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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Ban Don Dohn

Our stay on Bah Doh Dohn in Laos ended almost two weeks ago, but my experiences there remain just as powerful. Going into the homestay, I had serious doubts regarding our stay there. I worried the slow pace of life that seems to embody Laos culture would prove to be excruciatingly boring, the language barrier would prevent any real connection, and the host family would be too busy for me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The second we stepped onto the island, we were greeted by smiling faces and helpful hands. Sitting down for my first meal, I was overwhelmed by the hospitality of my host family. Within seconds, my host sister, Faun, walked out with six English-Laos dictionaries in an attempt to communicate with me. After a few awkward attempts to communicate, we started to become more comfortable with each other. They asked questions about my family, school, and sports, and I tried my best to ask about their lives on the island. Although this first dinner was difficult and at times awkward, it was a pivotal moment in my stay on he island in changing my outlook on the homestay. Not once did my host family give up on communicating with me.

My days on the island were spent helping my family, playing volleyball with my host dad and sisters, and even helping my host parents in the rice fields. By the end of the stay, the closeness between my host mother and I was tangible. Although we could barley communicate, we often spent time together just sitting next to each other and doing our own thing. More than a few times, my host mom and I ate together without the rest of my family, which is very rare in Laos culture. When we left for the day to go to the Kong Lor caves, my host mom handed me a large bag of food and some money, worried that I would not have enough to eat. We laughed all the time, and a second didn’t go by when she wasn’t trying to assure my happiness.

When it was time to leave, the sadness in my house was visible. Even my host dad, viewed as one of the more “masculine” figures in the village, seemed to be seconds away from breaking down. For days after we left the island, my host mom called to check on me and tell me how much she missed me. She even allowed me to keep their house key (I accidentally kept it) in hopes that I would one day return. From riding in the back of a Lo-tai (tractor) with my host dad to eating dinner with my entire family, the positive imprint that my host family left on me will likely stay with me for the rest of my life. I hope that one day I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to return to this beautiful place, and reunite with the kind people that became so close with me in such a short time. Thank you Bah Doh Dohn, I will never forget you.