“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou
On our last morning in our homestay in Chumey, homestay parents and siblings crowded into a small room to talk to the instructors before the group left. They were delighted that we had chosen to stay with them for a week; surprised that a group from America was willing to forgo comfort to stay with them. Groups of foreign travelers had passed through Chumey before, stopping for a meal and maybe to say hi, but no group had ever stayed there before.
For the past seven days, homestay families came to us with a litany of questions and concerns: Were the students happy? Did they like the food? Were the students homesick? Actually sick? Were they comfortable? The languages, a mix of Dzonkha, English, Nepali and Hindi, were mostly foreign but the questions they asked were universal. This was someone’s child and they needed to be cared for. For the past seven days, homestay families made the food less spicy, heated water for bathing, sent siblings to walk the students’ home at night. Students were worried about, fussed over and made to feel like a member of the family. The goodbyes were filled with both joy at the affection that had been shared and the sadness at parting.
In a country like America, where almost every person speaks English, a language barrier seems insurmountable. How can you connect with someone if you can’t understand them? If they can’t understand you? But over the past seven days students and homestay families came to understand each other anyway. Third helpings of rice were offered and refused. Weaving and spinning wool were taught. Games were played with little homestay siblings. And in a tiny village in rural Bhutan, a dozen American students gained large, caring Bhutanese families.