I knew that the taxi driver had just ripped me off, but I was not in the mood to question him. I thanked him for his overpriced transportation, and stepped out into the drizzly afternoon. With my head lowered as I dodged the mud puddles crowding the path leading up to my host family’s house, I barely noticed the van parked out front. I stepped onto the porch, and was unexpectedly greeted by my program leaders sitting on the couch in the living room.
‘You are in for it now,’ my mind informed me, quickly presenting a slideshow of calamitous endings that could possibly result from what I thought was to happen next. I believe that openly working to settle disputes is the best way to solve quarrels, but that there also comes a time where, when things simply are not working out, attempts at resolution can only make situations worse.
The welcoming faces of my program leaders were tinted with specks of urgency as they sat me down with my host family. Their conversation with my host mother, which had been going on for I do not know how long prior to my arrival, was then directed at me. My opinions on disagreements I had with my host family were requested, but I was too busy dwelling on what was to happen once my program leaders left the house. Would my host family be mad? Would things get better?
After the next five minutes had stretched themselves out to feel as long as they possible could, the conversation dwindled to silence. One of my program leaders turned to me.
¨We are now going to ask you to quickly pack your bags, and we will then take you to a new host family.¨ The engine of the no longer anonymous van outside began to rumble.
My relationship with my host family was the least of my concerns before arriving in Costa Rica. I had spent a fair share of time in my life staying with other people, and had never encountered issues with my hosts, nor been mentioned to have created problems. I have been told that I actually tend to do the opposite; I downplay situations and am prone to blaming them on myself.
This is why I put off talking to my program leaders for so long. I assumed that I was just being sensitive, and that my discomforts within my host family were truly figments within my mind. Once word found its way to them that I was having issues with my host family, over a month had already passed. Their attempts at helping me were met with my fruitless belief that I could solve the issues and that things were getting better. Once my relationship with my host family had reached the end of its road and I finally decided to request help, they were left with little time to find me a new host family.
Being honest with your program leaders is one of the most important things you can do when you have issues, because it is hard to help people from oblivion. They cannot improve a situation if they do not know there is a situation to be improved, just like you cannot expect conditions to change if you do not take action. The people working for your program will do everything they can to help you, as it is their job and they care about your well being, but it is just as important that you request their help.
There is no perfect way to handle issues with a host family that work for every person in every situation, but there are things I would recommend others to do (differently than I did) if placed in similar circumstances.
My first piece of advice is to contact your program leaders sooner rather than later. This does not mean requesting a family change the moment you feel uncomfortable, but keeping them updated on how you are doing.
If you begin encountering issues, send them an email (it can be however in depth, or short and simple as you wish) just so that they are aware of what is going on. This way, if you do decide to request a family change, they already know roughly how long there have been problems, and what those difficulties are. Keeping your program leader involved in your life abroad allows for smoother, less rushed changes when changes are necessary.
In the event that something is bothering you in your host home or family, take the issue seriously. If you are trying your best to help your family members and keep the peace in the house, but are not met with the same effort, do not brush it off as you having a personal problem. There is only so much you can do.
Accept that some things just do not work out. You are studying abroad for a reason, and if you living with a particular family is hindering you from achieving your goals, then you are not getting the most out of your experience. Getting a family change does not necessarily mean that someone is to blame; all people are different and not all families and students are a good fit together.
Value your emotions and thoughts, as only you know what the right thing to do is. Talk to other people and gain their opinions, but do not wait around for some magical sorcerer to tell you exactly what to do. Be your own decision maker. Trust yourself. You know when something is not right, and when it is worth the risk to make a change.
About the Author:
My name is Rachael Maloney, and I am a curious venturer fueled by good books and foreign food. I am currently spending my junior year of high school in Costa Rica, doing my best to absorb everything my 10 months abroad have to teach. I look forward to carrying these lessons with me for many years to come, and, in the meantime, sharing them in online articles for those who are interested. Follow Rachael on her adventure and read her stories here.