If you’ve never lived with a host family I want to highly recommend it to you. I first came to Fortaleza three years ago with TnCIS, a study abroad program that my college, and many other colleges in Tennessee, participate in. I had a few options as to where I wanted to go, Brazil being one of them along with Greece (which later I traveled to the following year), London, Paris and Prague. There was no way I could have decided which one I wanted to go to most…they all sounded amazing! To help me decide, I wrote them all on separate sheets of paper and put them in a hat. I figured whichever one I drew out would be the place that was ‘meant for me.’ I drew Brazil and was immediately excited at the idea of visiting South America. I had been to Italy after I graduated high school and loved it, and of course I wanted to go back to Europe and explore more but I knew that Brazil would be a totally different experience. I began researching everything I could about Fortaleza, the city I would be staying in. I knew that Brazil was pretty much the only program that did host families instead of hotel stays. This freaked me out, I’m not going to lie. What if my family was weird? What if they hated me? What if I hated them? That was far from what actually happened. About a month before I left the United States my host family sent me a photo of them and an email saying how excited they were at having me come to visit. I thought that was so sweet! I hadn’t heard of any of the other students’ families doing the same. I had a good feeling about it. A day or so before our host families were supposed to pick us up, my youngest host brother (I have two) made a surprise visit to the school we were learning at to say hello and introduce himself. Once again, no other host families did the same for their host students and I felt so special and loved. I should have known then that my host family was no ordinary host family. The first few days were spent at a gorgeous hotel near the Beira Mar, but after four days of acclimation our host families were going to come pick us up and take us to their houses. The group of students was split into two or three to a family, but I was separated into just little ole me by myself. I didn’t mind. Sometimes I’m pretty reclusive so this fit me just fine. On the day that our families came to pick us up, my host mom was the first one to come. She had a sweet welcome card for me, which I didn’t understand at the time but still have in my room at home and can now read perfectly, and she had flowers for me too! Long story short, I had the best host family out of everyone. They treated me, and still do treat me, like a real member of their family; taking care of me, making sure I’m not hungry, making sure I’m safe and happy. They are amazing, the best of the best kind of people. When I had been there for a few weeks, my host mom told me that they had been allowed to take a look at the students to see who they wanted to stay with them. I don’t think any photos were included or anything, just names. She told me that when she saw my name she knew that God had sent me to be her daughter. I couldn’t help but reflect, and I still do reflect, on that day when I ‘randomly’ picked Brazil out of a hat. I can’t help but think that it wasn’t so random after all.
Living with a host family is an experience that totally immerses you in their way of life and helps you understand their culture so much better than if you were staying at a hostel or hotel. You learn the language faster, for one. They also take you to all sorts of cool places, like Morro Branco for instance. My host dad, who is an eye surgeon, was kind enough to offer me LASIK eye surgery. After debating it for a few weeks I decided to go for it and now I can see perfectly! I owe my vision to his hospitality and love. My host family treats me like another member of their family. They don’t have any daughters and they have referred to me on numerous occasions as the daughter they never got to have. I knew when I left three years ago that I had to find a way to come back, so through hard work at school, some internship fanangaling and scholarship schmoozing I made the journey back here to independently study Portuguese and Brazilian culture. I cannot even believe how incredibly lucky I am. Or perhaps blessed is a better word.
It’s funny living with a host family sometimes. My host dad is constantly reminding me to stand up straight, and a few weeks ago he told me that the way I hold my fork is ugly haha. He didn’t say it in a mean way or anything, and I thought it was so funny. Poor ole Southern me, can’t hold her fork the right way! My host mom is really good about speaking slowly to me and teaching me Portuguese, but it’s super funny when there’s a mistranslation. When I was here the last time we were all out shopping when we saw a package of Calvin Klein men’s underwear with a hunky male model on the cover. She and I both looked at him and said, “lindo” which is Brazilian for beautiful. She then put her fist up and pounded it and said, “STRONG.” I totally mistranslated that. Let’s just say she was talking about his abs, not what my mind automatically went to hahaha. I laughed so hard I cried. My host brother likes to make fun of me whenever he can, I guess to make up for the fact that the other host brother is currently in Bolivia until July, I don’t know. Sometimes it’s super frustrating, we fight like real brother and sister, but he’s a good kid and he totes me around whenever I want to go somewhere so it makes up for it haha. Just yesterday he laughed at me so hard for dressing up cute to go rollerblading.
Living with a host family is also kind of different from being at home. I can’t walk around in my underwear or go raid the fridge whenever I like. I also can’t drive anywhere, which sucks. But on the plus side, I don’t have to do any laundry or cook because they have a housekeeper who does it, although I always tell her thank you when she helps me out with that stuff.
I have to say I really got super lucky when I was placed with my host family. They’re such good people. Most folks who take in host students are though. I think mine are the best however haha. I wouldn’t have wanted to be placed with any others. My host mom is fabulous and kind and so funny, and she always gives me fashion advice when I need it. My host dad is considerate, giving, and full of admiration for me, always calling me his daughter; ‘Samantha Eldo’. My host brother is intelligent (he speaks like 4 languages!), a huge smart ass, and always keeps me laughing. I somehow just don’t think it was random when I drew this country out of a hat that day, just like how it wasn’t random that my host mom saw my name and knew she had to pick me. As this year’s trip is coming to an end soon, I can’t wait to plan my next visit here. I belong with this family.