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Photo by Kendall Marianacci, Nepal Semester.

Homestay Week 1: A Bittersweet Beginning

I sat on the hardwood floor of the program house with 40 people crammed into a space meant for 20 as the excitement building inside nearly masked my shooting leg cramps from sitting, crunched on the floor, for an hour. I had to withhold a scream of joy when I was finally matched with my host brother so as not to appear a weird, overeager American. After the slightly awkward walk home (him tacitly answering my thousand overzealous questions), I got to meet my host family in a house bursting with life, laughter and wafting smells of Nepali spices and chicken for Dashain, the Hindu festival of good conquering evil. After meeting and embracing Rohan, a small man who’s surprising strength is only outmatched by his warm smile, and thanking the wrong woman for inviting me into their home, I finally had met my all my host family.

For the first time, I have a brother! Two in fact. Samyush, a very intelligent recent high school grad with eyes on being a surgeon, Anju, a timid 14 year old boy who shreds classic rock on the guitar. My parents are  Rohan, a jeweler by trade and Binah, a strong woman with a huge heart and loving smile. It’s bittersweet to be living with this second family as it coincides with the end of my “honeymoon” phase in Nepal. The extensive periods of meditation and introspection at Namo Buddha helped me become more grounded in this experience, but also opened me to some sad realities of my separation from home. I got to talk with my dad for the first time in 20 days and learned I wasn’t only missing my sister’s 13th birthday, but also her 6th grade play and my mom’s business finally getting off the ground. It hits me in the moments when my host family asks about my life at home and before I close my eyes after a long day of excitement and exploration: I’m almost 8,000 miles from home for three whole months.

Despite this longing for home, I feel comforted when I see the love in my host parents eyes and smiles as they sit with me on their floor with bottomless patience and attempt to teach me Nepali. When I can’t pronounce half the words they try to help me learn but they burst into exuberant clapping and laughter when I finally say “Subharaati” (goodnight) or “tikja” (okay) correctly. I see it in my host father telling me to be safe with a caring clasp of my arm and my mother’s warm insistence that I’m home before dinner to eat until I’m bursting with bhara chicken. I see it in the nightly conversations with my host brother as we learn about what it’s like to be a teenager in Nepal and America, or the struggles of applying to American colleges from outside when all you are to them is the number of your SAT score. I wrote in my journal my first night that “I already care for and appreciate [my host family] and can’t wait for their kind eyes and smiles to become more familiar and to know them  better.” Getting to know another family is a bittersweet journey, but as I spend more time with these wonderful people in this amazing city, I know I’ll begin to call their apartment overlooking the Patan rooftops and surrounding mountains home