The US is more reserved, in general, with relationships, and when a person stays with a host family in the United States, they either are taken by the host family to see the tourist sites in the city or just left alone. The host families I have stayed with in the US have just let me do my own thing, and from my personal experience, they didn’t really seem interested in getting to know me. In Italy, I have found this to be very different. Here are some of the reasons why the Italian host family experience has been rewarding for me:
- PART OF THE FAMILY
My Italian family was welcoming with open arms; they immediately did the cheek-kiss greeting, which I do not completely understand to this day. They make homemade meals for me every day, and help me learn Italian, slowly but surely.
- MEETING THE (EXTENDED) FAMILY
This behavior of treating me as one of their own doesn’t just go for my immediate host family either. I’ve gone to a few of the cousins’ houses for meals, and they feed me traditional Italian meals and strike up conversation with me as much as possible. We joke and they tell me how proud they are of me taking seconds on meals (something I have never heard in the US).
- MEALS (THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE DAY)
Meals with my host family are very different than how they are at my house. Here, everything is put in the middle of the table and then either the matriarch serves everyone their allotted portions or a person just grabs what they want. I have had certain meals take 4 hours, but that’s because everyone is talking while eating. Even though the meals take up more time, it is worth it because we bond and talk about our days and grow closer as a
family. It also doesn’t hurt that everything I eat here is from local small farms or straight from the garden.
- LIVE LIKE A LOCAL
My host family often brings me places with them and show me around town, not just the tourist things though. They have brought me to my host sister’s birthday party and dinners with their choir. They also invite me to do activities with the family, such as go to an uncle’s birthday party, to mass (and then a traditional Sunday lunch), or to help them make their wine.
5. NEW CONTINENT; NEW FAITH PRACTICES
I like to learn about different ways to practice one’s faith, especially since I grew up in a Christian environment. I have gone to mass with them a few times, which has been fully in Italian. This has been a different experience because I grew up memorizing the Creeds and going to a Lutheran church, but I had never gone to mass and had never done the sign of the cross before. The people at the church are very welcoming and forgiving if I don’t stand right when everyone else does.
My host family has really been there for me, whenever I need their help! From bonding over Stranger Things on Netflix with my host sister, to 4am hugs from my host brother, they really have accepted me for me. I am already dreading saying goodbye to them in a few months.