China – Host Families

Sept. 14, 2018

It has been two weeks since our 14 hour flight landed in Beijing, and we have already experienced so much. This small group of ten unique individuals has begun bonding over our own similarities in such a different culture from our own.

So far, everything has been a beautiful combination of adventure, fear, joy, and appreciation. We walked on the Great Wall, saw the Temple of Heaven, and tasted all sorts of wonderful food. The newest challenge that we had to face was meeting and living with host families.

Last Wednesday, we traveled from Beijing to Nanchong, and the following day we met our host families. Needless to say, there was not much time to prepare for the confusion, excitement, and awkwardness that ensues when living with complete strangers who speak and live in a totally different way.

I was terrified, but I was also hopeful. While some of my classmates’ names were called to be matched with their host families, I silently prayed to be assigned to a family who knew English. My name was finally called, and I introduced myself to my host father, Lan.
As it turns out, my host family does not know much English. After meeting Lan and having to use a phone translator, I held on to the hope that perhaps my nine-year-old host sister would know English.
Reflecting now, it’s funny how desperately I wanted them to know English because despite that not being the case, I am so lucky. My host family is so genuine and caring, which, if I had paid more attention, would have been clear during that first meeting with Lan. From that first introduction, all he wanted to do was show me pictures of his daughter, Vivian.

His eyes were stars when I complimented her cuteness.
While the rest of my group went out to dinner together that Thursday night, I enjoyed a home-cooked meal with my host family. It was scary at first. I was alone to figure out this different culture. Now, I know how blessed I am to have such a loving host family.

Staying with strangers is weird. I had difficulty determining how to act because my version of polite did not fit theirs. I didn’t know how to act or what to do in many situations, but this not knowing forced me out of my comfort zone and tested what I thought I knew to be true.

I’m a quiet person, though, so listening and observing is my specialty. I was okay with not being talked to every second because it gave me plenty of alone time with my own thoughts and feelings. I enjoyed trying to determine what the family was talking about based off of what I know about body language. It was fun inventing what I perceived to be the conversation, then Lan would translate some for me, or he wouldn’t; it depended on the situation and whether or not that conversation had anything to do with me.

Even with a translation app between us, I learned quite a bit about my host family. Lan and Vivian both like to read. Lan is an Astro-physics professor, and his wife is a history professor, but they met during undergrad when they were both physics majors. Vivian is in the fourth grade, but she is currently reading English at a second grade level.

My favorite part about spending time with my host family last weekend was when I got to help Vivian read me a book from her English class. Finding common ground in such a new and different place is difficult at times but beautiful once you get there.
I am fortunate to have such a wonderful host family, and China is beautiful.

I look forward to tomorrow.

-Anna Cahill

On the Great Wall