By Dorsaf Marzouk (YES 2019–2020, Morocco, placed by AFS in Batavia, IL)
One of the main aspects of a good exchange year is having a great relationship with your host family. So, one of my first priorities upon arriving at my host community was to make sure I connected with my own host family. In September 2019, I met my permanent host family which included my host mother—who I had already met as she worked with my placement organizations as a liaison—and my host father, who was also an active volunteer for the same placement organization.
My host mom has a bubbly personality and likes to joke around, so we immediately bonded over our shared sense of humor. On the other hand, my host father is one of the most caring people I have ever met. During my first days, I felt shy because I was in an unfamiliar environment, but I tried to overcome my timidity by getting to know my host parents better. So, I always made sure to do activities with my host parents on the weekends, give them my full attention during mealtime, and watch shows with them after I completed my homework. As time passed, I felt like my host family and I were the perfect match for each other. The more time I spent with my host parents, the less I felt like I was trying to fit in and our interactions became more natural. It helped that my host parents also put in the same effort to get to know me. It was a gradual process, but I remember my host mother telling me that she knew we would get along from the first day because of a joke I said and she thought it was funny!
In addition to these activities, I adapted my sense of responsibility to meet their home expectations. I began to wake up earlier on the weekends—which I was not used to doing back home—to go on morning errands with my host mother and help my host father with house chores. I also learned to keep an organized schedule because my host family liked to know my weekend plans in advance so we could see what we might do together. Even though my host parents liked to have a sense of structure at home, they were flexible too. As long as they knew I was safe, it was all good. I would always let them know what I was doing and who I was hanging out with. My motto during my exchange year was: “communication is key.”
To have a positive relationship with my host parents, I made sure to join their family gatherings for special holidays and events. I remember during Thanksgiving when I made food from my home country and they really enjoyed it. I also went with my host family to a hockey game as they are big fans of the sport and I wanted show interest in their hobbies. My host mother likes to garden so I would sometimes join her outside in the fresh air. As much as I loved learning about their tastes and interests, my host parents enjoyed hearing stories about what it was like to grow up in Morocco and updates about my day at school or with my friends. Additionally, I would always get them gifts for special occasions like birthdays, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day.
My host family was the best part of my journey and I keep in touch with them frequently to see how they are doing. One of the best compliments I have ever received—albeit indirectly—was from my host father when he told one of his relatives, not knowing that I was nearby, that, “She is actually really nice and polite, I would love to meet her parents.” For me, it was an amazing feeling to realize that we care about each other so much and only think the best of one another. With this indirect comment, I knew I achieved my goal to have a meaningful relationship with my host family.