Today marks 2 weeks since I shifted to my host family - side note: I started this post on the 12th. Since I have reached this landmark twice before, I wanted to try a new sort of post; one that focuses less on me personally, and more on my family.
It goes without saying that host families are the most valuable part of student exchange programs. They are the ones who you spend the most time with and who show you the culture of a country as it is practiced day to day. Everyone has a role to play in the host family and each is equally important. The relationships I have formed here are worth more than words can describe. My family has taught me more in two weeks than I ever imagined possible. To try to bring you into the unique experience of becoming part of another family, I will describe how I have come to know my family in just two weeks.
Papa: Amicably referred to as Mr. Paintal around the house, my host dad or papa, is a kind and sensitive person. As the 'man of the house', he is a hard worker and spends a good part of the day at his office. He is dedicated and you can often find him continuing his work from home or even from the car. I have seen some of the flyers/posters he designed and they are done very professionally and creatively and are (obviously) much better than anything I could ever make. Muskaan and I often wish he was there to help when we are attempting something 'creative'. As much as he has to work, he always finds time for family and is a very caring person. From what I have experienced, he is not the most outgoing person, but he is very thoughtful. He is the type of person who speaks the least but says the most. When he does cook, he makes delicious food (especially omelettes and chai). I was watching him skillfully chop the veggies for the omelette and couldn't help but smile when my host mom told me "he is just showing off". Even if that's true, it takes me lightyears compared to him to chop things. One of the first things I was told (and later experienced) about my papa is that he is very passionate about his material possessions. He is materialistic not in the respect that he continuously wants more and more goods, but in the respect that he is protective and very careful with his prized possessions. One of these personal belongings is his bike. Similar to my dad in the US, Mr. Paintal cares a lot for his cycle. It is kept in pristine condition and is consistently being upgraded. The first weekend I spent with them, we had to bring his bike to a service center and before leaving he (somewhat uncharacteristically) allowed me to take it for a spin. Even though I am good at cycling, I made sure to return the bike the exact same way I found it. His cars are also kept nicely and I am reminded of one of the car's continued maintenance by the way the leather squeaks every time I shift my weight. He very recently got a new gadget - a car locator which will remind him where he parked the car. That's actually a genius invention in my opinion and I think my mom in the US is in desperate need of one. My host dad is a kid at heart, and it's hard for him to resist new things. One such example is Apple Products. When we went out for dinner last night, there was an Apple store very close by and had he not been sitting on the inside seat of the booth blocked in by my host mom, he would have been there in less than 10 seconds. He is also good at 'hands-on' tasks and helps fix things that break around the house (e.g. my backpack zipper). My host dad is not what you would call a 'macho man'. Rather, his personality translates into physical traits in that he can be very sensitive (and everyone knows it). For example, we went out for Breakfast and on the way back down to the underground parking, he ran into the elevator while the doors were closing. While doing this, he hit his shoulder on the door and once he was in, my host mom correctly predicted that 'now he will check to see if his shoulder is hurt'. We all watched as he lifted his arm up and down to be sure it was still intact. On the same topic, everyone in my host family has a different sensitivity to the temperature. My host dad is similar to my mom in the US in that he is often cold if the AC is on too long or the ceiling fan is on full blast. At home, Mr. Paintal also cares a lot for gardening (our area is the greenest of the apartments around). Similar to me, my host dad also loves dogs. It's more common in India to have a fear of dogs because there are many more street dogs than in the US; so I was happy to find a fellow animal lover. Our neighbors have 2 dogs: a fat pug and a black French Bulldog named Cherry. They are both very sweet and my day is made when I get to pet them. Back to the point, I really could not ask for a better host dad than Mr. Paintal.
Host Mom: She is a housewife, mother of two (including me), excellent chef, whatsapp enthusiast, soff ( idk the spelling - basically like fennel seeds) addict, geography whiz and, most importantly, my mom. Without my host mom, nothing around the house would get done. For example, as I write this post, my host mom is dusting off the same study table that I watched Muskaan dust about 5 minutes ago. As for the 'mother of two' statement I made, I definitely feel like part of the family. She includes me in all activities of the house and while Muskaan (jokingly) refers to some of those as instances of"child labor", I personally feel better when involved in activities rather than just sitting around. Being part of the family means taking on some responsibility - not that I do that much since I'm lazy. When she is not in the kitchen making food, my host mom is asking everyone what she should make for dinner. As she has correctly stated, our lives revolve around food. Thanks to her, I try something new almost on a daily basis and she even impressed me by making "fish in the pouch" (a dish my natural mom makes often) without my help. In addition, it is no secret that my host mom loves to talk and she is often on the phone or sending whatsapp messages especially during this festive season. There are many small things that make my host mom the character I have come to love. Within a week of living here, I came to know about her soff consumption habit. She has a larger container of it at home for daily use and carries around a small container of it when we go out. One time, we went out for dinner at Sodabottleopenerwala (that's actually the name of the restaurant) and afterwards she went to search for a restaurant that would give her some to sooth the symptoms of withdrawal. She also loves having chai and has it at least twice per day - chai is really nice though so I don't blame her. Aside from that, my host mom's feelings towards dogs sharply contrast those of my host dad and my own. She is terrified of them. When we go out and encounter some street dogs, I am sometimes used as a human shield for her to hide behind - which I don't mind since I love dogs and generally the street dogs don't cause any trouble. She also dislikes other animals and I think rats and monkeys come close to the top. We recently discovered a rat living among the drawers where the keys are kept so for the first few times after spotting the rat, I got the keys from the drawer since I don't have a fear of rats (I used to have 2 pet rats). I also like seeing the monkeys (since we obviously don't have them in Corning) but they are notorious for being little nuisances - just this morning one came outside and tipped over one of our garden pots. Speaking of nuisances, my host mom manages to put up with the laziness of Muskaan and I on a daily basis, so I applaud her for that. Opposite to my host dad, my host mom is always warm. In her eyes, it is practically a crime to sit without a ceiling fan on (haha). Sometimes when we are going somewhere, Muskaan gives a silent signal to my host dad to turn down the AC in hopes that my host mom won't notice. That always makes me laugh a little on the inside. My host mom is also quite intelligent. Despite the negative connotation of the word 'housewife'(at least in the US), my host mom could beat anyone in a game of Atlas. At the end of the day, my host mom is someone who makes me smile and laugh more often and cares for me as one of her own. For that, I will always be thankful.
Muskaan: As the best older sister I could have asked for, I could probably write a book's worth of information on Muskaan. I have heard a story from my host mom that when she was younger, Muskaan replied to the notion of getting a sibling by saying she would 'throw them in the dustbin'. Seeing as I am not in the dustbin yet (thank goodness), I now know that she enjoys having a sister. Before coming to India, I was never a younger sibling, so I am still figuring out the ins and outs of being one. The Muskaan I have come to know, helps me with everything. Even on the second day I was here, she helped me make a surprise cheer for Katherine who she barely knew anything about. Despite continuously saying how uncreative she is, Muskaan is the one who designed the board for Katherine and planned the short video along with it. As many of her friends have birthdays this month, she is working a lot on making cards and creative gifts for them (e.g. she is sitting across the room making something as I type this). All the gifts are handmade and - to me - mind-boggling. She showed me an infinity card she made and honestly I would have never thought of making one let alone been able to successfully make one. Even though Muskaan is not known for her amazing fine motor skills, she still manages to make amazing gifts. I only have 10 days left until her birthday on the 26th so my mind is racing to try to come up with something. In addition to being my older sister, Muskaan is also my personal translator and entertainer. I have learned many words and come to know the meaning of various conversations in Hindi thanks to her. Often times she is a better teacher than my actual Hindi teacher at school and I learn so much that my host mom sometimes reminds her not to teach so many words in one day - I actually prefer learning as much as possible; though sometimes I can't remember the words 5 minutes after learning them, it has definitely increased my understanding level when listening to people talk. Muskaan is also an amazing singer and I wish I could sing so that we could cover some songs but unfortunately Katherine inherited the good-singing gene and I did not. When we cleaned our room yesterday and organized her study tables I learned two more things: 1) organization is not one of her top priorities and 2) she hates to waste even the smallest thing (this is actually a good thing). Sifting through all the books and what others would call trash, I realized that I had seen this pattern before...with Katherine haha. Actually I think Katherine's and my shared room in the US is actually much worse because we have two times the amount of junk haha. Nonetheless, I now live in a diwali-ready room that has two study tables that are the most organized pieces of furniture I have had in my teenage life. Since I have told you that my host dad is always cold and my host mom is always warm, I will also tell you Muskaan also heirs on the side of being cold. Though it's never below 70 degrees even at night, she still wears a fleece sweater in the mornings. I have already advised them not to come to Corning in the winter unless they want to freeze. From making maggi and licking the flavor packets to dressing up and attending the start of an Indian marriage to judging and laughing at the fashion and pictures in an oversized Vogue magazine well past our bedtime, I have made so many good memories with Muskaan and I look forward to making even more as time moves on.
It has been said that the host family is the most valuable part of an exchange student's life and I couldn't agree more. Some of my most meaningful relationships are not only within this host family but among all the host families who have opened their homes to host me. I love my host family more than anything I truly feel that without them, my exchange year would not be complete.
Hi! My name is Anna McKane. I am 16 years old and have had a pretty ordinary life up to this point. I believe this experience will change me for the better and I will try everything I can while I am abroad.