I pulled into the driveway of a home in Charlottesville, and took a deep breath before walking up to the porch and ringing the doorbell. The door opened and I saw the family for the first time and realized how nervous I was. What if they didn’t like me? What if they were strange people? What if…?
I had never met these people, and they had never met me, but they volunteered to let me live in their home for the next 9 months. I appreciated their generosity at allowing a stranger to come be a part of their family life. Yes, they had read my 12 page application (which included some pretty detailed stories about me), but they still didn’t really know who I was. The first few days were awkward as we started to get to know one another, but we soon all became more at ease and I began to fit into their family a little better.
From discussions about philosophy and daily life at the dinner table on family nights to watching lots of movies to celebrating birthdays with a special orange pastry for breakfast (a tradition I was happy to partake of), life with my host family gave me glimpse into another world. Most people only experience two families, the one they grow up in and the one they form when they grow up and start their own. I have gotten a chance for a third family, one that is not related to me biologically, but which gives me a chance to see how a different group of people live together. This family is similar to my own yet is also very different, and this gives me a great perspective.
My host family just does some things differently. I thought that everyone did things a certain way, but that is not the case. They have a different policy for doing the dishes. They have different eating habits. They have a cat. I realized that not every family has to look identical to work well. Once you see from the inside how another family works, it makes you think and evaluate the way you live and the choices you make about basic things like laundry and cleaning the bathroom, how to handle conflict, and even the activities the family does together.
What a valuable experience! It is one I will treasure and hopefully it will continue to shape the way I think about family and living with others for the rest of my life.