My time in Ireland has been my first experience living with a host family. I am currently living in Naas, Co. Kildare with a local family of four; mother, father, and two daughters, all of whom have welcomed me with open arms. It’s interesting for me to compare this experience to other times I have lived abroad; staying with a host family is not without its challenges. We compete with each other for space, hog the washing machine, and take the last of the potatoes at dinner. Its true that my life might be more comfortable if I were living on my own. Colder, but more comfortable.
Nevertheless, the challenges of sharing a home with an Irish family also serve as catalysts for intercultural learning. There is no ex-pat bubble to keep me isolated from local norms. I have been given a window through the shamrocks and Guinness that camouflage downtown Dublin and into the full humanity of an Irish family. Life here, as anywhere, is complex and cannot be defined by a single set of proto-Irish characteristics. Hours of conversation combined with an equal amount of comfortable silence have challenged me to bring my full self into this experience. Living in an Irish homestay has, in essence, allowed me to play with and reinvent my own preconceived notions of what it means to be family.
Maybe it’s useful for me to illustrate my growth through a few of the highlights of my homestay experience:
The first relationships I built with my host family were with their two amazing dogs. These furry little social buffers and I cuddle up on the couch almost every day after work.
I spent Christmas with my hosts and their extended family. I felt very much welcomed by all who came to visit. My host father is an INCREDIBLE cook; I still dream of that glazed ham!
The youngest daughter took it upon herself to organize a fairy-tale themed birthday party for me in January complete with costumes, handwritten invitations, a set menu, and games. I was a frog prince, naturally.
The older daughter is a very talented young musician. I think it’s so cool that she is in a rock band with some of her friends, although I do escape when they come over to practice. It’s great to be around someone with such a great taste in music!
My host mother takes such good care of us. I always see her as very selfless, and it’s obvious how much she loves her family. I know that I can come to her without judgement if I ever have any concerns.
I have about three months left living in Ireland now, and I am already thinking of how hard it will be to say goodbye. I feel that I am a part of some type of family; we are with each other through great times, not so great times, and everywhere in-between. Regardless of how we are feeling, though, I know that I am welcome at home.