Exploring culture with host families and hard realities

31 Jan 2017

By now, we’ve finally gotten accustomed to our new families and new routines. At first, of course, everything was unexpected. Before we left, we had hours of orientation to help us prepare mentally and emotionally for the culture. But every family is a culture unto its own. Every zone in the city is a different culture and the city is different from the rural areas. How could we have been prepared for that?

My host family consists of my sister, our two parents, and my mother’s mother. This, of course, is discounting extended family that we sometimes visit. My father is from Belize and my mother is from Guatemala and they met in seminary. My dad and sister can speak English fluently, but they never do because they want to help me learn. We go to a Mennonite church that runs a literacy program that both my parents teach at. We all hold hands and pray before every meal and we listen to Christian radio in the car on the way to school. My dad teaches Spanish at CASAS and my sister is the receptionist. My parents don’t like it when I ride the bus because they fear I’ll be robbed (a legitimate fear).

But all our families are different. Some have hosted students before, some haven’t. Some eat pizza and burgers and other U.S. food while others eat more traditional food. Some families have servants, some party hard, some have friends over constantly, some live in gated communities (called colonies), some have pets. But should this be surprising? Don’t we have such diversity back home?

Several of us have expressed discomfort regarding the issue of servants. My family doesn’t have a servant, but my aunt’s family does. When I first went to the house, I was introduced to everyone but the young indigenous girl in the kitchen. Before the meal, everyone was invited to the circle of prayer, even a baby, but not the girl with shorter stature and darker skin. At home, we have a strong value of egalitarianism, so seeing someone treating someone else as inferior made me (and others) deeply uncomfortable.

Not only are we in a different country, but we are in a different city, a different neighborhood, and a different family. It’s only been two weeks, but I’ve built relationships with my host grandmother, mother, father, and sister that I hope will last past this experience.

-Robert Propst

An Ethnocentric Moment

On Thursday January 26th, four of us were walking to the local store. Before we got there, however, a man with a gun stopped us to steal our phones. We are all physically fine, but we’ve now been introduced to one of the realities of Guatemala. After the incident, countless people shared their similar stories with us. What might’ve been meant for comfort turned into fear and anxiousness for me. As a cross cultural experience should do, my eyes have been opened to a harsh reality here. As the weekend passed, I had time to even reflect on the man who ripped away our security. Something in his life has brought him to the point where he can morally justify his actions; that’s the real loss here. Our phones can be replaced, and our security will again return, but the hardships (from various avenues probably) in this mans life will be with him (mentally and/or physically) for the rest of his life.
-Emily Clatterbuck
Group Photo at National Palace