“If you want shower three times daily, is no problem. Is fine,” my host sister warmly informed me upon my arrival in Viterbo, a small town roughly an hour outside of Rome. I don’t think she realized how deeply those broken sentences hit me, or how welcome they made me feel. Ridiculous as it may sound, life is undeniably better if one has the chance to relax and take a hot shower, though I would never actually take 3 in a day.
It was tantamount to saying, “Whatever it takes, I want you to feel happy and comfortable,” and thanks to her continued generosity, that is exactly what I’ve been.
Then again, I had just been on a plane for two days and she may have been discreetly suggesting I focus more on my hygiene, but I doubt it. In fact, before we met, I had been secretly worrying about hers, in addition to a number of other factors that could come with living with a foreign family. Would they be nice, laid-back, patient, and fun-loving? Or would they make me clean and baby-sit under the guise of “adapting” to a new culture? I sincerely hoped not; I could hardly control petulant children in English.
When I was finally called to meet my new family, my speculation abruptly halted. I knew nothing of them — not how many (if any) children there were, if they had pets, where they lived, nothing. An unnaturally short amount of air seemed to be in my lungs as I stumbled down the steps to where we met. I needn’t have worried. As a beautiful blonde woman bent down and enthusiastically kissed my cheeks, a girl my age leaned in and gave me a hug with such force that any remaining air in my lungs was immediately eliminated. It was wonderful.
I knew that there would be moments of confusion or loneliness, but at that moment I knew I had an amazing family that would be there for me.
If my sister needed to sacrifice what is most valuable to a teenaged girl — her bathroom time — to make me comfortable in a foreign land, she would do it gladly. I define “home” as a place where one feels utterly comfortable, and surrounded by loving family.
Thanks to my host family, Italy felt like home the moment I arrived.
Author’s note: I wrote the post above during the academic year of 2007-2008 when, not knowing one word of Italian, I decided to spend the year in Italy living with a host family. I went through School Year Abroad (SYA), a program I cannot recommend highly enough.
Front page image credit: Jason Wirth/@JRWirth1