watching them before. Some other perks that I’ve come to appreciate are my host family’s comfy 炬燵(kotatsu) during this cold winter—which is basically a low wooden table covered by a futon and table top with an electric heater underneath—as well as being able to enjoy two delicious meals prepared daily by my generous host mother. These are only a few examples of the benefits of homestay. Moreover, and possibly most importantly, I’m experiencing cultural exchange and language practice in a warm, friendly environment every day. From what little I’ve tasted of the homestay lifestyle so far, I’m finding that it truly is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for which I’m extremely grateful.

炬燵 (kotatsu)

Of course, there are aspects of my freedom that I had in the dorm that I don’t have with my host family—I am living in someone’s home, after all, and have to abide by certain rules. However, despite my anxiety about speaking only Japanese at home, I feel as though I’m beginning to leave shallow waters, wading out into the deep end and embracing immersion more fully. I hope that if I’m able to grab my trepidation by the horns, I’ll be better able to achieve my long-term goals with the language.

Beyond the immediate benefits and anxieties involved with my switch to a homestay, I’m also interested in exploring the idea of long-term goals for foreign language learning. I can only speak from personal experience, holding onto the glimmer of hope that others might be able to relate, at least a little.

To me, language acquisition might just be one of the most mysterious, fascinating concepts I’ve ever encountered. Each small triumph when communicating in your foreign language of choice can make you feel ready to conquer the world; contrarily, a single mishap or confused interaction can leave you despairing, wondering if all of this mental labor is really worth it. I realize that this probably seems pretty melodramatic, but when you’ve been studying a foreign language for as long as I have, it becomes easy to question whether you’ll ever actually, finally reach your long-term goals.

If you were to ask any scholar about foreign language learning, they would undoubtedly reassure you that the benefits stemming from studying language are plentiful. According to an article by Anne Merritt of The Telegraph, foreign language learning provides a plethora of unexpected mental benefits, such as improved memory, decision-making skills, perception, etc.

However, when it comes to the actual study of language as an adult—especially when this is added to the attempt to simultaneously acquisition not only with the language, but also with its culture and people—these long-term benefits can often be overshadowed by the overwhelming mental strain of it all.

While I’ll admit that there’s always a small part of me wondering whether I’ll actually feel satisfied with my language skills, there’s also an equally strong part of me that’s excited to watch myself grow with Japanese. I’m coming to realize that when it comes to language learning, there will always be good and bad days; days where everything you want to say actually makes its way out of your brain and into spoken, grammatically-coherent sentences, when communicating in that language feels like one of the most natural things in the world, and days where you feel extremely frustrated with yourself and your surroundings, wanting to crawl away and hide when you botch a conversation with someone, or hear yourself mispronouncing something or saying something completely wrong, but somehow feel unable to correct yourself in real-time.

This past semester has proven to be one of the most difficult of my life. Of course, it goes without saying that the classes were challenging—my Japanese classes in particular were very demanding of my time, energy, and mental stamina. However, I don’t believe that one is ever done learning a subject, and my study of Japanese is no exception. Wading deeper still into cultural immersion, I find myself finally in waters so high that my feet no longer touch the floor—which leaves me no other option but to keep swimming.

Christy Margeson

Argentina Six Months On

Vincent Halloran - Buenos Aires

Beagle Channel

The Beagle Channel, a body of water connecting the Atlantic and Pacific at the bottom of the world in Tierra del Fuego.

I find myself sitting down to write this post on my final afternoon in Buenos Aires, a place that has become my home over the last six months. The moment is bittersweet; I am excited to return home to see family and friends for the Christmas holiday but I will undoubtedly miss the life I have led in this bustling, often confusing, and cosmopolitan city. I will miss Susy, my host here in the neighborhood of Palermo who has so generously welcomed me into her home, and especially her cooking. I will also certainly find myself longing for $7 steaks and $2 bottles of Malbec, though my reunion with Hoosier cooking may distract me from this. Most of all I will miss the friends I have made from across the United States during the semester who have accompanied me through this wild ride. Though I may miss many things about Argentina, I think many things I have learned here are likely to stay with me.

Argentina, in ways I likely will not even realize for months, has left its mark on me. Most of all, I find my political perceptions profoundly affected by the firsthand experience I have had in witnessing Argentine elections. I arrived in Argentina an admittedly very liberal young man, drawn to leftist thought of all its varied stripes. However, in Argentina, particularly in the Peronist Argentina lead by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, I have seen the many downsides that progressive populism can bring. From mysterious killings of opponents, deep-rooted corruption and clientelism, and an economy choked by regulation, Argentina offered many examples of where my preferred form of government can go wrong. I have yet to draw ultimate conclusions from this exposure, I remain unsure of how many of these issues are isolated to Argentina and which may instead be attributed to larger flaws in left-leaning, assertive populism as a whole. Therefore, I remain a steadfast proponent of progressive change, but have gained a profound respect for Western mixed-market economics and the institutional limits which keep power in check in the United States.

I have always found myself drawn to politics at some fundamental level of my being, my preferred conversation topics always drifting towards the taboos of government or religion and the like, but as I have grown I have realized the importance of consensus above all else. Argentina’s aggressive zero-sum politics have left me convinced that the only way forward is through cooperation, through engaging diverse stakeholders to create policy that works for all, not just for some. I will take this valuable lesson with me for years to come, and if I am ever lucky enough to serve in public office I will strive to remember that it is practical results for constituents that matters above all else. Argentina is a nation defined by political uncertainty, of ebbs and flows that have dramatically altered its model of insertion in the world from decade to decade. As Argentina turns from leftist populism to right-leaning economic reform once again (with the newly floating peso surging and prices fluctuating wildly), I feel incredibly lucky to have been raised in a remarkably stable nation and feel naive to have taken it for granted for so long.

classic Argentine lunch

The classic Argentine lunch of milanesa completa, a pork tenderloin accompanied by two fried eggs with a side of fries (and, of course, it would not be Argentina without Quilmes).

 

subway stop

My Subte stop, Bulnes, which took me to school and across the city for many explorations.

There are other ways Argentina has impacted me as well, like forgetting that breakfast can be more than a medialuna (i.e. croissant) and coffee, or that coffee is more than just espresso. I will surely miss the simplicity of commuting by subway to class aboard the Subte D Line each day, especially midst Bloomington’s inevitable snows of January and February. It will be odd to not eat empanadas (meat-filled pockets of bread) or milanesa (sandwich very similar to pork tenderloins) almost everyday for lunch. Above all else, not being able to text the friends I have made here to go to some museum or sit in a park and relax will be especially difficult. Buenos Aires has been very good to me these past six months, for that, and my ever improving Spanish, I am grateful.

Vincent Halloran - analyzing Argentine political and economic models

Celebrating 21 in a Country That Doesn’t Care About 21

Marie Kalas - Valparaiso

At some point in September, a woman from our program asked if I was going to be at the fútbol [soccer] tournament during some weekend in October. I immediately said “absolutely,” and didn’t realize until I was home the day of 15 hours of fútbol would be on my 21st birthday.

Of course I had my hesitations about waking up at 6:45 AM to drive two hours to a professional-sized cancha [field] to play four games of fútbol and return that night around 8 PM. Adding the fact that a huge carrete [party] would be going on when we got home that we’d have to rush to did not add to the excitement of a day many people countdown to in the US.

However, this may have been one of my favorite birthdays yet.

We arrived to San Felipe, Chile to the house of our coach, Jefe Kelly [Boss Kelly], where her little sister let me hold a baby bunny for half an hour as they surprised me by singing happy birthday with a giant piece of cake. A giant piece of cake while holding a bunny. It was a dream.

dirt soccer field

After arriving at the cancha (that was straight out a movie situated between hills and the Andes mountains next to a herd of cows), we played an exhausting game of fútbol, took a ridiculous amount of pictures, and walked to an asado [barbeque] that was being set up for us. Being surprised with another huge cake and getting my face shoved in it as thirty of my newest Chilean friends sang Feliz Cumpleaños [Happy Birthday], was one of the coolest things of my life.

Marie with cake on her face

As soon as we arrived back to our home, it was a race against the clock to shower, get ready, and walk over to celebrate three birthdays: mine on that day, my friend’s host sister’s the next day, and my friend’s two days later. With my tomato sun-burnt face, we arrived to hugs and kisses from every one of our friends and about 100 new ones I had never met, but who were just as kind as the friends I had known for months. Feliz cumple, Marie! Que linda! [Happy birthday, Marie! How cute!] was what I heard for the first thirty minutes of the party as everyone gave me two hugs and kissed my cheek at least four times. When the clock struck twelve and my birthday ended as Fiorella’s started, and the third cake of the day was brought out.

One might imagine a cake to celebrate three birthday’s might be rather large. This cake was so large that I thought Taylor’s host mom was going to fall over from holding it. Marvelous. We sang once in Spanish, once in English, and then more friends showed up maybe five minutes later. So we did it again. One more blowing out of the candles and two more songs.

host mom bringing out cake

Although I didn’t get the typical “first legal drink” pic, or people buying your drinks at the bars, I got three cakes, four Feliz Cumpleaños songs, two Happy Birthday songs, countless hugs and even more kisses, and I got to spend my birthday with people I didn’t know and people I did.

Since I chose to go abroad in the fall, I’ve been nervous about spending my birthday here because I knew I wouldn’t have any of my family to see or any of my life-long friends to dance with. But instead, I got to make probably 1,000 new friends who were all genuinely thrilled it was my birthday. I love them, and I’m coming back every year to get sun-poisoning from 15 hours of fútbol and three cakes in a day.

soccer team

Marie Kalas - immersing herself in Chilean language and community

Living with a Host Fam

Marie Kalas - Valparaiso

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 [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.

Me with my host 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.

Marie Kalas - immersing herself in Chilean language and community

Meeting my “Argentine Family”

Vincent Halloran - Buenos Aires

I cannot describe how pleased I have been with my experiences in Buenos Aires so far. On our second night in the city, after spending our first night in a hotel, we were each picked up by our respective host families and taken to our new BA homes. My host, a sweet Argentine grandma named Susy, is a former social psychologist who now focuses her free time on painting and writing poetry. We live in a comfortable first floor apartment with two beautiful patios in a trendy and beautiful neighborhood known as Palermo. Soon, after arriving and taking a moment to unpack my mountain of clothes (I am here for 5 months, remember), we sat to eat dinner with Susy’s cousin Ernesto. Ernesto, upon learning that I study Political Science, shared with me a passionate and encyclopedic knowledge of Argentine politics over dinner; I could not have been more thrilled.

 

Casa Rosada

Casa Rosada, the seat of the Argentine presidency

Ernesto, over the course of our two-hour meal of chicken soup, chicken salad and a delicious apple salad, essentially broke down the last 50 years of Argentine political history. His account, accompanied by the occasional clarifying interjection by my endlessly kind host Susy, captivated me with its level of detail. At one point, to illustrate Ernesto’s level of knowledge, Susy randomly asked him “Who was the Argentine Economic Minister in 1947?” Ernesto answered so quickly that I even thought they may have planned it before!

the Obelisco

The Obelisco, a potent symbol of Argentine democracy

From 8 until almost 11, Susy and Ernesto debated the merits of the current administration, headed by the heavy-handed but progressive Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Ernesto, a steadfast supporter of the left-leaning populist, praised “Kirchnerismo” for revitalizing Argentine domestic industry. Meanwhile, Susy decried the current level of corruption, highlighted by the Nisman controversy earlier this year, so much so that at one point the discussion escalated to shouting! As a passionate observer of Latin American politics, I felt incredibly fortunate to have this intimate window into the Argentine reality opened. The evening left me filled with anticipation of an exciting semester to come.

Vincent Halloran - analyzing Argentine political and economic models

Un Sueño Sin Palabras – A Dream Without Words

Kaleb McCain

It was one in the morning, I was thirsty, and after an entire day of airports, planes, and immigration troubles, my brain was too fried for me to speak any language, much less Spanish. The most I could explain to the driver was that I was a student from the United States as I passed by my first sights, sounds, and smells of Lima from the backseat of a taxi. We flew through neighborhood after neighborhood, barrio after barrio, down highways, avenues, and allies. I could feel the pulse of the city beating around me like the rhythmic thumping of a cajón. Casinos, skyscrapers, houses, gente, all filled the streets as we zipped along to the house I would call mi casa for the next five months.

El Malecón Sunset

The end of my first full day in Lima. Sunset over the Pacific as seen from El Malecón.

It doesn’t seem right, but already a month has passed since that surrealist midnight trip from the airport to my host home in Miraflores. Since then I’ve enrolled in classes (no Monday or Friday classes!), familiarized myself with a few of the combi routes, attended concerts, traveled outside of the city, tasted a variety of Peruvian foods, and met plenty of wonderful people who have helped me adjust to life here in Lima. Being reduced to basic grammar amidst this process in a new megalopolis is a humbling experience that can only be equated to childhood; that first night agua and gracias were the only words I could manage to sputter before passing out. Luckily, I’ve been placed into a house with a wonderfully sweet señora, Laura, whose daughter, Laura (but we’ll call her Laurita) is a professor at the university I’m attending – Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. From the beginning, I’ve been blessed with a kind translator and mentor for a hermanastra, in addition to a caring and friendly host madre. My Spanish, or Castellano, is improving slowly but surely. While I can keep up with the majority of my professors’ lectures, I still have to ask people on the streets to repeat themselves, which generally leads to them talking louder instead of slower (I said I can’t understand, not that I can’t hear). I can order food, buy cellphone minutes, explain directions to taxi cab drivers, and hear which routes the cobradores are yelling from the windows of buses. However, I still lack the confidence to approach Peruvian students and start a conversation, something I’m hoping to improve upon moving forward.

Surviving as a foreigner – as a gringo – within a city of 8 million people in Latin America has led me to rediscover a simple fact of life: every day is a learning experience and every moment, place, and person is an opportunity to learn from. After one month abroad, I feel that I’ve learned more about my own culture, about my own experiences, and about myself than I ever have before.

And yet, how can I truly translate those experiences? How will you understand what I’ve felt after hearing the soulful melodies of a Quechan folk singer and her charango? How can you know what it is to sink your feet into the sand while looking down upon the oasis of Huacachina after a 5am hike to the top of the dune? Will words truly give you a sense of the taste of a pisco sour hitting the back of your throat, or ceviche on your tongue? How many adjectives does it take in order for you to smell the smoked sandwiches of La Lucha drift across the avenue as you sit in Parque Kennedy petting a tabby cat? Can my photos truly place you there on the beach of Huanchaco as you watch the sunset wash the Pacific in a thousand pastels of pink, orange, and red, the outline of surfers and caballitos set amongst the waves? Sure I can write it in a blog, take a picture, maybe even record a video, but the truth is that experience, unlike language, is untranslatable. “Se hace camino al andar.”

Huacachina

My travel companion Dink taking in the early morning view of Huacachina.

Now that I’ve finally fallen into the rhythm of classes, with each passing day, life in Lima is becoming more comfortable. Sure, I miss the sights and smells of springtime in Bloomington. Yes, I’m sad that there is no pizza here that can hold a candle to Mother Bear’s cheesy goodness. Claro, I miss my friends, my family, and my cat. However, the kindness and guidance of my friends, host family, and even strangers, has helped to curb my homesickness by making me feel that my new home is here in Lima.

A fluffy host sister.

A fluffy host sister, Misky, always helps me feel at home.

View all posts by Kaleb

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