Sunday, August 3, 2014

Living with a Host Family

I already feel at home in La Paz, and I have only been here for 4 weeks. This fact is testament to my incredible host family.

Upon arrival, all the UK volunteers were under the impression that we would be living in shared accommodation near the city centre. However, we were in for a shock. I remember Eric, the ICS Country Director, saying on the bus to the office that we were going to be introduced to our host families. As I scanned the bus, I saw some puzzled faces and one or two disappointed sighs. It turns out we are the first Bolivian cohort to have host families and the decision was made only a few weeks before we arrived when the logistics fell into place. On hearing the news however, I kept an open mind. I thought this could be a golden opportunity to learn more Spanish and immerse myself fully into a different culture. Now four weeks in, I think I might be proved right!

My host mum is called Soledad and when she was introduced to Ali (my housemate) and me at the office, she told us that she loved us. From that point on we were firmly part of her family. Looking back, it was quite touching to be welcomed so wholeheartedly and it definitely settled any nerves or apprehensions. Our welcome should hardly have been a surprise though, as there is a really strong emphasis on family within Bolivian culture. It is the top priority and everyone looks after eachother. This makes Bolivia a wonderful place to live!

Soledad has quite a large family, with 3 sons and several grandchildren. Ali and I are simply another 2 grandsons to add to the mix. She is incredibly kind and patient, especially when it comes to our Spanish. Having said that, we are learning fast and living with a host family forces you to practice your Spanish all the time. This is one of the major advantages over living in a shared flat. In fact, I am convinced that we will be able to have much greater project impact due to our improved language skills. For example, I am already talking more confidently and fluently with the children at my Childfund Centre, which allows for stronger relationships to be created.

In the morning when we wake up there will be toast and a banana milkshake waiting for us. Sometimes there are even pancakes or eggy bread. Then, in the evenings, Soledad will often make delicious traditional foods like peanut soup. She even caters for my vegetarianism, which I was willing to forgo during this placement. You can’t ask for more than that!

Soledad’s unrelenting hospitality has made me feel slightly guilty at times. If we don’t lock our bedroom door when we leave in the morning she will undoubtedly make our beds. To give another example, a few days ago we realised that our dirty clothes had been picked up from the bedroom floor, washed and hung out to dry! This was just a little bit too far, as most of Ali’s clothes weren’t even dirty! Oh well, we have tried to explain that these things aren’t necessary, but at the end of the day you’ve just got to love Soledad.

What I love most about living with a host family is actually experiencing and witnessing the true Bolivian way of life. I don’t feel like an outsider, even though I obviously am. I have gone to my host Uncle’s art exhibition, climbed the local mountains with fellow grandchildren, sat down for Sunday lunch with the whole family, watched the same television shows and caught the same buses. I feel integrated and I have the opportunity to understand the differences between cultures much more acutely. Without a doubt, living with my host family has been one of the most valuable experiences of my life so far. 

Written by Richard Sweetman and translated into Spanish by Alejandro Reque.

Para leerlo en espanol, haz clic aqui: icsbolivia.internationalservice.org/vivir-con-una-familia-de-intercambio

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