Here in the US, Thanksgiving just ended, a time when we reconnect with family both close and far, emotionally and distance-wise. I spent it with my family in the Dominican Republic, but I haven't forgotten about my other family - my Turkish family.
I went abroad in the summer of 2015, to Antalya, Turkey as a high school English teacher. During my time there, I made many connections: the host family I stayed with, the volunteers and AIESECers I worked with, the students I taught, and later, a couch-surfing host in Istanbul. But by far the most important was my host family, because they provided a mooring point for me when I first arrived, providing me with the sense of safety and inclusion that I was afraid of losing when I first went abroad. Family, more than anything else, made my experience what it was, because it provided me with the confidence to take risks, knowing that when I finished, I would have a soft bed, good food, and welcoming hosts to come home to.
This Thanksgiving, we're celebrating family - all family, even the non-traditional ones. Without further ado, here's some comments from AIESECers who have gone abroad, talking about their host families.
Living with a host family is the best way to experience the culture of a country. My host family in Brazil took me to their Sao João (a Brazilian festival) family celebration which was an opportunity I never would have gotten had I been staying at a hotel or elsewhere.
I stayed with a family in Buenos Aires this Summer. I was astounded at how welcoming they were, but not in a fluffy sense. They would poke fun at me just the same that they made fun of each other, so I really felt included and not just like an outsider. I really felt like part of the family when I got food poisoning from eating choripan from a street vendor, and my host dad worked from home to help me recover and keep me from fainting.
I went on exchnage to Lima, Peru this past summer to work on youth empowerment (my project was called Impacta Hoy). My host sister (and the AIESECers) came to pick me up at the airport at 6 am! After a really intense first day meeting all the other trainees in Lima, I was heading back to the host family's home when the host sister called me and told me to get home quickly because we were going away for the weekend for mother's day (May 8th I think it was). As soon as I got home we rushed in the car and drove for about an hour to a town in the periphery of Lima where their grandmother and uncles lived. That night I slept in the same room as the host mom and sister and the next morning we got up at 7 to have a HUGE mother's day breakfast. I truly felt like they treated me like one of their kids.
I went on exchange in CDMX. My host family is and was everything a AIESEC family is about, loving and caring. I have a key and home in Mexico now whenever I visit. My father Capi knew no English and I knew little Spanish but somehow we communicated and had a great father-son relationship that transcended language.
My host family took me out for authentic Mexican food the first night! Throughout my experience my host sister would take me out to various tourist sights and introduce me to her friend circles and we would explore the city together. One of the best family experiences by far!
Loved my host family in Mexico City!! They basically adopted me and my roommate and they took us everywhere! We met their whole family and extended family and they brought us to restaurants and on weekend outings! Even though I didn't speak Spanish and they didn't speak english, they made me feel welcome and taken care of the whole time.
Of everything my experience volunteering in New York left me, what I treasure the most is the relationship I have with my host family. Before going I admit, I was a bit frightened, not knowing with whom I would be living for the next few weeks. But after what felt like no time at all, I felt like part of the family. It became a home away from home. We- particularly my host mum, her daughter, and my volunteer partner (with whom I was working with)- quickly got comfortable with each other, and the bond that grew was one I never expected. We would talk about everything, do all sorts of activities together, go on short trips, goof around, and treated each day like a new adventure. We supported each other through difficult times, I always felt like I had someone i could rely on, and even though I was in a completely new place, I never felt alone. At the end, I didn’t want to leave; I knew I would miss them so much. Saying good-bye was really hard, but we knew- it wasn’t really a good-bye. It was a ‘see you later’. We still keep in touch to this day, and hope to see each other again as soon as we can. I will never forget all the good times we had, and how they truly became my home away from home.
My first host in Brazil was Matheus, upon reaching my new home following a day of international traveling. He not only welcomed me in quickly but had Brazilian chocolate to satisfy my sweet tooth and feel right at home.
Having a host family was one of the most comforting aspects of my exchange. Being in a country alone without knowing the language can be stressful. But having someone take me in and treat me as a son, despite the fact we don't speak the same language and could only talk through gestures, gives a sense of normalcy and comfort in such an uncertain environment.
So there you go - nine stories of finding family away from home. If you've gone abroad and stayed with a host family, leave a comment about your experience! And if you'd like to go abroad with AIESEC, feel free to look at our available projects.