Host family life: Thanksgiving from a different perspective

Barbara, left, and Sophia attended a performance of The Nutcracker over Thanksgiving break.

Lucinda Kontos

Barbara, left, and Sophia attended a performance of “The Nutcracker” over Thanksgiving break.

Sophia Kontos, Staff Writer

In this column, host family sister Sophia Kontos discusses her experiences with Barbara Paić, this year’s exchange student from Croatia. Paić has joined the junior class.

While Thanksgiving is a typically relaxing holiday for students, it took on a whole new meaning for me and Barbara.

Since Tuesday of the break, the house was completely full after my grandmother, aunt and cousin arrived from Austin. Because my aunt and cousin were meeting Barbara for the first time, she faced the typical round of exchange student questions all throughout the week. It was a relief to have my family focus on someone else for once. As an only child, I usually get drilled during holidays.

Because we wanted to make our family traditions more inclusive, we became much more aware about every little thing we did. We typically play word games such as Scrabble and Boggle, but to be fair to Barbara, we tried other options. The most popular of these options was Eye Know, a trivia game based on pictures. Eye Know is one of my favorites, and I loved being able to share the fun with Barbara and my extended family.

We fried our turkey on Thanksgiving day, a process that was both fascinating and frightening. Barbara joined me and my cousin as we sat outside, watching my dad try to work the fryer. Meanwhile, my mom, aunt and grandmother avoided the “danger zone.” We later sat around the large dining room table and listed what we were grateful for. I was grateful for my family and a week off. Barbara, who loves trying new food, was grateful for a holiday centered around a large meal with two pies.

“I’d never had pecan or pumpkin pie before. I liked pumpkin pie, but pecan is my favorite,” Barbara said.

While eating dessert, my grandmother and cousin regaled Barbara with embarrassing family stories (including that time my grandma got in a fight with a stranger in a parking lot). I’ve heard most of these stories for years, but I enjoyed seeing fresh reactions this time.

Although my family avoids Black Friday to spare ourselves from the crazy parking and shopping insanity, many people consider this day as the most important part of Thanksgiving. Apparently, Americans have got quite the reputation for holiday shopping. Barbara was unsurprised when I explained the Black Friday chaos to her.

“I’ve read that Black Friday is really, really crazy and that bad things happen,” Barbara said. “Black Friday reflects American stereotypes because they’re all about buying things. I don’t see that outside of the U.S.”

Black Friday reflects American stereotypes because they’re all about buying things. I don’t see that outside of the U.S.

Instead, my dad took Barbara, my cousin, and me to Buffalo Bayou Park to walk around and enjoy the nice weather (which, for us, meant a balmy 70 degrees). Barbara was amazed that it was November and we could still wear shorts. Croatia is usually much colder this time of year.

With the beginning of the school looming and my aunt and cousin gone, we enjoyed our last day of break by seeing The Nutcracker. Barbara had seen the show once before in Croatia, but the newly choreographed Houston version amazed her with the number of children onstage from the Houston Ballet Academy.

“When I watched The Nutcracker in Croatia, there were not as many people on stage at one time,” Barbara said. “I really liked this version because it wasn’t too long or boring, and the music was good.”

While Barbara experienced Wortham Theater and the Houston Ballet for the first time, I was taken back to my childhood, when my mom and I went to the ballet often. I was glad to recreate a favorite holiday tradition with a new family member.

This Thanksgiving felt just as homey and familiar as it has in years past, but my friendship with Barbara heightened the experience. Stay tuned for a reflection on my first semester with Barbara–after we get through midterms, of course.