The experience of a homestay, living with a family in a different country, speaking a different language, is quite unlike anything else in the world. Yes, you spent a night or two at a friend’s or family member’s house, or maybe you’ve traveled and stayed in hotels in other parts of the world, where English is not the predominant language, but these things more than pale in comparison to a homestay.

I can vividly recall waiting to be dropped off at our respective homes, the feelings of not only worry but shock and perhaps dread; I was to be the last person dropped off, and while seeing my classmates being greeted by their smiling, welcoming families should’ve reassured me, I was convinced that my family would not be similar.

Suddenly, our route changed, and I was not last but next. The suspense (to be cliché) was killing me, and leaving the familiar faces of my friends- physically getting up off the seat in the back of the bus, picking up my bags, and walking to the front door- was an unexpected challenge, and I may or may not have been internally hyperventilating as I walked towards the strangers I would live with for the next two weeks.

What was not a challenge, happily, was to smile back at the friendly faces of mi familia tica. My host mom guided me throughout the house, giving me a tour and introducing me to the rest of the fam, and left me to arrange my room, a beautiful, comfortable space, and gather my thoughts and freshen up.

I distinctly remember sitting on the bed, leading myself in slow, deep breathing, realizing that, for better or worse, I would be spending the next two weeks with this family.

 For all of my fears, my homestay experience was more rewarding and enjoyable than I ever could’ve imagined. I was able to bond with my little brothers Luis and Oscar, my sister Andrea, and my parents Aydée and Oscar though games of fútbol and Rummikub, and discussions of the community of Santa Elena, the education and health system of Costa Rica, coffee production, the family farm in Carñitas, the Costa Rican government, conservation efforts, the importance of organics and limiting chemical use on farms, and so much more. We bonded on so many levels, through so many different means, and I was also able to meet and connect with the families of my friends, all of whom were wonderful and friendly people, genuinely interested in sharing their lives and experiences with us.

While our conversations were beyond instructive, for me actually living with a family was the best part. By living with a family, you are thoroughly pushed out of your comfort zone into an entirely new way of life. It is your task to overcome your feelings of culture shock to embrace a new ideology and learn as much as you can. Immersion into a new language, a new culture, and a new family has given me a new, fresh perspective on life, here with mi familia tica, in the States with my family, and at Vandy with my college family.

Laura M.

The shape of human recreation
Is central to the web of small changes,
of the greatest changes.
information, education
We boom:more water.
We burst: less life.
The shadow of the buzz and bubble,
the rattle and call
are indistinguishable from the fragile flutter,
that dividing difference or
dichromatic desire for
The struggle for symbiosis
forever changes the
pattern of possible.

--Mariana D.
A mi me gusta toda esta tierra,

En mi opinión, Monteverde es más bonito que las montañas en la Sierra.

El ambiente aquí en San Gerardo es lindísimo,

Gracias a Dios que los alrededores protegidos son grandísimos.

Los bichos aquí son un poco extraños,

Ojalá que no me hagan ningún daño.

Algunas veces estoy detrás del palo,

Pero ninguno de mis días aquí han sido malos.

En total tengo dicha de tener esta oportunidad,

No creo que haya más como ésta, de verdad.

--Jennifer W.

Through the dark olive green material of my pants, I can feel the slight roll and tumble of the grass beneath my behind and left thigh, a mild Shiatsu massage of a thousand nubby knuckles caressing my body. The hairy, melon-shaped shadow of my head pops in and out of view with the ebb and flow of the clouds overhead. The grass is green, to be sure, but it is only green in the same way that we would say that a kaleidoscope has one color: rainbow. Spiky shafts of brown, taupe, and almost-purple scatter themselves about, punctuated by bubbles of vibrant yellow petals floating just above the surface. Awkward, lanky favelas of some kind of palm-tree-wannabe grass poke and prod their way out of the slightly rumbly quilt of gass, the field's equivalent of urban sprawl. Trees in the distance seem to squint and brace themselves for a wind that is not currently blowing but clearly occurs regularly, massaging the trees from left to right. The singsong pop and crackle of unseen tropical birds fades in and out, locked in a sonic tango with the sound of axles whirring, gravel crunching, and general clinkity-clank of The Automobile.
--Michael G.

What have I learned about myself in the last 24 hours? Well, that’s a loaded question. I guess it’s…. Word Vomits. Smiles. I have the amazing tendency to talk a lot when I’m uncomfortable. Now imagine this: I’m meeting my homestay family. These people need to think I’m “tuanis” (Costa Rican slang for cool) for the next two weeks. Obviously I’m on edge and therefore I begin my word vomit. Now mix in a lack of coherency into the situation. The result: Operation “Tuanis” was sinking. I might be the world’s only morena gringa incapable of saying more than two words in Spanish, but I did try. Oh I tried so hard. I word vomited everything that sounded the least bit Spanish-ish and then my homestay mama smiled. Then she talked a mile a minute and then I smiled. However, Operation “Tuanis” looked better as I demonstrated what cow-tipping was to mi familia. It consisted of me on my hands and knees mooing then snoring and then somehow laying on my back with my appendages flailing in the air in the middle of the living room. I guess I learned my ridiculousness is a good thing; well, it at least breaks the ice in no time.

We arrived in Monteverde around 11:30 am, and checked in here at the Monteverde Country Lodge, where we are staying just for tonight.   We had lunch, and then walked into town to check out the local shops and visited el supermercado.  Rafa gave us each a pretend life scenario - I was a married woman working 6 hours per day, 5 days a week, and earning the equivalent of about $2.00 per hour.  The currency here is 'colones'.  It was amazing to walk through the store and try to budget myself based on this salary - thinking about what I really needed, and realizing that there wasn't much wiggle room to spend on luxury items.