(part of a series of blogs and reflections written while abroad, and being published post-abroad).
I cannot talk about my study abroad experience without mentioning my incredible homestay family. The concept is a bit weird – you travel to a foreign country in order to live with strangers who are supposed to be your family. However, for me, it was one of the biggest draws of my program.
In addition to having the comfort and safety of a home and “family”, I was primarily interested in rapidly improving my Vietnamese skills and immersing myself into the culture in a unique way that may be different from my Vietnamese-American lifestyle.
I remember my first day vividly. I was living with a couple whose children had gone abroad – aside from their adorable dog (a huge surprise!! I was overjoyed to have a little dog bark at me as I hauled my luggage to my room) I was the only child in the house.
The day was filled with lots of naps, awkward conversation, and it ended with me and my host dad watching an American movie about ice-skating. As my host parents only spoke Vietnamese, I stumbled through conversation with my Americanized Vietnamese.
However, over time, I slowly felt myself opening up and felt myself accepting their warmth. From the first day to the last, my host family was nothing but kind and caring to me. We fell into a routine (that I dearly miss now). In the mornings, I would wake up late and eat a delicious breakfast that always left me bursting at the seams (my host mom was concerned about my vegetarianism and so she liked to give me lots of food in the morning. And I mean a lot).
Then, they would graciously drive me to school. My host dad would always say “Have a good day at school!” in English, and I would reply (in English), “Have a good day at work!”. It was a little joke of ours. Our evenings consisted of dinner and lots of TV. So much TV. We particularly liked a Korean crime drama and Asia’s Got Talent. Sometimes, my host mom would pick me up from school and whisk me to random restaurants – except we often went to eat bột chiên (fried rice flour with eggs, green onion, and soy sauce).
Oh, how I miss bột chiên. One time, we drove for 30 minutes to a vegetarian “buffet” – you could fill up a huge plate for less than $1USD. We stuffed ourselves with Vietnamese vegetarian mixings over rice. We had traveled so far for that specific restaurant that, the next morning, my host dad stared the motorbike and gasped in surprise that we had almost emptied the tank… whoops!
In addition to making me feel at home, I learned so much about Vietnamese culture and vastly improved my language skills. While my host mom was cooking, my host dad and I would have long conversations about politics, American and Vietnamese culture, and the topics I was learning in school.
Over time, these conversations became natural and easy. Through learning (or, re-learning) the language, I learned about the history of Vietnam and aspects of the culture that I had never understood in America. We also liked to exchange vocabulary – they both liked to ask me for translation of English words and I definitely asked them to translate way more Vietnamese words. Every night was a mini-Vietnamese grammar and language class!
Overall, my host parents were some of the kindest people I have ever met. In fact, my host mom surprised me on the day of my final presentation for my research project – I was so overjoyed and the excitement made me speak WAY too fast during the presentation. I was so happy to see her again before I left for America and couldn’t stop smiling.
My host parents encouraged me to explore the country, ask questions, and to act like a “real” Vietnamese girl – everyday, I felt like I was becoming one. They definitely made my experience the best it possibly could be, and I will never forget their love and hospitality.