Imagine walking in to a new home, in a new city, in a new country. You don’t know the local dialect, customs, habits, or foods, to name a few things. But as soon as you walk into this home, warm, friendly faces greet you — people with whom you will live and eat for the next semester, or possibly the next year. Welcome to your new family.
Living with a host family is as much of a challenge as it is fun. The first few days — even weeks — are full of awkward and funny moments. As you try and express yourself in this strange new language, you may accidentally say “I am tea” instead of “I would like some tea”. The varying versions of your name your family will call you as they attempt to pronounce your name will cause uproarious laughter on your part and possibly theirs if it resembles a word in their language.
Your host family really is your family and so much more. They want to be sure that you are at ease, that you have eaten your fill and that you are comfortable. They will make you eat until you absolutely insist that you are full. If you’re not fat, you’re obviously not eating enough.
Practice the local dialect as much as you can. Your new brothers and sisters are probably your best resource as you try to navigate the social scene in this fantastic new city. Need to figure out where you can find the best café in town? Ask them. Need to know where you can find great presents for your family? Ask them.
Sometimes, you’re going to need your alone time — you may become overwhelmed with all these changes; and as homesickness sets in, you will want to lock yourself in your room and Skype with friends and family back home. That’s okay. It’s a perfectly normal part of the process and is one of the stages in study abroad. When it’s time to leave, you’re not going to want to go back home — your first home. This is your new home. This is where your friends are, where your favorite brand of chocolate is, and where you can get a fantastic coffee at a fraction of the price you would find at Starbucks. But alas you must go; these last several months have been the best time of your life. The memories you will take back with you and the things you have learned will serve you well.
Take advantage of every moment and every opportunity. This may be your only chance to come here, or it may be the first of many trips to this place. If and when you do come back, you’ll know all the ropes and you’ll rediscover your city — always changing, always moving, and full of new surprises to discover.
Jacques E. Belval
Program Assistant, ESL Instructor