When I envisioned my life as a Peace Corps Trainee/Volunteer or when I read the manuals and stories I always imagined that getting to know a family and community would be awkward but I can’t believe I did not consider how much more intensely difficult it would be for me with such weak Spanish skills. I moved into my host family’s house on Friday night and am extremely fortunate that they are very patient, especially my host mother who often has to repeat questions and directions to me multiple times before I am able to answer back with a weak “entiendo”. All Peace Corps trainees and volunteers encounter challenges with learning or mastering their host countries’ languages so I do not feel that I am in an unfair situation (I know how fortunate I am for this amazing opportunity). However, I am more keenly aware of my language struggles because so many of the other trainees in my group seem to be fluent, proficient or nearly proficient in Spanish and many will be placed in the advanced language class which begins by studying Guarani, the indigenous language of Paraguay.
I came here to integrate into a new culture, learn from them and hopefully accomplish meaningful development work for the health of the Paraguayan people and none of this can happen if I don’t commit myself fully to learning the language. And that is exactly what I plan to do. I spent most of yesterday with my host mother and her extended family trying to communicate in broken Spanish and sometimes succeeding which in itself is a success. I have only been in the country for a few days and have not even started formal language classes yet, so there is no need for me to become despondent. But God am I nervous.
There are many reasons for me to be grateful and happy. We have been blessed with beautiful weather, full of sunshine and breezes. Although it is hot during the day, the main room at the training center has air conditioning, my room at my host family’s house has a fan and it is quite comfortable in the shade, especially in the evenings. In addition to my host mother, I have a host father and three sisters although one is a dancer and is away from home for the next week. Many cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents live in the neighboring houses and they stop by throughout the day so I am getting to know the whole family. The oldest sister, who is fifteen, is also helping me with my Spanish. On Saturday, I taught her English words while she taught me Spanish ones. My youngest sister is seven and is very sweet but I think she is a little disappointed that I can’t communicate with her better. However, she did appreciate what a great playmate I was at the park last night- playing on a jungle gym and ‘hide and go seek’ requires very few words. In addition to my kind host family, the other trainees are wonderful. Just talking with them about our host family and training experiences reminds me that I am not alone.