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By Sydney Rubin

Change is overwhelming; joining another family’s pre-existing routines is awkward. There’s lots of uncertainty: Where should I do my homework, how often should I help in the kitchen, how do I explain my conviction to vegetarianism (in a foreign language) to a family that loves to eat meat? How late is it acceptable to sleep in? Is it offensive to tell them I prefer my rice and lentils with less salt and my coffee with less sugar? Should I address my siblings with or usted?

But despite the initial awkwardness, my family has shown me so much kindness and has gone out of their way to make sure I’m comfortable and happy. One night, when we were eating french fries and there was no ketchup left, my host mom took me to our neighborhood tienda in the middle of the meal just to get some. They show patience with my lack of Spanish vocabulary, adjust their word choice and speed of conversation to make sure I can follow along, and ask me questions so I feel included.

Sydney and her host family

Multiple times, when my host brother-in-law Raul saw me jotting down in my Spanish journal new words that I had heard in conversation throughout the day, he defined them for me, one by one, using circumlocution — even though I could just have easily looked up the translations online. And just yesterday, when I decided I wanted to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, my family tried the traditional combination of apples and honey and helped me bake Challah (which ended up being an arduous and sticky, but rewarding, process).

Challah bread

I don’t always need language to bond with my host family, either. Playing board games and card games (SET, Connect Four, Spit, and Uno) with my 9-year-old host niece Valentina is one way; taking turns holding and cooing over my 2-month-old host nephew Elian is another. We can laugh at cat memes and YouTube videos of people fainting on roller coasters; we can exchange both English and Spanish music recommendations. My host mom and I can cut onions and potatoes side by side; we can jokingly complain about the gas truck that wakes us up at 6:45 every morning. I appreciate all the stories and laughs, and every day I feel more and more like a part of their family instead of the gringa who happens to live there.

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