As the time to leave Brazil approaches I have been thinking about writing about my host family. To give you some background information, PUC-Rio offers its exchange students the option of living with a host family during their time in Rio de Janeiro. You apply to the program and about 10 days before your arrival to Brazil the University sends you an email with information on where and with whom you will be living. To be fully honest, it made me somewhat nervous not knowing where I was going to be living during my study abroad time. PUC-Rio does not guarantee that everyone who applies to the program will be placed in a host family.
In my case, luckily PUC-Rio did place me in a host family. There are many stories I could write today, but I think there is only one way to truly transmit what my experience living with a host family has been.
Throughout this semester I’ve sometimes written about my “host family” in this blog. But the reality is that I live in the apartment of a single woman (I’m not mentioning anyone’s name in this post) who now rents two rooms to students. When I first moved into her apartment two other exchange students at PUC-Rio (one from Germany and one from Morocco) also moved in with us. After about a month they both decided to move to a new apartment so it was now only my host mother and me. We had an empty room in the apartment for about two weeks until a new Brazilian student doing a Master’s degree at PUC-Rio came to live with us. Since then it’s been the three of us.
Up until a month ago when friends or family back home asked me about my host family I used to say that I didn’t really live with one. I had some great conversations with my host mother but that was about it. I rarely saw the other Brazilian student. This has been the third time in the past five years that I have had the opportunity to be hosted by a family in a foreign country, so probably my expectations were too rigid already.
But this all began to change a month ago. My schedule at the university changed and I now had more time to be home. The Brazilian student finished the first half of his thesis and he decided to take a two-week break from work. My host mother quickly realized that we were both going to be spending much more time at the apartment, so she proposed to have dinner together at least some days during the week.
By the second dinner we were all sharing incredibly personal stories. Put two young students who live far away from home and a friendly older woman who loves to talk together and you just created a great conversation. We talked about everything from food and the World Cup to work and love. But there was one particular topic that always seemed to dominate the most intimate moments of our conversations: family.
Maybe my “host family” experience in Brazil was not what I expected. Personal situations in each of our lives deeply impacted the atmosphere in our apartment. Sometimes we became three strangers living in the same apartment, and sometimes we became a small family: three people from incredibly different paths of life who gradually moved closer to each other. And even if I were to leave Brazil and never talk to them again, our conversations about family were a true gift.
For one reason or another, we all found ourselves far away from our families. Our dinners became a space to share memories, frustrations, dreams, and hopes about those who were either waiting for us back home or had left home already. The other student and I projected our current family situation to the future and imagined perfect scenarios. We also laughed at how my host mother’s ideas of family had changed throughout her life.
I’m still not sure what to answer when someone asks about my host family. But for many reasons, my time in Rio de Janeiro ended up being strictly connected to the idea of a family. And that, I would like to believe, is what I will take with me once I return to Richmond and Guatemala.
I’ll be going to PUC-Rio this January for the spring semester and finding out and meeting my host family is definitely the thing I’m most worried about.