Placed in a tower, Alice ate the cake from the step mother and she grew so big she could not walk out the door. It might sound the likes of Brother's Grimm or Lewis Carroll, but it actually accurately describes my last home stay. A home stay which lasted just a few days, but included numerous head wounds, a unintended split in the bathroom, some quite odd behavior on behalf of my host (like buying us chocolate milk for our breakfast), and some rather emotional abuse birthed from the thought of living like that for the next four months.

I'm not someone to complain either, but interestingly enough we (my roommate and I) were placed in the third (or fourth [I lost count after a few flights]) floor of the house, in what likely was once an attic. It was obvious at one time it was meant as a nursery, then for small children as there remained a baby gate and what to me looked like a baby changing table like we have in the U.S. The ceilings averaged less than five feet high, and even the doors reminded me of a crawl space door. I'd hunch over (I'm 6') and make my way to the only furniture I felt could bare the brunt of my adult self, the bed, and lay down (the only position I could) as it creaked with stress. However, none of this was a problem. What me and Maria, (who had similar concerns) dubbed the "Doll House", was another logistical difference in what was termed acceptable (by our host mom) but really wasn't- yet we were (or I was) worried that complaining would cross the cultural boundary of respect in the differences of habitation between Europe and the US. Or so we thought. 

The kicker was when you tried to wash. The sinks, surrounded by colorful fish the likes of the animated movie Nemo, made me want to sing the happy birthday song  three times while brushing my teeth. Then there was the tub. Tucked under the angle of the roof as if it was in a cupboard, you would squeeze one half of your body in and straddle the tub as you attempted to bathe yourself. In all honesty I must have looked like an elephant with a water hose, as this expedition led to a solid 2-3 inches of water on the floor, walls, toilet, and every place in between. This first night, I knew it wasn't going to work.

What made it worse was our house-"mom" was very particular with her home. She expected not one drop of water in the sink or tub when we were done. This was explained to prevent calcium deposits on her facilities. An elaborate checklist of steam evacuation which included opening and closing windows, cracking doors, and the use of towels became a routine of post-bathing. I gladly tried to do my best at respecting her wishes, but given another week she likely would have had wood rot so bad her house would have been damaged. When confronted with this aspect she provided another towel, and seemed to have a lack of empathy towards the situation.

Now don't get me wrong, my first home-stay mother was nice, but it always came across as though she was running a business. We were issued toilet paper, and when it ran out it became our problem. We were barred from parts of the house, and there was no social area aside from a dinner table which shockingly we were encourage to exit straight to our rooms from post dinner. Food was rationed, and left-overs were common the following evening. While I managed fine with the genre of foods prepared, my roommate decided it was pre-processed and tasteless. When I tried to suggest, foods may taste different in Belgium, she jokingly called me a hypocrite and forced me to admit perhaps mom's culinary skills were lacking. I will continue to cling to my previous courteous response as the proper response, but I will admit Maria has a unique way of reaching into my head and ripping those thoughts from the depths of my suppressed innermost id. 

Then there was the paranoia. The repetitive worrying about locking doors, setting alarms, and the constant paternalism which I think was about to lead to confrontation, as she continued to push her expectations upon us. She wanted to know when and where we were going, when we'd be back, and we found ourselves sneaking out past her just to avoid a lengthy conversation about our procedural weaknesses.

It just didn't have that welcome feel. While I agree 100% that there is going to be some discomfort in adjusting to a host-stay, which by definition means, immersion in things that are different- there is also, in my opinion some reverse (unwritten) understanding, that they must adjust to the guests idiosyncrasies. That's called making your self at home. When I'm at my home (in the U.S.), even my family comes to visit and I find our lifestyles different enough that I overextend my self and my home to make them feel comfortable. Likewise they compromise to their alternate living style and we all find this comfy medium where we feel welcome, and can let go of our inhibitions to some degree. It generally, for most people works out fine. That's called being a good host, and that's what you should want if you're in a home-stay. You want the place to feel like home. Indeed the first day at my new host's and I can say I've felt more welcomed than I did for the week at the previous home. I'm grateful for my school and their hard-work to make my study-abroad life incredible, and understanding I didn't want to be difficult, but sometimes the only solution is to change you home-stay, in order to truly come home.


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