by Amelia H. '22
As we applied for GSL, got our acceptance letters, filled out forms, saw travel health doctors, went to all of the meetings, completed pre-trip week, and finally boarded the two long flights that would take us across the world, it never truly dawned on the group how deeply integrated we would become in Rwandan life. Perhaps we thought about what the food would be like or speculated about the pit toilets. But one thing that, for the most part, escaped our busy, anxious pre-trip minds were the many facets and nuances of the homestay experience.
To join a family of complete strangers who speak a different language is an experience full of awkward silences, inability to communicate, and looks of confusion and frustration, but also moments of pure joy, fulfillment, and pride. Insley and I live with a family of four – a mom, a dad, an eight-year-old brother, and a five-year-old brother.
We live in a small, tan-stucco house which is located behind an imposing brick wall and large, green metal gate. Our yard is hard-packed red dirt, with one corner acting as a large, open-air trash receptacle. Upon passing through the front door, you are met by a small but cozy living room with a few chairs and a couch clustered around a low coffee table. A TV sits at the back of the room. To the left is our parents’ room, and to the right is our room. It is simple, consisting of two beds pushed up against the back wall and a wooden cart in the corner. Though it is very different from our houses back in Seattle, it is becoming more and more familiar as the days pass.
We have begun an adorable (and educational) tradition of doing math and English with our host brothers. Using some of the gifts we brought them on the first night, including a white board, markers, and paper, Insley and I give them simple questions such as 3+4 (for Chris, the younger one) and 9x10 (for Jessy, the older one). One of the most surprising and endearing parts of doing this with our brothers every night is how consistently enthusiastic and motivated they are. Each adopts a look of deep concentration with every problem they are given, then their faces erupt with smiles when Insley or I place a check mark next to a correct answer. It gives us so much joy to see them so happy, and also to see the progress that they make.
After playing with the kids for a few hours, we eat dinner around 8:45. As we eat dinner, conversation is the exception, not the rule. With our mother’s limited English and our limited Kinyarwanda, it is difficult to sustain a conversation. Because our dad speaks French, and I have French 2-level skills, I can sort of talk with him. But nothing lasts for more than a few minutes. This experience has been fairly universal across each student’s homestay—we say a few words in Kinyarwanda then our family replies with a few words in English. Though the near-constant silence was very awkward at first, we have come to accept that talking is not the only way to bond with our host families; rather, simply our presence in the room shows that we care.