Progressio ICS is more than just an opportunity for you to ‘challenge yourself to change the world´. Although community projects are the most tangible result of our ten week placement here, positive cultural growth through exchange is fiercely encouraged throughout the programme. While there have been many great and unforgettable cultural exchanges (one of my favourite being our Cultural Festival in which we organised an evening dedicated to food, drinks, games and folktales exchanged between national and UK volunteers), for me one of the best ways I’ve immersed myself in the culture is through my host family.
Where possible, Progressio puts UK volunteers in groups of two or three with members of the community who have been kind enough to offer their houses to us for ten weeks. Luckily for me, El Salvador is one of the countries where host homes are permitted. At first the thought of living in a host home, in an unknown community was daunting; what if I didn’t get along with my family, or worse my roomie? With my lack of comprehension of Spanish would I ever be able to communicate with the people who have graciously agreed to accommodate me for ten weeks beyond a simple ¨¡Hola!¨? And most importantly, would I be able to cope with the unknown number of (potentially scary) animals?
Before I knew it, the thought of being in a host home was soon a reality and my roommate Kayleigh and I were awkwardly sitting in the porch being introduced to the family. While Kayleigh (who speaks much better Spanish than me) began small talking with our host grandparents, I sat there smiling silently not understanding a word and thinking about how long ten weeks would feel if I had to remain for the duration.
To my pleasant surprise, I didn’t end up spending the rest of my time dumb and mute, and instead swiftly came up with ways to communicate beyond language (so much miming is involved I’m sure to be a charades champion). And as I’ve started to pick up a few words here and there in Spanish (although they are sometimes the wrong words, on one occasion I ended up telling my host aunt I was ‘embarazada’, thinking I was saying embarrassed but unbeknown to me declaring my pregnancy), I’ve discovered how interesting, and funny my family are, countless moments have been spent laughing ourselves close to tears.
Despite the initial few moments of awkwardness and the panic beforehand, living with a host family has made my experience a million times richer. My host family are more than just the people who provided a roof over my head for ten weeks, they are the people who have laughed with me, looked after me when I’ve been ill, and shared many a special moment with me, and I can´t envisage a better family, community or country to spend my ten weeks.
Written by ICS volunteer Christina Cadore