Living with a Colombian family was nothing new for me being that my mother made sure I had a proper Costeño style upbringing. Im talking arepas and bollo limpio for breakfast, ketchup spaghetti for lunch and blasting Diomedes every Sunday to tackle la limpieza. Even in Miami, I always lived at home it is really rare to find offspring who doesn’t chill at the nest until they are married. This is really the first time I haven’t lived at home as I went to a local university and decided to start my service right around the same time I graduated. I didn’t know what to expect and after my PST experience, I was on edge to say the least.
Before I give the “hi MTV welcome to my crib” run down on my place, here are some really helpful tips I’ve learned about host family living in Colombia:
- Follow the rules that are outlined by the Peace Corps in the Host-Family/Volunteer agreement
Ex. AC/WiFi is not a requirement, pay your family bi-weekly, no romantic boys/girls allowed. Even if you decide some of these rules are worth bending for you personally you should always think of the awkward position it puts the next volunteer who could stay with your HF. Also things are always dandy in the beginning but once complications arise it is really nice to have the Peace Corps contract on your back but if you smudge some rules than it opens the door for the HF to expect you to smudge some of the others.
- Don’t let things snowball
If something is bothering you, speak up. Think, forgetting someone’s name and being too shy to mention something when you first met vs waiting until the more awkward 5th time you’ve seen them.
- Cook for yourself from the get (if you’re a picky eater)
Lots of fried food here on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia so don’t feel pressured to accept food that you don’t want to eat, unless you’re ready to commit to 2 years of eating said food. Colombian mothers take feeding family members, even of the host variety, very seriously.
- Be honest/upfront as SOON as you move in/set boundaries that are important for you
There is no room for being cordial in this process. This is a very un-natural thing to be doing so there is just no room to sugar coat. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t like kids in your room? Tell those little host cousins/siblings to GTFO(nicely) and that this is your private space. I NEED my private space but I know of other PCV’s who don’t even lock their door, really just personal preference.
- Don’t be an asshole
Please, be realistic. Ultimately, you should do what is necessary for you to survive for 2 years and we all know our own personal limits. There is nothing that bugs me more than people who are pissed that they don’t have A/C, WiFi or running water. I think even in the most remote locations of Colombia, albeit very challenging sweltering hot conditions, we still have it pretty damn good. We decided to accept the invitation, we are the ones moving into this home and we should be the ones willing to make the extra effort. What should one expect when joining the Peace Corps?
- Respect house rules
This one is particularly tricky for the most part because we are adults. I am going to generalize a little bit here and say that Hispanic families are very particular when it comes to certain things. For instance, male volunteers experience much different treatment than female volunteers. Most male volunteers wont wash a single dish throughout their service while us woman most definitely will. This is just my personal opinion and feminist please don’t crucify me for saying this, but this is just not the place to start a gender equality protest. I’m not saying these acts aren’t frustrating and sexist but its part of the Colombian culture and it’s our duty to have some type of tolerance for cultural difference. If male PCV is given a blessing with HF to have a local chick to spend the night with them, don’t be naive enough to think you as a female volunteer should expect the same reaction/treatment.
- Keep your relationship with PC Host-Family Coordinator healthy
When problems arise and tensions rise most of us, as human beings, look for someone to blame. The PC Host-Family Coordinator is not a good choice for this person. The person who holds this position is likely a HCN and is relatively new to the North American culture. They also have an extremely challenging job: they deal with EVERY SINGLE ONE of aspiring volunteers/ PCV’s living situations and complications. I don’t know about you but unless a human can read minds how are they supposed to find dozens on dozens of picture perfect houses/families for each volunteer. The last thing you want is for the Host-Family Coordinator to feel as though you constantly belittle them or don’t respect them and value the hard work they’ve put into this very difficult task.
- Never lend your host family money
For obvious reasons, just please don’t. Think of the situation you place the next volunteer who stays in that house, if lending money is made into a social norm between host families and volunteers what will the next volunteer do when they don’t have “American money” to front?
- Let the gring@ thing go
I am a Latina. It is even WEIRDER for me to be getting called a gringa but, I get it. I don’t deny that the United States of America has blessed me with many opportunities that many others in the world(including Colombia) are deprived of and if it means when I go visit other countries I get labled as a product of the USA, its true so I’m really okay with it. As a Latina who doesn’t get any kind of white privilege back at home can come to terms with it I’m gonna go on a limb here and say, you can try to get over it too.