Studying abroad is a magnificent experience on many levels, but there is one major aspect of my Brazilian existence that I haven’t talked about until this very column. That hugely important, partially defining aspect of the EAP Brazil program is that I am living in someone else’s house. After spending one year in a Del Playa cesspool and another with 10 housemates on Sabado Tarde Road, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not accustomed to clean dishes or dealing with a concerned parent. At most, one of my roommates in Santa Barbara would raise an eyebrow and ask, “Where’s Todd?” if I’ve been MIA for more than 36 hours, before continuing on with their daily routine.
Living with a host family is an entirely different ball game. Just like anything else in life, it has its pros and cons. I must say, reaching into the cupboard and finding nothing but clean plates and utensils is a lot like heaven after having to throw away dishes covered with mold in Isla Vista. On the flipside, it’s a little weird to get in trouble for coming in the house with sandy feet after a surf session across the street.
Back in I.V., there aren’t even any repercussions at my house for throwing your mustard-caked Subway wrapper on the floor. The learning curve is pretty quick though, because like any loving family, they can pour on the guilt at a moment’s notice, and the language barrier just makes it all the more fun. At least here in Brazil, if I come home drunk and my host mom wants to talk to me about something, I can always drop a well placed “I don’t understand,” and then BAM, I’m off the hook and on my way to bed to sleep it off. This is definitely not the coolest thing to do, especially because at this point I understand most of what she says to me, but I like to think that I have options.
Truthfully, my host mom is really cool, and I’m not just saying that because she might read this, because she doesn’t understand English. I love how she laughs at the TV when there’s an explosion, which I absolutely don’t understand, and I love how she will always take the time to come out to the balcony and help me practice my Portuguese over a cigarette. Other than that, she adopts a live-and-let-live attitude, where I don’t pester her to take me on any field trips, and she doesn’t make me do anything too unreasonable.
Many students here have host families that take them out to relative’s houses, group dinners and outings to the mall. That’s cool for them, and I understand how a lot of people came here wanting the warm embrace of a loving host family, but myself, on the other hand, not so much. If I could have lived in an apartment with other students, I would have without a doubt. I would have continued living in filth, just Brazilian filth rather than Subway wrappers and Natty Light cans. It’s surely for the best though, because it’s all too tempting to speak English when you are hanging out with Americans, and I wouldn’t have developed the lingual skills to make any Brazilian friends if I didn’t have the set of training-wheels that is my host family.
As strange as it is to be back under your “parents'” roof, it gives you a real dose of perspective that you would not otherwise have. I feel like I have a person who genuinely cares about me, and who will always give me good advice on where to find a good time and where to find a good wave. My host mom knows all the spots. I think my Brazilian friend (who dabbles in English) put it best when he said, “You’re with a host family? As in, like, host to parasites?” I couldn’t stop laughing. My host family has been great to me, and I hope that by the time I leave here they will know how much I have loved the experience, and hopefully this is one parasite that they won’t want to get rid of.