Kate, Outbound to Mexico

April 22, 2018

The first week of April, my mom, dad, and brother from the United States came to visit me in Puebla! Although I have not felt homesick recently, words cannot describe how my heart leaped when I saw them for the first time in 8 months. In that moment, the moment when I ran to them and we hugged, was when my worlds collided. My family from the United States, from my old life, from my first home, was here with me in the life I have built on exchange, in my second home. Among exchange students, it is often said that we will never feel completely at home again because part of our hearts will always be elsewhere, but that is the price we pay for the richness of loving people in more than one place. And I have found that for myself, that is so true because of the amazing people who I love and who love me.

On Saturday, we had a comida with my first host family at Lake Valsequillo, a small lake not too far outside of the city of Puebla. Language-wise, my brain struggled handling switching between English and Spanish, and more often than not, I would turn to my US family and start speaking Spanish without even realizing it until I saw the confusion on their faces. I also had not seen my first host family since I had moved families, so I loved the opportunity to see them again. On Sunday, my grandmother and aunt from my first host family very generously took us down to tour the Historic Center of Puebla. We showed them the Cathedral of Puebla, the Church of Saint Domingo with its chapel decorated entirely of gold, and the San Francisco Conventual Church, where there is a real mummified saint. We also walked around the Zócalo (city square), Street of Candies, the Parían (the artesian market), and the Fuertes (Forts) where the famous Battle of Puebla (the battle celebrated on May 5). More importantly however, my family tried churros (I know Costco churros are good, but they just can’t compare), and we all just enjoyed each other’s company.

On Monday, we just spent the day hanging out the four of us. We played countless games of Uno, a few rounds of chess, watched some TV, and just caught up. A lot can happen in eight months, and I have missed a lot by being out of the country! On Tuesday, we visited the Great Pyramid of Cholula, which is the largest pyramid of the world by volume (it is not in Egypt!). The pyramid is 180 feet tall, and its base measures 1,300 feet by 1,300 feet. Although the church on top (Church of Our Lady of Remedies) was built in 1594, the pyramid started to be built in 3rd century BC. I actually had not ever visited before because after the earthquake in September, it was closed for a few months for renovation and restoration. At the top, the view was absolutely stunning, and we also toured the tunnels underneath the pyramid. That same afternoon, we went to my second host family’s home. My Atlanta family had brought Easter eggs to do an egg hunt with my little sisters, and it was so fun watching them run around, expressions of pure delight on their face. We then went out to eat tacos with them for dinner and just smiled and joked together.

On Wednesday, my third host family very kindly invited us to come and share a meal with them at their home. It was the first time I had ever met them, and so we all got to know each other at the same time. I am so grateful that my US family was able to meet all three of my host families in México, since they are all so important to me. On Thursday, my US family was able to participate in one of my favorite routines from my first host family: weekly comida at the grandmother’s house with all of the family. First of all, we ate the best food, homemade mole poblano (a special type of chili and chocolate-based sauce from Puebla), tacos de cochinita pibil (my favorite kind of tacos: pork prepared a special way, originally from the Yucatan Peninsula), and lots of different desserts. But more importantly, we were spending time together, engaging with each other. Thursdays comidas have been one of my favorite parts of exchange, and I was so glad that we were able to share this with my family. On Friday, my family and I went back to the Center, and we toured a talavera workshop where they explained every step of the long process. Talavera is a special type of pottery that is unique to Puebla, typically blue and white, and almost every step of its months-long creation is done by hand. Then, we went for dinner with my second host family again for their last night here in Puebla, and that night, we said our “see you later’s”. Saying goodbye did not make me sad; I was ready to return to my “normal” life that I had built on exchange. But, having my family visit reinvigorated me and made my exchange all the more special.

There is a word in Spanish that perfectly sums up my family’s visit to Puebla: convivencia. Convivencia means really being together, to being really present; it refers to conversing, joking, laughing, and smiling together. It is a word that I feel like has defined my exchange as a whole and also my family’s visit. Although visiting may not be right for all exchange student families, I am so happy that my family came. I loved the opportunity to share a piece of the life that I have built here on exchange. That they met all of my amazing host families, for whom words cannot fully express my love and gratitude. That they could get a glimpse of the México I know and love, not just the México portrayed in the news. And that I could be with my family again, spending time the four of us, being ourselves together.

On April 8, the day after my family left, I moved to my third host family, and I am very excited for the opportunity to get to know another host family and very grateful that they are hosting me. My third host family is so sweet and welcoming, and now I live with my third host mom and dad, and a host sister and host brother. My host siblings are triplets my age, and one of my host sisters is currently on exchange in Brazil. I have been fortunate to have the most amazing three host families, which has made my exchange so rich and meaningful. However, it was so hard to leave my second host family, a place that felt so much like home, like a family. When they dropped me off at my third host family’s house, my heart felt so heavy, and I had a lump in my throat and tears welling up in my eyes. As I unpacked and had time to reflect, I realized a few things about love. When my worlds and families collided, I learned that love is infinite, that love does, and that love accepts.

I believe that love is infinite. That there is no limit on the number of people we can love deeply, that loving more people doesn’t reduce the love I already have for others. I love my host families so much; they have opened their hearts and homes and welcomed me with open arms. They are so much more than just hosts; they are my family. I am proud to have 2 brothers, 7 sisters, 8 parents, and countless other extended family members (except when I screw up...then I have several people who yell at me!). This is why I dislike the term “real family” to refer to my family from the United States because the love I have for my host families makes them just as much my “real” family. My host dad once told me that I do in fact have two last names, one being the family’s. My former host sisters keep calling and talking to me even though I don’t live with them any longer. My host mom still jokes with, listens to, and talks to me about everything. I have no doubt that this is real, that this is love.

I firmly believe that love does. That love is not passive, that love move us to act for the people we love. Because when we don’t care, we do nothing. Love drives us to engage, to have that awkward (but necessary) conversation, to always be present, to take someone to the hospital (my poor families), and to do a million other things for the people we love. I believe that love does when we give, especially our most precious resource-time. So many people opened up their hearts and homes to welcome me and also my family from the US, and it reminded me how much my three host families love me and how much I love them. Love inspires us to action, and I believe that love does not just happen by chance, but that it needs intentional investment to flourish.

And above all, I believe that love accepts. That love accepts us for who we are, everything we are, our strengths and our flaws and our everything in between. Before exchange, I doubted if people outside my family who saw all of my shortcomings could still love me. I held people an arm’s distance away because I was afraid. Through my amazing host families, in nine short months, I have found people who love me for who I am even with all of my imperfections. They know the tired Kate, the angry and frustrated Kate, the sick Kate, the hungry Kate, the crazy Kate, the Kate who hates prime numbers. They have seen all of me, at my worst and at my best, and yet they still accept me. My families have taught me that I can be myself, and I am still loved.

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