The past three days I have had the privilege of living with a wonderful host family comprised of a host mother, father, three sisters, and a younger brother. One of the most difficult parts of the homestay experience for many is the language barrier. Something I noticed very quickly about language barriers is how difficult it can be especially when trying to adjust to a new environment with people you don’t know.
For me it was very difficult at first to get used to the daily routines of the house, and most of the “conversations” I had we’re just games of charades with lots of pointing and head nodding with my host mom and sisters. Learning first hand how difficult it is to communicate with others without knowing the same language, also opened my eyes to how much of connection is actually non verbal, and can still be made without using words at all.
This I noticed most profoundly in my relationship with my host sister La Chein who is mute and disabled. Everyday when I would wake up and walk out of my room, the first thing I would see was La Chain greeting me with a wave and a smile that would make my day. We would spend most of the day working together doing chores around the house and would share laughs and exchange smiles the whole time.
My favorite part of the day however wasn’t working around the house or doing chores, it was every afternoon when she would offer to braid my hair. I would nod and she would smile and walk over with her comb and begin to braid my hair with such gentleness and and compassion I felt so special and cared for. After she was done she would braid her own hair so we would match and would give me the biggest smile.
The same smile that I was treated to every time I walked out to the back yard to help her wash dishes or pick peppers from the garden or come home from group meetings. Despite her not being able to speak, her smile was truly worth more than a thousand words and filled my heart with joy every time I got to see it. Even though there was not an exchange of actual words there was an exchange of pure kindness, genuinely, and compassion of the human spirit which to me is much more powerful. It made me realize that sometimes the deepest connections are not necessarily made with the words that you say but with the intentions of your heart. And I can personally say that my heart was truly touched by the homestay experience and especially, by La Chain.