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The First Week with my Host Family

And some challenges along the way

By Bridget B.

Hello! I have been having a blast in Cuenca, but the first week definitely required some adjusting. Back in the United States, I had pictured that I would be living with a big family with a wide variety of ages. That picture ended up being true for many of the other volunteers, but when I received my host family assignment, I was told that I would be living with one woman. At first, I was incredibly nervous; this outcome was not one that I had even considered. Nevertheless, I was excited to meet her and see my home for the next three months.

Two of the first things I noticed were that 1. My host mom, Mercedes, is one of the sweetest people I have ever met, and 2. The home was certainly built for people of average Ecuadorian height. Being 5’9’’, I do not fall into that category. The bathroom door frame quite literally only comes up to my nose. Also, I sleep in the attic, which has a slanted ceiling, so I can only stand up straight in a very small portion of the room. Despite this, I felt at home almost immediately. The first few days were filled with hitting my head and accidentally punching the ceiling while getting dressed, but I have grown to love the home dearly.

The morning after moving in, we returned to the Spanish school for Red Cross training. This meant taking the bus for the first time. Coming from small-town Iowa, I haven’t ever really experienced public transportation, so this was a first. Thankfully, my host mom accompanied me to help me find my way. The only way I can really describe my daily experience on the bus is to compare it to the Knight Bus from Harry Potter. It’s crazy. I’ve truly never experienced anything like it.

That night, I was sitting quietly at the kitchen table and doing my best to follow the conversation that was happening between some relatives (and failing miserably) when a mariachi band walked in, singing “Happy Birthday”. Apparently, my host mom had neglected to tell me that it was her 60th birthday, so I didn’t find out until she was wearing a huge sombrero and there was a mariachi band playing loudly in the living room. After the band left, we all went to a restaurant to celebrate. When we arrived, I noticed that outside the building, they were roasting cuy (guinea pig). Now, I knew that I was going to be offered this food at some point during my stay, and I planned on eating it because it was a unique opportunity, but I had imagined that it would be a while into my stay. I definitely didn’t think it was going to be my dinner on the first full day I had with my new family. Of course, nothing else had been how I had pictured up to that point, so I’m not sure what I expected. I would say this was probably the first major challenge I faced. Sitting at a huge table with ten host relatives that I had met a few hours before with a roasted guinea pig on a plate in front of me was definitely a bit nerve-wracking. Fortunately, it was very tasty, and Mercedes ate the foot for me (I couldn’t bring myself to put the little paw in my mouth).

The rest of the week consisted of frequently agreeing to outings without actually understanding where we were going, lots of dancing with relatives whom I couldn’t really explain to you how they were related, going to bed at 8:30 because Spanish was exhausting my brain, learning that I’m not very good at folding empanadas, and interacting with the firecracker that is my six-year-old neighbor. My first meeting with her was an interrogation where she tried to comprehend why on earth I had a suitcase. Having a 5’9’’, blonde, white girl who can’t speak Spanish very well show up at the house next door for no apparent reason is a lot to take in for a six-year-old. Fortunately, before she began the interrogation, she ran inside and came back out with a cup of some sort of chocolate flake cereal, so I had the fuel to answer all of her questions. Now, we’re best friends.

I’m so excited to keep experiencing new things and meeting new people! I hope you stay tuned to hear about the rest of our adventure 🙂 Ciao!