Homestay Away from Home

Participants Danny, Erick and Guia with host Jimmy

Being dropped off was like the first day of Kindergarten, except we were college kids in a foreign country! It felt odd at first. Not because we were placed in the homes of complete strangers in a foreign country, but because by this point, we had already done a lot throughout the day and the week as a whole team that it felt weird to split up and experience similar, yet different situations.

Our Costa Rica trip came to a close only recently, but those ten days feel so close and so far away at the same time. I can vividly remember everything, but still feel the need to refer back to my journal to remind myself of how I felt at those exact moments.

The Assignment

“Guia, Daniel, and Erick! You’ll be with Jimmy.” Those were the exact words that Jennifer Gamble, our coordinator, said to the three of us when we were all sitting around in excitement, trying to figure out who we would be paired with and where we would end up. She explained that Jimmy is the local wood carver in Mastatal and would help us further our research.

Initially, I was very excited for the homestay experience, but as we all piled into the bus to be dropped off I got really nervous. I kept thinking about all of the irrational “what ifs?” For example, what if they don’t like me? What if they can’t understand me? What if I just end up sitting there the whole time being lost? I also kept thinking about my homestay brothers, Daniel and Erick. What if they end up bonding more with each other and I get excluded?

This frustrated me so much that I nearly cried.

As I let my head fill with all of these irrational thoughts, Daniel, Erick , and I were called to get out of the bus and take a picture with Jimmy. It was so weird because when we all approached Jimmy, it was evident that he was just as uncomfortable as we were. He even hesitated to put his arm around me for the picture and we ended up just standing next to each other. On top of that, as soon as the pictures were taken, we were just left there, which made things a bit more scary.  However, this was all made better when we got inside the house and introduced ourselves to each other.

The three of us were sitting in the living room area, watching Discovery channel with Alex, Jimmy’s twelve year old son, when Erick left with Jimmy to interview him. I found it to be my opportunity to push myself to speak Spanish, but I kept hesitating. The sentences would form completely in my head, but once I tried to say them aloud, I couldn’t speak. This continued throughout the whole night when we were having dinner with Jimmy, his wife, and son. I kept eating the delicious food Jimmy’s wife, Jessica, made while following the conversation, but by the time I could think of what to say in order to contribute to the conversation, the conversation topic had already changed. This frustrated me so much that I nearly cried.

“Pura Vida”

Jimmy, Jessica, and Alex were all amazing people and had such great outlooks on things. Alex even explained to me what “Pura Vida” means. He said that it means good life, good feelings, and all things positive. He even told me that my inability to speak Spanish was a “pura vida” situation. I just felt awful because I couldn’t show them who I truly am. I was disappointed in myself because I used to speak so well.

The next day, when we returned to our homestay after a day of service work, I went in with a new-found confidence. Okay… maybe not confidence, but with more courage. I kept in mind what Erick had been telling the whole time: speak as best as I can and eventually, the mistakes will be minimized. He even corrected me when I did fumble on my words, which was really helpful. With that in mind, the second night at our homestay was a lot more fun. I worked up the courage to ask Jimmy if he needed help making dinner even though I had no cooking experience whatsoever. He had Erick and I chop onions and garlic, but he kept saying that we were doing a good job.

After chopping, the three of us went to the soccer field to play with Alex. Erick and Alex played so effortlessly and I had just as much fun as they did by just watching them. Later that night, Jimmy gave the three of us permission to visit the local library and to visit Ceci, Juan, and Dre at their homestay. The whole time we were walking around Mastatal, I could not wrap my head around how open everyone was. Everyone we came across was so welcoming and friendly that it felt like we were apart of the community.

Guia, Erick, Danny & Alex at the soccer field.
We literally pulled Erick and Alex out of the soccer game just to take this photo.

On Limitless Hospitality

Things only continued to go up from there. Once we got back to our homestay that night, we realized that what Jimmy was cooking was chicken casado, which was probably the best casado I had the whole time we were in Costa Rica. To top it off, everyone was intently watching the soccer game. I’m usually not one to watch soccer, but it was great to see everyone in the house have a common interest and topic to talk about.

Once the game ended, Daniel and I took turns interviewing Jimmy and Jessica. I was a bit hesitant to interview them because of my discomfort with Spanish, but Erick helped me get through it. I asked both of them why it is they open up their homes to homestays and what they hope people will gain by participating in homestays. Their answers were completely different from what I expected. Both of them explained that they hoped people would get a better sense of what Costa Rican culture is like and to meet different kinds of people with whom they can exchange knowledge. Jessica even mentioned that she was initially afraid to the idea of homestays, but decided to participate in them because of Marcos, the owner of Finca Siempre Verde, which is where we stayed while in Mastatal. She explained that she went to school with Marcos and because she’s known him her whole life, she knew that he would never put her or her family in a situation that would be even the slightest bit dangerous. She kept emphasizing how community is such a key thing in life and how that’s just something she grew up valuing.

Looking back on it now, I wish I could have spoken to my homestay easily because I feel like I would have been able to form a stronger connection, but that doesn’t make me love the experience and the memories any less. It has made me realize that I want to travel more and meet more people and work on my Spanish.

Guia & Britain pose.
I met this young man, Britain, while attempting to play soccer. He actually taught me how to kick the ball properly!


Guianina Lim.