To Ma Chanza, Mama Bene, Visau, Kali, Damien, Valvuca, !Othema, Watson, Mama Catherine, and all of the other individuals who lovingly opened their homes to a foreign stranger, to those who fed me (usually too much!), to he who took me driving late at night around the township, to those who waited up for me to come home, to she who taught me how to bake fat cakes in the sun, to the small boy who jumped into my bed at 6am ready to play, to those who were patient with my awkward nature and unintentionally offensive behavior: I owe you (another) big fat thank you.
I loved how content each of you were. I loved that when the sky was clear, you were all together, running outside or relaxing under the shade of a tree. I loved that the land you live on is meant to be walked on with bare feet. I loved the boisterous sounds of the school children. I loved the fresh fruit – mangoes, bananas, avocadoes – best enjoyed in the company of others, fruit juice dripping down your forearms. I loved the fragrant frangipane you wove in your hair. I loved the fireworks you watched as a family after overindulging on dumplings.
I did NOT love the roosters’ early morning cock-a-doodle-doo’s, though I suppose nothing is perfect.
But above all else, the feeling that sticks with me in my heart of hearts, the lesson I’m continuing to unpack even years later is this: the tangible, thick sense of community that hung in every corner of your home, and the doors that were always open to company, including mine. This idea of togetherness transcended the borders that divided the families that welcomed me.
Studying abroad is for learning by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s for being exposed to different ways of living. It’s for challenging your notions of self, for questioning our own culture, for growing your compassion. Thank you for giving me that and more.
Megan, “Meihua,” “Luvequ,” “Meggie”
>> I anticipated learning a lot while studying abroad – but severely underestimated how much I would learn while doing my homestay. From the quiet pleasure of sitting in silence with my family to effective techniques for hand washing my clothes, no experience during my semester abroad was as impactful, confusing, uncomfortable, rewarding, or insightful as the few weeks living with my homestay family.
I won’t say that a homestay is a cake walk. It’s tough. It’s awkward. You feel FOMO from your other friends in their homestays. You milk goats (seriously, goats). You ride in donkey carts in the high noon heat. You are forced to eat first while your family members sit idly by and watch. You sit on the floor all the time. You run out of things to say. There are bugs, rats, cats, donkeys, puppies, chickens laying eggs in your bed.
It ain’t always pretty, but I’ll be darned if it wasn’t entirely worth it. Trust me: you’ll know what I’m talking about when you have your first “Is this my life?” moment when your family (and heart) grows despite being thousands of miles away from Valpo.