Many pupils are afraid of living in host families, because they don’t want to have weird ‚parents‘. This year in Boquete, Panama, it was similar and we all were very excited. On Monday, January 11th, we met our new families when we arrived at the Spanish school. After the first conversations, the group split and we discovered our new homes, rooms and the city. In general the houses were a little bit smaller than in Germany and didn’t have that much furniture. In most cases the main equipment of our families were televisions, smartphones, tablets and computers. Some had wifi, too. Many host families were older, married couples – sometimes also with late husbands – and a lot of them had children, too.
In the first evening everybody wanted to know, if another friend lived near him. Most of us lived in “Altoboquete“, a few others in “Bajoboquete“ and again others in more isolated places of the district. The following morning we had to go to school, so we got up early and had breakfast for example with our host mother. Often we got scrambled eggs, toast with marmalade, not really tasty cheese or pancakes. After school most of us decided to explore the city in small groups on their own. In the most evenings we were at home, because we only were allowed to stay outside until six o‘ clock in the evening.
During the time we spent there, the pupils were on vacations and that’s why they spent most of their time at home. A lot of the kids were very phone-addicted and kept playing computer games all day long. Generally we had many activities to do with our family, but in order to organize something like that we had to talk in Spanish. This was really difficult because most of us had their first Spanish lessons on board the “Thor Heyerdahl“. That led to really funny situations. For example once a friend’s family served a meal with meat. This family also had a dog, but my friend hasn’t seen it for two days. When she asked what kind of meat is was, the father answered “pollo“ – chicken. However she understood “perro“, which is dog in Spanish.
As you see it’s very important to have a common language for communication with the Panaminians. By the way, the majority of the Panaminian population doesn’t speak English, which is a huge problem especially for the Spanish beginners among us. But exactly this problem was also a chance to improve our Spanish skills and practical experiences. We couldn’t simply flee to another language like English. We were forced to speak the language of the natives – Spanish. Somehow everybody managed to talk with his or her family, although we didn’t understand everything they said. In case of emergency there was a little friend, who helped us – our dictionary. It was our most important item for school and talks with our host families.
Nearly all of the guest families were very polite and open-minded. We could chose the contents of our lunch package, the other food we preferred to eat and sometimes also the plans for the evening. The life there differs enormously from the one on our ship. In our families we were the only German and we didn’t have a close friend to talk to. Also we had a private room with a giant bed in comparison to the ones on our sailing ship. The time we ate together was very strange, so alone, no other one we had to wait for or share the meal with. In the first evening many of us missed the others.
I could also observe a big contrast to our families and the lifestyle at home. A lot of the families didn’t have any children. Only a few had hot water. At home in Germany we have many hobbies like doing sports or playing an instrument, while in Boquete we only had the Spanish school and after that we had spare time. At home our parents cared about us in a different way than our host family. Here there was always a small barrier between us and our guest parents, for example in the lack of our privacy – when we wash ourselves or when we change.
In the end it was a very interesting and exciting stay in our host families and we all returned back from it sound and safe.