The picture above is my host family and me on my host dad’s birthday (hint: I’m the blonde). Judging from the shirts, it was also game day (yeah Heredia!).
This is Part III of a post about the reality of living with a host family. You can read Part I about my first impression of my host family and Part II about cultural differences, too, if you would like.
My favorite part of every day is drinking coffee in the afternoons with my mamá tica. I will do whatever I can to be home around 4, and am upset when I miss it. It’s only 30 minutes with a cup of coffee and some toast, but it’s come to mean so much to me. My host mom and I talk about everything from her swim lessons to my boy problems, from her childhood to my new Tico words, about how people should be treated, about religion, about whatever is on our minds.
It’s interesting, because even though I call her “mamá tica”, my relationship with her doesn’t feel like a mother-daughter relationship. Nor exactly like a friendship, nor a mentorship, nor any other kind of relationship I can think of. It’s something unique that I don’t think would exist in another type of situation. But I like it.
I have to confess that it’s been hard to connect with my host dad, because for whatever reason, I have had so much trouble understanding him. Something in the way he talks is too different, and I’m just now to the point where I can consistently keep up with what he says. He can always tell when I don’t understand him, so a couple of times, he’s had my host mom act as a sort of translator and repeat it to me (still in Spanish, but with an easier accent). Nevertheless, we’ve developed a connection through a shared love for literature and tendency to go to Mass on Sundays. He usually goes to the 7 am Mass and will leave the pamphlet with the day’s readings for me on the table for when I go to the later Mass.
I don’t see my two older siblings much since they have big kid jobs and all, but when I do get to talk to them, they’re fun people. The brother that is my age is around more and we talk a bit. He’s grown up practicing his English with the exchange students, and when I first arrived, I was intimidated that his English was better than my Spanish. It did help with the transition though, since I had someone I could speak Spanglish with before I was capable of speaking Spanish.
It’s such a strange thing to see how another family functions from the inside. Since I’m always here, I see the happy moments and the arguments, the quiet moments and the loud moments. I’m part of the type of family I’ve never had–not that my own family is a “bad family”, it’s just different. I don’t have brothers, my parents are divorced, my family speaks English and is from a different culture, you know. How many people get to have two families?
I also like that I have a huge extended family here. My host mom has ten siblings and my host dad has nine, so I have a significant number of aunts, uncles, and cousins. They get together at least once a month for birthdays, celebrations, or just for the heck of it, which is nice, except when it’s in my house and I have to hide in my room because I’m in a super-introverted mood and don’t feel like talking to anyone, much less in Spanish.
But my host family always invites me to family things, and I get lots of cake, so I’m not complaining. I get really shy in such a big group of people who are so close, and I think some of them still think I don’t understand Spanish. About a month ago, I was listening to a conversation between my host mom and her brother, and laughing because it was hilarious. After about fifteen minutes, my Tico uncle looks at me and asks my host mom if I speak Spanish. After six months in Costa Rica, I sure hope so!
There’s a couple of other aunts and uncles that I know better since I see them away from the big group, and it’s always fun to talk to them. One uncle spent seven years in Russia, so he’s trying (unsuccessfully) to teach me Russian. You try learning a foreign language with another foreign language as your base!
Living with a host family is made up of equal parts awkward and interesting, and is one of the most unusual situations I’ve ever experienced, but it’s worth it and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Just imagine, if I lived in an apartment, all my acquaintances would be my age, and I would miss out on so much of the depth of Tico life.