Host Family Life: ten reflections on one semester
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In this column, host family sister Sophia Kontos discusses her experiences with Barbara Paić, this year’s exchange student from Croatia. The following is her final piece on navigating the fall semester with Barbara.
1.No matter if you’re a socialite or an introvert, first meeting the person you will live with is always awkward (this applies to a college roommate, too). We started by talking about our summers on the way back from the airport. We discovered that the best way to get to know each other was by sharing family dinners, when we could talk freely in a relaxed atmosphere.
2. As an only child, there were certain things that I didn’t know to expect, so I erred on the side of too much worry. Films and media depict sibling life as hard —in Sixteen Candles, one of the kids gets locked out of the bathroom in the morning. Luckily, Barbara and I were able to communicate and avoid any spats over sharing space.
3. Barbara is extremely proficient at English. She can talk to students and teachers with ease, even when they throw slang at her. Like the rest of us, though, Barbara was more used to modernized English, so reading Frankenstein and Macbeth was very challenging.
4. One extra person can make a home seem a lot fuller than you think. Their possessions take up space, and their movement around the house only multiplies that effect. When family came to visit during Thanksgiving, I was overwhelmed by the amount of people in the house.
5. Judging from Barbara’s reactions, native Houstonians don’t exaggerate at all about the summer heat. When I talked to Barbara before she came to Houston, I warned her about the weather, but she assured me that Croatia was very if not equally as hot. Texas heat still came as a surprise to her.
6. Barbara is open to trying all kinds of food, and that made everything so much more fun. While she still had familiar dishes from Croatia now and again, Barbara ate Tex-Mex, barbecue, sushi and Indian food.
7. I thought that I got drilled by my relatives, but their questioning pales in comparison to what Barbara had to deal with when she first met them during Thanksgiving. She answered calmly without annoyance. I had to give thanks for not being the focus of all the family attention this year.
8. The United States is especially known for being commercialized. Barbara was unsurprised when I told her about the aggressive (borderline fatal) shopping that happens on Black Fridays, which my family routinely avoids.
9. Croatian pancakes are possibly the best breakfast food ever. They are thin, resembling crepes but thicker and less sweet, and can be filled with nutella or jams. Barbara makes them occasionally for late breakfasts on weekends.
10. Watching TV, especially Netflix, is actually a useful tool for learning a language, particularly its slang. Barbara often referenced popular American TV shows as helpful resources for improving her English.