Student News

Oaxaca #14: A Home Away From Home

Paulina Baltazar – June 27, 2018

John Chung ’20 reflects on his home stay experience and how it has been a great way to gain exposure to another culture.

I arrived in Oaxaca a skeptic. At first, the thought of having to live with a family that spoke a language still unfamiliar to me was daunting. I had many questions running through my head, clouding my mind full of doubt and distress. Will I be able to effectively communicate with my host family? Is it really possible to improve my Spanish in such short a time? I was convinced my host parents would simply act as “providers” during the trip, providers of supervision, food, and a temporary home. Although I highly doubted I would develop a friendly relationship with my host parents, little did I know I would meet three women in Mexico whom I would call family.

My host family consisted of three generations of women: Rosa, whose daughter is Norma, whose daughter is Emma. During the first few days of the trip, I hesitated to speak with my host parents because I felt embarrassed by my Spanish speaking ability. However, my host parents were always the first to speak to me, asking me questions regarding my interests, personal preferences, and life experiences. Although there have been numerous occasions where I have struggled to get my words out, my parents have always been patient, taking the time to follow my train of thought and help me finish my sentences. Over the past few weeks, my parents have taught me a variety of words and common phrases to help supplement my Spanish vocabulary. The kindness and compassion of my parents quickly became evident and I managed to develop the courage to speak more often without fear of being ridiculed.

In addition to reaping the benefits of having improved my Spanish, living with natives furnished me with extensive exposure to Oaxacan culture. Norma made sure to prepare me food traditional to Oaxaca on a daily basis. My favorite has been the tlayuda, a pizza-like dish where bean paste, cheese, and a variety of vegetables are topped onto a large, thin, fried tortilla. My parents would often take me and my roommate, Johnny Glinton, out to their favorite places in Oaxaca. Whether it be their go-to ice cream store or a famous monument in Oaxaca, it was exciting to have access to the best tour guides available. Despite the many differences between Oaxacan culture and that of the U.S., to my surprise, the common aspects of a family were unchanged. Johnny and I would have casual conversations with our parents on a daily basis, trying to make the most of our limited time by learning as much as we possibly could about our mothers. In addition, we ate dinner together every night, which would be followed by multiple rounds of Chinese checkers.

The home stay experience was a substantial contribution to my stay in Oaxaca and I couldn’t be more grateful to have had the opportunity to spend it with Rosa, Norma, and Emma. Over the course of four weeks, I have created so many memories that will forever hold a place in my heart and I am shocked by how quickly time passed by. Although the thought of having to say goodbye to my host family in a few days makes me sad, I have cherished every moment spent with them. I anticipate the next time I see them and hopefully, by then I will be fluent in Spanish! I have had a wonderful experience during this trip, and I encourage everyone who has the opportunity to do so, to study abroad and gain exposure to other cultures.