My biggest fear about studying abroad wasn’t the schoolwork, the new language, or moving around the world; it was getting along with the host family I would be staying with while I was in Buenos Aires.
I remember being terrified—would they be strict or relaxed? Caring or ambivalent? Would they ask me where I was going every time I left the house? This would be the first time I lived with a family other than my own and I was nervous. Even worse, after living parent-free in college, I was worried there would be an unpleasant transition back to living with adults who felt that they were responsible for me.
I didn’t know anything about the new family I would be living with—or, if it even was a family, or just a couple, or maybe even a single parent—and after hearing both horror stories and amazing experiences from friends in similar positions, I didn’t know what to expect.
After almost three months of living with my family, I don’t know what I was so worried about. If you’re having any of the same doubts that I was, let me just say this: a family doesn’t volunteer to host a foreign student if they are uninterested or uncaring or impatient. Every host student has a different experience, even students living with the same hosts, but a vast majority of them are positive.
Although I can’t say that my host family—an older couple in their late sixties and seventies respectively—became “my second parents,” we have a good relationship. They genuinely care about my day, are interested in getting to know me, and always go out of their way to make sure that I’m happy and comfortable.
After I got sick in September, I asked my host dad to help me call and set an appointment with the concierge medical service that IES Abroad recommends. Before he could, my host mom walked in, found out what was happening, and grabbed the phone herself. She offered me tea and asked if she could get me anything before the doctor came. She sat with me during the entire appointment and made sure I understood what the doctor was saying. She offered to walk the three blocks to the pharmacy—in the rain—to pick up my prescription for me. She was wonderful.
Although my host family and I usually do our own thing, it was amazing to know that there were people there when I needed help.
I think that sometimes people run into problems with their host parents if they have different expectations—some host parents give students more space, others want to really be a part of their students’ lives. It’s important to set boundaries in the beginning and make sure that everyone is on the same page. Although discussing the house rules is awkward, I think that in the long run it makes the experience much more comfortable.
It’s also important to remember that even though things are different with your host family, they’re not bad. Sometimes, awkwardness is inevitable. Similarly, the language barrier can be uncomfortable or cause good intentions to be miscommunicated. On my first day in Buenos Aires, my host family told me that when I was in my room, I should keep my door closed at all times. I didn’t take that statement too seriously, so a while later I left it open while I was unpacking—and my host mom came over, shut it, and repeated that I should keep the door closed. At first, I felt unwelcome. Did they not want to see or talk to me when I was home? But I came to realize that it was just a way for my host family to try to respect my privacy and give me space. If I wanted to socialize, I could sit in the living room; if I wanted time alone, I wouldn’t be interrupted while I was in my room.
I’m glad that I chose to stay with a host family over finding my own apartment or living in the residence hall. I’ve learned so much more about Argentine culture and attitude while living with Argentines, and our nightly dinners always help me improve my Spanish conversation skills. But even more than that, it’s nice to know that you have people watching out for you, even when you’re across the world from your family and friends.
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<p>I am Maria Oldenburg, and I'm a sophomore Economics and International Studies double major at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. On campus, you can find me pretending to be a professional photographer, exploring the local coffee scene, or hopelessly planning my dream backpacking trip across Southeast Asia. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I can't wait to eat my weight in empanadas, learn quality puns in Spanish, and tango with the best of them during my semester in Buenos Aires!</p>