One of the most difficult parts of studying abroad can occur before you even board a plane. Where on earth do you want to spend the next four months (or year) of your life? Fortunately for me, choosing a study abroad program was surprisingly easy. I knew I wanted to go to Rome and the only option was to go for the fall semester because I was a spring sport athlete.
The most difficult part came when I had to decide about housing: did I want to stay in the dorms or live in a homestay? I had heard from various people about how great having a host family is and how they are still in contact with their families (some even twenty years later!). But could I do it? Going abroad alone and not speaking the language was daunting enough. I had also never been out of the country and I would be going into the experience not knowing anyone. Could I live with complete strangers, while also facing a language and culture barrier?
The time for a decision came and I opted to live in the dorms. I felt really good about my decision and was incredibly excited to embark on a new journey in Rome! At the end of orientation weekend, all of the students living with host families were waiting at the main program building for their host families to pick them up. I remember sitting there, watching how nervous everyone was, not sure what to expect but incredibly excited to meet the people who would be their family for the next four months. Parents, siblings, and grandparents all came, and with them went my classmates. After the last student left, there were just three of us that would be living in the dorms for the semester.
Over the next two weeks, every day the three of us heard things things like, “my host mom made the most delicious meal last night” and “my host brother is so cute.” We were all so jealous of the other students living in homestays, and because it became too much for the other two girls living in the dorms, they requested to move into a homestay after those first two weeks. I was backed into a corner, but had a choice: stay in the dorms, but be the only student there, or live with a host family and pick between a young married couple and a family with kids. As appealing as living alone in an old building was, I chose the family with three kids.
One of the other girls, Agnes, and I packed up our suitcases and prepared to move in with our new famiglia. I remember being a mess, a complete ball of nerves. Would they like me? Was my Italian advanced enough (after only two weeks) to communicate with them daily? Despite all of this, I knew deep down that this was something I needed to do. With all of the courage I could muster, we rang the doorbell to our new home on Via Gian Battista Pagano.
We met our host mom (Daniela) and dad (Lorenzo), as well as our three siblings – a girl around 10 years old (Camilla), the cutest 7-year-old little boy I have ever met (Filippo), and a shy little girl who had just turned 5 (Rebbie). A lot of that first day is a blur now, almost five years later. One of my biggest regrets is not keeping a diary of some sort while I was there. However, I will never forget dinner with the family a week after we moved in. Every night we sat around the dinner table, in the same seats because of an unspoken agreement, and ate the most delicious meals. Agnes and I would converse with the family, catch up on our days, and hear how school was for the kids. Most of the time I would do a lot of the translating for Agnes and almost everything she and I would say started with “Como si dice…?” or “How do you say…?” But during dinner after the first week Daniela, our host mom, asked us in Italian, “What’s wrong with you two?” Taken aback, we didn’t know what to say, and asked what she meant. She couldn’t comprehend why two young American college students weren’t going out every night drinking.
That night was the turning point when Agnes and I finally became fully adjusted to our new lives in Rome. Before, we didn’t know what the boundaries were in our home stay; we didn’t want to stay out late because of the kids and really weren’t sure how to fully assimilate ourselves. From that day on, I really felt that we were members of the family. We would joke at dinner, spend hours just sitting and talking to our host parents, and watch TV and play games with the kids. I have never felt so welcomed and comfortable in a situation before.
The day we had to leave Rome at the end of the semester, I was a mess. Saying goodbye to my host family was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. The Super Shuttle called to tell us that it was outside, and we knew it was time to leave the house that had become our home and the people that had become our famiglia. We hugged Lorenzo and Daniela goodbye and each of the kids; I remember trying to hold it together and praying that I would not cry in front of them. Right as I turned to leave, Filippo ran up to me and jumped into my arms. He was crying and I completely lost all of my self-restraint and starting bawling my eyes out. Looking back, I feel horrible for the Super Shuttle driver because Agnes and I cried the entire ride to Fiumicino Airport.
I am still in contact with my host family. From time to time we email each other. I tell them how my life in Washington, DC is and they update me on what is happening in Rome. This past December I was lucky enough to meet up with my host parents and youngest host sister in New York. It was amazing to see them and catch up in person after three years apart. It felt like we had just seen each other yesterday and, other than looking older, nothing had changed in our relationship.
Living with a host family is honestly what made my study abroad experience the life changing four months that it was. I have never once regretted my time with them and I think fondly of our time together every day.
|Katie Buonpastore studied abroad in Rome, Italy and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree at the Catholic University of America. Katie is a marketing and social media intern here at Study Abroad Spotlight. If you follow us on Twitter, you’re probably familiar with her tweets! To learn more about her experiences abroad, check out Katie’s Spotlight!|