May 16, 2014
Everyone claps as my home stay mom, Consuelo, comes forward to claim me and take me to my new house. I say “hola” and silently follow her out of the building with my suitcases. I blanked on all of the useful phrases people had told me to say once I met my family.
We cross the busy street to board a cab and during the ride. I fidgeted and nearly bit my lip enough to bleed. Being thrust into this new environment with new people and an entirely foreign language, coming from a background of French and no Spanish classes, I was definitely out of my comfort zone.
My host mom took me on a tour of the house and attempted to tell me about how to work the shower, the computer and other details. However, she was disappointingly met with a confused smile and a mumbled “lo siento” or “no entiendo” (sorry; I don’t understand). She would just smile, shake her head and move on, but I felt like it was day one and I was already failing. I did not even know what time breakfast would be the next day or if I was even getting breakfast.
For dinner, it was just Consuelo and I. To start off, it was silent and obvious that both of us were entirely uncomfortable. She decided to break the silence by just speaking at me in Spanish. She would mime some things or say a phrase very slowly for me to repeat even if I did not know what it meant. Just that small step forward was extremely encouraging for me. We were both trying to communicate and were laughing at how horrible our bilingual conversation was. In this situation, humor is key to getting through. I think that if we did not laugh, I would be scared, nervous and feeling helpless.
My host mom has made me feel right at home ever since then and we have both been making progress on our communication. When her husband, Alvaro, came home that night, she laughed and hugged me as she introduced me. He responded with some Spanish and a hearty chuckle. To keep the conversation going, I brought out my English to Spanish cheat sheet. They howled when they saw it. I was not exactly sure why it was so funny, but I continued to point at things and say them aloud. They made me show their son and their neighbor. Anyone I have met so far has been very willing, ecstatic even, to talk to me or help me speak their language.
It is fun to try exploring new words and being fully immersed in a language that you are nowhere near fluent in. I’ve always heard that it is the best way to learn a language, and I can understand why. Not only do you learn the words and meanings, but the nuances and connotations in which phrases or words are used. I could not be happier with the opportunity to live with a host family. I cannot imagine a better way to become closely involved with a culture–if you never leave your comfort zone, you’ll never truly learn to the best of your ability.
Day one, muy bueno.
(In the air to San José)