Living with a host family is unlike anything I’ve done before and probably unlike anything I’ll ever do again. The experience has its ups and downs, but most of time, it’s downright entertaining.
Technically, I barged into another family’s home to take up a new language and eating habits with hopes of leaving in five months more or less the same as they are.
I have experienced the black-sheep brother, the overbearingly-worried mother and the senile grandmother. I’ve realized, despite some huge cultural differences and a language barrier, families worldwide are essentially the same.
The best part about the day-to-day experience of having a host family who’s slightly off-balance is that it’s only temporary.
I have no obligations to them as long as I respect the house, and better yet, I can’t be thrown into the middle of an argument or big decision because I’d barely understand it anyway.
Last Friday night, I was walking to a restaurant with one of my friends, and I ran into my host brother, whom I’ll call Juan. Juan is 30 and has an apartment directly upstairs from his mother’s. It’s actually part of her house, considering it has no kitchen – meaning his mother cooks all his meals. She also does his laundry.
Anyway, Juan was with a friend, and they were walking toward our apartment. I said ‘Hi’ to them, so we proceeded to have a conversation. It may have been the most awkward conversation ever.
This is because Juan loves speaking to me in English.
Me: ¿Que hacéis esta noche? (Translation: What are you doing tonight?)
Juan (in broken English, in a British accent he picked up from living in England): Oh, we’re just going back home. We’re going to watch a film tonight.
Me: Interesante. ¿No quieres salir? Es viernes hoy. (Translation: Interesting. Don’t you want to go out? Today is Friday.)
Juan (searching for the words in English): Oh, no. I drank enough last week.
Last week – as in, all week?
Ridiculous or not, that is my host brother in a nutshell – awkward conversations and an attitude of a typical high school senior are what make him who he is. But, to me, Juan isn’t even the most entertaining family member.
The rest of the family calls her – and this is a phonetic spelling – “Welli.” I’m assuming the nickname came from “abuela,” which means “grandmother” in Spanish. Welli is hard of hearing, and I’ve gathered she’s also beginning to lose her memory a little bit. She lives on the second floor of our building, and because of a deal worked out between my host mom and her sister, Welli eats lunch at our place Monday through Friday.
The first time I ate lunch with Welli, I learned something important: to the rest of my host family, she and I are not very different. I figured this out the first time I saw them interact with her – speaking slower and louder, while making very vivid hand motions to go along with their dialogue. She’d respond enthusiastically while I thought, “Wait, this is exactly the same way they talk to me.”
At first, I was a little offended, but in reality, I probably need to be spoken to that way. Now, I’m used to it. I could zone out during lunch, but if I see what looks like a game of charades from the corner of my eye, there are only two people at the table toward whom the motioning could be directed.
While Welli sat at the table that day demanding more milk – only to forget that she had asked for it once she got it – I realized I could have it a lot worse. All of us from Temple could. Granted, among us are the fathers who never speak, the moms who hate to cook and the sisters who are ultra-moody. One girl’s mom even asked for consolation when the host mother’s boyfriend broke up with her.
I think most of us didn’t initially realize the “family” aspects that accompany living with a host family. I know I didn’t.
In fact, I may have forgotten what it’s like to live with a family at all, since I haven’t lived with mine full-time in three years. I imagined a family of robots whose sole existence is to make me dinner and speak to me in its language at my beck and call, but frankly, I’m glad I ended up with an entertaining family. It’s like perpetual Christmastime with the relatives.
Besides, if they were robots, where would all of my laughs come from?
Carlene Majorino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.