Through this 9 month journey, we have stayed with 2 host families in two different countries: Japan and Thailand. Each and every one of us has had different experiences all gaining something moving us forward as we conceptualize our own identities, cultural norms, and awkward silences… why do we feel awkward in some of these silences? And why do we feel so comforted by some silences when we may not know what is going on, but somehow there is a sense of acceptance and uncontrollable giddiness. We were able to bring each of our experiences to our daily conversations allowing everyone in our study abroad group to be included in our experiences
When I was in first grade, my family hosted a Thai student for a year. I looked up to her as a role model and inevitably was overbearing and annoying. Regardless of my annoying nature, she became my older sister during that year and we continued to stay in touch over the years through letters, visits, and then social media. During this trip, I have been able to see her many times and I feel so at home in her presence when she tells me stories and memories. It is nice, as an only child, to have someone else out there who knows you in that capacity.
My first experience as a host daughter was in Kyoto. I was so nervous to meet them but my host family put little pressure on me which made me comfortable and allowed me to have some independence. This independence they gave me made me feel more like family and more at home. They weren’t putting on a show or trying to do anything extra allowing me to feel more like a normal daughter rather than a special circumstance. They made me delicious meals and we talked about the news, laughing about the goofy Japanese TV hosts and mourning during the Las Vegas shooting together. Most importantly, they were so understanding that I had biological family in Japan and encouraged me to see them.
While they allowed me to have my own independence, they went above and beyond when I needed their help. One day, I had a package come but no one was there to pick it up so it went back to the post office. They made endless calls and drove me to the post office to help me retrieve it early in the morning before I had to leave for my plans. In that moment, I was so grateful for them and their eagerness to help while juggling their ability to allow me to be independent at other times.
A few months later, we stayed with host families in Thailand. I was nervous, but not as nervous as the last time. I had an outgoing host mother, an outgoing host sister, and a shy host sister. I fell into the middle, pushing myself to be more outgoing but feeling lost in translation and becoming a little shy at times. It was nice to have the encouragement to be more outgoing with one of my host sisters while also having the space to be more introverted like my other host sister. We ate delicious meals that my host mother cooked, and she made sure to give me seconds and thirds, giggling when I would rub my belly to signal how full I was. She taught me how to cook her (and now my) favorite Thai dessert and let me help prep meals that I would take to school for lunch; this was an extra perk that other students in my program didn’t have and I felt so lucky.
As a family, we went on the most picture perfect excursions and went to the movies. My host mom taught me a song as she drove me to school every morning that I still have trouble singing; she giggled at my inability to sing this children’s song but continued to teach it to me morning after morning. They made me feel like part of the family and they opened up to me about the recent passing of their husband and father. They talked about him daily and I felt grateful that my host family felt comfortable enough to open up to me about such a hard subject.
All three of my experiences were drastically different. A role where I was supposed to be the welcoming host sister, a family who gave me independence and support and family who integrated me with food and daily excursions. But, in all experiences, I felt and feel similarly at home and welcome. I think about the neat circle my host family progression has come to: hosting a student when I was young to being a host student now. I have families in more places and memories with people that I wouldn’t have been able to meet initially, all around the world. The nervousness paid off in the end as I am lucky to have these families and memories with awkward giggles, translation mishaps, and overwhelming acceptance and support.