Host Moms Make All the Difference in Mérida
Many factors contribute to helping our students achieve the goals and objectives of living in a different country. Among these include learning a different language, participating in community-based-learning activity, volunteering, or finding a niche with a local student organization. These are all important, but the one factor which students consistently list as being most influential in helping them achieve their goals abroad is their choice to live with a host family.
BENEFITS OF A HOMESTAY
Host families are natural facilitators of students’ goals. In addition to being warm, safe and caring, their biggest advantage is their support in helping students develop a sense of belonging in a new culture. Families are the first and last faces students see every day. They provide “real-life” scenarios of learning, and families in Latin America are still considered an integral element of social organization. It is through the host family that our students will most likely learn about the wider social context in which they engage on a daily basis.
Families also share small, yet invaluable lessons. Students practice finding a balance between participating in family interactions while maintaining a level of independence. They learn that communication is not only about choosing the right words, but also about finding the right tone. Host families also allow students to practice tolerance and develop the ability to listen to an opinion without compromising their beliefs. These lessons prove beneficial not only during their time abroad, but also after their return and in the future.
WHY FAMILIES CHOOSE TO HOST IFSA STUDENTS
Our host families get as much from the experience as the students. They often refer to the students as one of their sons or daughters with expressions like “mi Chiquita/o/e” encapsulating their warmth and caring. Host families report that our students allow them to stay connected, young and up-to-date with what is happening in the world. They are often amazed that despite their generational and cultural differences, they can share a roof, sit at the same table, have a respectful conversation and establish a very close relationship. This reciprocity is what makes this experience so rich and worthwhile.
HOST FAMILIES IN MÉRIDA, MEXICO
In Mérida, we have a wide variety of family structures, such as young couples with adolescent children, mono-parental families who are a bit older, and older couples with married kids and a battalion of grandchildren with a constant flow of family members coming and going. In any case, they are very sociable, always finding an excuse to celebrate something: a birthday, holiday, or just the Sunday lunches with everyone around.
Doña Rebeca Juarez is among the families who have worked with the IFSA program for more than 16 years. Our students with different food preferences have made a home with her, and they appreciate the careful attention she provides to their dietary needs. Meanwhile, she loves learning about “strange foods” such as tofu or what it means to be vegan.
Doña Rebeca Alonzo, with her huge extended family of 12 grandchildren, loves to host a party every Sunday. Just love doña Rebe, who saves all the income she receives to go on vacation with her two high school friends every year to “celebrate another student” she says.
Doña Silvia Berzunza and her husband Raul have children who live outside Mexico. Before organizing their vacation to visit them, she always asks about our program dates so she can be available for the IFSA students.
Doña Irene González, who is probably one of the best cooks out there, is one of two moms who direct the Cooking Class for the IFSA students. Every person who has lived with her tells us that they have never eaten so well and been treated with so much warmth in their lives.
Our amazing team of families in Mérida are not only a tremendous source of support for our students, but also to each other and to the IFSA staff.
Students sometimes feel wary of living with a host family, as there is a perception they will lose an element of independence. They think they will have to do everything with the host family, or that their every move will be watched. This is understandable but not accurate. Our families are true experts in finding the right balance between caring and freedom. We work very closely with them and openly talk about expectations, limits and boundaries. In the end, the best endorsement is that our students often cite their host family as their favorite aspect of the program.