I hadn’t realized how disconnected I was from my extended family until I encountered my Mama Tica.
My Mama Tica (my host mom) sits with Erin and me for every meal she serves us. Our conversations range anywhere from what we plan on doing that day to stories from our childhood.
A few days ago, we got to talking about our families. She usually mentions her family every time we have a meal together, but the conversation that night mostly centered on our families. She told us of her children and grandchildren in the United States and how she regularly visits them, as well as the rest of her family here in Costa Rica. Her stories amused me and I felt like I was a part of their family, learning about a relative I had not met before. This is one of the many things I enjoy about having a homestay experience while studying abroadーI have a sense of home and family.
As she went on about all her grandchildren and her kids when they were younger, Mama Tica also asked us about our families. She turned my direction and asked me about my family. “Do you still have family in Mexico? Do you visit them often? What is it like there?” I paused for a second but the only thing I could say was, “No la ha visitado en mucho tiempo, y no recuerdo mucho.” I haven’t visited them in a long time, and I don’t remember much.
That sentence lingered in my mind for a while. I thought to myself, how long has it been? The last time I visited my family in Mexico was four years ago. It may not seem like much time, but at my age it’s a lot of time. The last time I went, I still had side bangs, I had no idea how to drive, and I had just finished my first year of high school. Now I’m bangs-free, drive an adorable Volkswagen Beetle named June, and I just finished my first year of college. As you can see, for someone as young as me, a lot happens in four years. I am essentially a different person compared to the Stacy that last visited Mexico, and it’s a shame that I haven’t told my dad that we should go to catch up with all my cousins, aunts, and uncles in Guadalajara.
What has prevented me the most from packing my bags and returning was my Spanish. When I last visited, my Spanish was practically non-existent and I struggled even with the easiest of sentences. It was embarrassing. How could someone with two Mexican-born, Spanish-speaking parents barely know the language? However, in the four years that have passed, I’ve learned and become more confident speaking and communicating. And when I finish my program, I would really love to go to Guadalajara to see my family, even if only for a day or two.
The conversation with my Mama Tica that night not only made me miss my extended family, it also made me appreciate my immediate family even more. When she talked about her family and the stories of them growing up, I could see a glow in her eyes. I could see her joy as she told us about the time her eldest son took the younger son’s bike because his was too big, or all the shenanigans their dog Happy would get into. Her stories got me thinking about the ones I shared about my family, and how similar they were to my Mama Tica’s. Even though my Mama Tica and I come from different cultures and countries, what we both bonded over the subject of family.
One thing I can say for those looking into studying abroad is this: homestay is a great option. You definitely get to experience the culture of another country regardless of whether it’s homestay or not. I will say however, that when you live with a family from the country you’re studying in, you get SO much more. You get to hear stories about their lives and you see firsthand what a typical day for a local is like. Through the sharing of stories, food, and culture, you become part of their family. In the two weeks I’ve been here, I’ve already felt it.
Stacy Marquez blogs from San Jose, Costa Rica in the summer of 2015. The Journalism major chose a faculty-led Spanish language program for her international experience.