October 7, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 55°F


Quiet to chaos proves a success

A month and two weeks have passed since I arrived in Mexico, and the first phase of my study abroad experience ended this weekend. My group and I lived with families during our stay in San Cristóbal, but now that we are moving to Oaxaca City, it’s time to pack up and say goodbye.

My last meals with my homestay family made it perfectly clear: I am going to miss these people. During lunch Saturday, almost everyone in the house sat together. I shared the table with Doña Carmelita, her son Don Rodolfo and her two grandsons, Andony, 24, and Marcotulio, 27.

The meal was chaos. Andony and Marcotulio chided each other with slang I still can’t understand. Don Rodolfo tried to explain the mating dance of an exotic bird. Doña Carmelita repeatedly ordered the two barking dogs to get out of the kitchen, to no avail. Andony kicked me under the table and joined Marco in teasing me mercilessly. Marco rolled up tortillas and threw them out the door at the dogs. Everyone insisted on piling my plate until I thought I would die from overeating.

While the interactions are exhausting, they create a sense of exuberance I have learned to relish. In fact, I almost fooled myself into thinking that I was somehow a strange addition to this family.

Of course, my relationship with my host family has not always been at this level. When I first arrived, my hostess Doña Carmelita arranged the meals so that I ate a half-hour before the rest of the family. She would sit down and keep me company and sometimes Don Rodolfo joined us, but it was a few weeks before I experienced the true chaos of the family meal.

At first, I didn’t really understand this, and I felt isolated. Then, during my last dinner, Simon, the new student who would replace me in the household, joined us at the table. He sat there, staring blankly as Andony and I talked in Spanish. He could not follow the rapid exchange between Andony and Don Rodolfo, and he was too distracted to notice that Doña Carmelita was asking him if he wanted more rice.

As I watched Simon struggle, I suddenly realized why the family had kept me out of their meals for so long. They understood the overwhelming atmosphere of familial conversation coupled with a new language.

When I ate by myself, I usually had more calm, controlled conversation with the doña and sometimes Don Rodolfo. As my level of Spanish increased, I slowly became able to participate in the family meals.

An overwhelming feeling of appreciation and gratitude came over me. I will miss this family.

Sara Howard is a junior journalism and politics major. E-mail her at