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What It’s Really Like Living With a Host Family (Spoiler: It’s Awesome)

I step off the bus outside of my new university in San Jose, Costa Rica, surrounded by my fellow abroad classmates, whose names I had learned just a few moments ago, yet already forgotten. It’s already dark outside, and chaos surrounds me as everyone frantically tries to find their overpacked luggage that was stuffed underneath the bus. And slowly, one by one, everyone begins to find their host parents that they will be living with for the next three months. About 15 minutes passed, and as everyone around me began to leave, I was starting to worry that mine had forgotten about me or something. However, after what felt like forever, I hear a woman calling out, “Julianna! Leah!” Sure enough, it was my Mama Tica (what host moms are called in Costa Rica) looking for me and my roommate!

We took a short Uber ride to our new home; a cute, green, two story house packed tightly between its neighbors. We walk inside and Mama Tica has typical Costa Rican music playing, and she begins to dance as we drag our heavy bags through the living room. She speaks only Spanish, so although I can’t say much, we share a lot of laughs. That night she made us spaghetti; I think she was trying to help us feel like we were at home.

After dinner we get a tour of the house. It’s very simple; a living room with blue furniture, a small kitchen, 3 bedrooms, and my Mama Tica’s gorgeous artwork plastered all over the walls. She has me and Leah flip a coin to see who will get the big room with the balcony. Leah wins, so I got the smaller room without a balcony, but I ended up loving my little blue room more than I thought I could.

On a typical day, our Mama Tica would make us breakfast (either Gallo Pinto and eggs, pancakes, oatmeal, or cereal) and we would chat and watch the news together until Leah and I would leave for morning classes; Mama Tica loved learning about the Royal Family drama that was going on with Harry and Meghan. Normally, Leah and I would be gone all day at classes, then return for dinner at 6:30. Dinner normally consisted of beans, rice, veggies, and plantains. Often, during dinner, her daughter Lu would join us, which was always fun because Lu knew English, so we could have amazing conversations! Dinner normally lasted about 1-2 hours, which was very different from my 15-20 minute dinners at home; we just loved to talk and practice Spanish. After dinner, we would watch either Caso Cerrado (basically a show that was a mix between Dr. Phil and Judge Judy) or National Geographic. Sometimes we would watch movies together (English with Spanish subtitles or vice versa) and eat popcorn. Although it doesn’t sound the most exciting, some of my favorite memories are hanging out in their living room and avoiding the occasional cockroach.

I was extremely nervous to live with a host family, but it ended up being one of the best aspects of studying abroad. I got to practice Spanish, learn about the best places to visit in Costa Rica, eat authentic food, and meet people that I actually consider to be my second family. Since returning, we have been able to Facetime, which was really fun, and I hope one day I can go back down to Costa Rica and visit them; or, maybe, they could even come here!