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How I Communicate with my Host Family

Like all people on the Mandarin intensive program I have a desire to learn Chinese. I am fascinated by the writing, the language, and the culture. However, unlike everyone on this trip, I don’t speak Mandarin. Besides a middle school level class in 6th grade and infrequent tutoring throughout middle school, my Chinese education has been almost non-existent. Now you may be wondering, why would I ever want to be on this trip in the first place? That is a question I have asked myself many times over the past 2 weeks. The biggest aspect of the program that drew me in was the homestay. In hindsight I extremely underestimated how difficult the homestays would be.

My first night at my homestay consisted of me attempting to act our my life story using a series of elaborate charades. After this method inevitably failed, my host brother used a translating app that helped break that communication barrier. Throughout the week my host brother’s visits became less frequent. With no easy way to translate I often sat in silence wanting to say something but feeling physically unable to express myself. While these instances caused me to be discouraged I had one saving grace, my daily three-hour Chinese classes.

Yeah I know, three hours of Chinese class six days a week sounds like the most entertaining and engaging concept ever conceived of. Normally, at home, language classes have been a reason for me to zone out and focus on things that I might find more interesting. But in these language classes I felt like Rocky in a training montage. Every meal I spent refining my chopstick skills with one hand and flipping through vocab words with the other. I found myself being able to have real conversations with my host parents. This morning I made a big step and asked my host mom if I could cook with her. She agreed and we spent the time cooking and enjoying each other’s company.

I am realistic about how much Chinese I will learn. I know that when the program is over I wont be fluent or even proficient in Mandarin. But if by the end of these six weeks I have memories communicating and bonding with my host family then I will have answered the question of why I even wanted to join this trip in the first place.