This post is long overdue. I’ve been wanting to write it for a long time, but I’ve been waiting until I have a picture with my host family. I’ve finally decided that may not happen in the foreseeable future since I’m not exactly proactive in asking people to take pictures, and my host family is hardly ever all together at the same time. I’ll just have to paint a picture with words.
As much as I don’t like the idea of multiple-part posts, I’m going to have to make this a three-part post since it turned out so long, even I don’t want to read the whole thing.
To be honest, living with a host family is a strange experience for a college student from the United States. Eight months ago, I landed in foreign country where I knew no one within thousands of miles with the promise that a family of strangers would pick me up at the airport. I gathered the two suitcases that contained my life for the next few months, and as I walked outside, I made eye contact with a couple holding a piece of paper with my name on it. I took a deep breath and awkwardly waved while walking in their direction.
The ride from the airport was one of the most exciting things that’s happened to me yet. It was overwhelming to ride through a labyrinth of streets that looked completely alien to me, experiencing for the first time the marginally terrifying Tico idea of “driving” while two of the people I was going to share my life with for the next year asked me questions I could only barely understand. I pulled my camera out, hoping they wouldn’t judge me too much for being a tourist, and drew some comfort from the seventies music playing on the radio.
Sometime between when we arrived at the house and I ate dinner, I wrote this post. I had no idea what was to come in the next few months.
That evening, with my suitcases unpacked in my new room, I sat stiffly at the table after finishing dinner, already panicking because I couldn’t remember my siblings’ names (that’s important, right?), knowing I didn’t want to waste my first night in my room, but not knowing what else to do.
Then the people started coming in. Oh, that’s a cousin. Hey, another cousin and his girlfriend. They have names, too, I just forgot what they are. Look, another cousin, her boyfriend, and his brother. How relevant are these people going to be to my life? Is this just what people do? Drop in to someone’s house to hang out without really having plans?
I survived the evening, feeling like some kind of awkward witness to strangers’ lives. I sat on the couch and made friends with the dog, hoping I didn’t look too terribly lost, and marveled at the idea that these were people with lives and connections in a place where I had no roots. A tumbleweed* bouncing through a forest, wishing it had something to cling to.
*I do not make this metaphor because I’m from Texas. Actually, in 99% of situations, I do not self-identify as a tumbleweed. Just this one, ok?
So my first culture shock was family. In some ways, it might have been easier to be in a dorm or apartment with other exchange students, or even Ticos my age, but I would have missed out on so much.