Recently, my host mom invited me to lunch at her cousins' house. At first, I didn't know where their house was or how long we would be there, but since it was a Sunday afternoon, and this would be a great way to build relationship with my host family, I accepted the invitation. As we all hopped in the car, I asked where we were going (I had no idea until that point). It turned out that their house was in Xochimilco, about 30 minutes away from our house. After driving endlessly through the busy streets of Mexico City, we finally arrived in front of the large gates leading up to the house. My host family and I were warmly greeted by all the relatives as we entered the house. As soon as we opened the front door, I was met with the most delicious aroma coming from the kitchen. As we all gathered around the dining table to eat, my host mom's aunt served each of us a generous portion of pozole -- a classic Mexican soup that epitomizes comfort food.
After we had all filled our stomachs to our hearts' content, we continued chatting at the dining table. I tried my best to keep up with the conversations, but when there are a dozen people around you holding five different conversations simultaneously in Spanish, it's practically impossible to keep up. Nonetheless, I stayed at the table in hopes of catching a few Spanish words or phrases every now and then. I was pleased to find that I had enough Spanish under my belt to catch bits and pieces of the conversations, but it was a mentally demanding task, and I quickly became exhausted. I glanced at my watch and realized we had been there for several hours!
My confusion soon turned into boredom, as I found that I was unable to participate in the conversations. I thought about all the work I could have been doing at home. All the papers that needed to be graded. All the lesson planning that needed to get done. I wondered if I should have stayed home, even if it meant missing out on this opportunity. Then, I realized that being there with my host family (and their entire extended family) was just as important as any work I would do for school. Even if I felt lost and confused...even if I couldn't fully participate in conversations...my presence meant a lot to my host family. In my American mind, it was tempting to think that accomplishing concrete tasks held more value, but there was just as much value in spending time with people that simply couldn't be measured. Once I came to this realization, I was finally able to relax, stop thinking about the things I could have been doing, and just enjoy our family time.