I have been looking forward to stay with my Quito host family ever since I’ve arrived to Ecuador because I really wanted to experience the culture like a local would. Apprehension did not find its way to me until I received the page of information about my host family. Unlike most of the fellows, who had page long descriptions and cute family pictures, all I had was a name and a one-sentence-long description. It was my first ever host family and I did not know what to expect. When the bus finally arrived at the EIL center, I anxiously scanned the crowd of host families, trying to find locate my host family although I had no idea how she looked like.
I saw my host mom right when I was getting off the bus. She was standing right in front of the bus, and she had my name written on a neon yellow tag stuck on her chest. When I saw her face, all of the apprehension subsided and gave way to joy and excitement. My host mom is an abuela (grandma), and she came with her son-in-law, and two grandchildren. I gave her a very enthusiastic hug with a huge grin on my face. She started to speak to me in Spanish something about how glad she was to have me. That was when it hit me, that the only person whom I would be living with – does not speak English. On the ride to my new home, my host abuela kept asking me questions and sadly, the two years of IB Spanish ab initio did not prepare me for this real life conversation. I kept asking my host uncle to translate for us and I felt very helpless because I couldn’t communicate my thoughts. We dropped off my luggage at home and shortly after, took a bus to my host aunt’s house. Turns out it was a family gathering with quite a lot of people. After the extensive process of giving everyone a hug, a kiss on the cheek, and saying ‘Buenas tardes’ to everyone, we all sat around the dining table and talked. I was so eager to get involved in the conversation at first, but ended up sitting quietly with an awkward smile because I could not understand anything from the conversation, let alone to join in. I felt very overwhelmed and, for the first time in Ecuador, excluded from the community.
I have never thought of language as such a great barrier between humans. I would always like to think that we are able to show who we really are inside simply by being who we are, without any verbal interactions. It was definitely a shock for me when I realized how important language was for connecting with others. There I was, so desperate to connect with my ‘family’ and so willing to pour out my whole life story, but lack the essential skills to do so.
With that said, my thoughts on the importance of language on making connections evolved as I spent the rest of the week with my host. Yes, it is true that the words I say the most often are ‘no entiendo’ (I don’t understand); but those little moments when the kids kiss me goodnight when we were playing La Familia, and when my host abuela hugged me and told me how beautiful I was and how kind my heart was before we departed, it does give me that sweet and loving feeling of a family which warms up my heart.
I guess everything takes time.