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The Host Family

Things have officially begun to fall into a rhythm.  I’ve finally moved into a home and am beginning to fine-tune both my cultural competency and Spanish language skills.  My host parents’ names are Francisco and Yolanda Hernández and they’re amazingly loving and hospitable people.  Francisco is the more reserved of the two, but really enjoys deep conversation and discussing the things that matter most to him.  If Yolanda loves someone she makes sure they know it, whether it be through hugs, laughter, or teasing her smile is seldom absent.  This combination has been priceless in acclimating myself to Costa Rican culture and language. 

Staying in the Hernández home in San Rafael de Heredia has been a true blessing.  From what I hear, families in Costa Rica tend to live closer together than in the U.S.  My host family is no exception to this generalization, as their neighborhood is full of familia and two of their three children are past the age of 23 and still live at home.  Also, the two grandkids come over daily to see their abuelos and spend time in the presence of each other.  When the subliminal ticking of the clock quiets and people spend time together something beautiful happens.

We share breakfast together around 7:00 a.m. and I must say that the food is deliciosa!  After a breakfast of gallo pinto (Gallo pinto recipe) or eggs I walk seven minutes to the bus stop and catch a ride to Monte de la Cruz, where the university campus is located.  On Mondays, however, I walk about five minutes to Musmanni bakery for an internship, but more to come on that later.  Either way, after the day is finished I'm relieved to come home to the host family.  

But when Alejandro, the grandson of Francisco and Yolanda, looks at me his face twists up with uncertainty.  It’s as if his four-month old eyes can see right through me.  He hears foreign sounds leave my throat rather than my tongue when I speak Español.  It must sound funny.  It’s as if his innocent confusion knows I can neither work nor play outside all day without putting sunscreen (SPF 50 at that) all over my face.  As if he knows I cringe when I force myself to follow the Costa Rican norm and throw toilet paper in the trash, or when my primary culture takes over and I drop it in the toilet.  As if he can tell that deep down I’m more comfortable meeting a woman with a handshake than a kiss on the cheek.  I stand tall and gangly, as a Pine among citrus trees.  

Then he coos and smiles at me, and I’m reminded why I’m here.  I’m reminded why the fascination of people, culture, and language is never robotically substituted by money or cars.  The whole world understands a genuine smile.  Although I may be a pine and he a citrus, we both breathe the same air, feel the warmth of the same bright light, and need the root system found in human community.

Being in Costa Rica has been an amazing experience so far, and I’m excited to see where this adventure will lead.  Every day brings new gifts and new challenges, but I’m glad to have a strong root system in my host family, my “Whitworth South” friendships, and all the amazing people up north thinking of and praying for me. Muchas gracias a todos.

-Austin Vander Wel