After over a year in Paraguay, I am visiting the host family I had during training. I lived with them for 2 ½ months. They are special because they are the first Paraguayans to really interact with volunteers before we have gotten a handle on social norms, language, or even local food. We get off the plane in Asuncion, and (depending on what time the flight came in) we are bussed to our host communities and dropped on our host family’s doorstep. Volunteers are instructed to side step the possibly rocky conversations about religion, sexuality, politics or race that might come up, but other than that, we are very much our American selves. We haven’t yet learned that long, seemingly awkward, pauses in conversation while sipping tereré are perfectly normal. We haven’t yet become accustomed to people wiping their mouth on the tablecloth or picking their nose publicly without shame. We still might feel offended or uncomfortable if someone makes an observation about our weight or skin color. During training, our host families see us make many a fauz pas. They see us react uncomfortably to situations or comments that are perfectly normal and acceptable in Paraguayan society. They have to deal with us accidentally doing and saying things that are perfectly normal in the USA, but inappropriate here. They might see us battle our first bout of homesickness… or physical sickness like continuous vomiting and diarrhea (which must be almost as bad to overhear as it is to experience). Essentially they see us at a very vulnerable stage in our time in-country. We are still learning the basics. We make mistakes with them that after a month or two in country we would never dream of making, and by the time we get placed in our permanent site, we forgot we ever had to learn.
It is hard to be a trainee, but being a host family is challenging too.