Meet Shuping. She’s forty-eight, from China, and speaks almost no English. And for the next four months, she’ll be living with us.
This isn’t the first time my husband and I have taken in an International student. In fact, we’ve been hosting them for several years through an organization called American Homestay Network. All in all, home stay hosting has been a wonderful experience. We’ve met interesting young people from all over the world who have shared meals, laughter, and even tears with us as they learn to navigate their studies in the U.S.
Living with Shuping, though, has been a bit of a challenge so far. She is a lovely person with an easygoing manner and a ready smile. She loves to laugh and is helpful in the kitchen. But the fact that she only knows a few words of English, combined with the fact that we know absolutely no Chinese, has made communication a trick. Yes, we are using translation software, but for true conversation, it’s cumbersome at best. The sentence structures of our respective languages are so different that some of the translations that come out are nothing short of hilarious.
And then there’s food. According to Shuping (or the translation software), American food is bland and hard on her digestion, so she prefers to stick with her traditional Chinese diet. In the week she’s been with us, this has involved numerous trips to the store for items she wants, lots of bottlenecks in the kitchen with she and I trying to prepare meals at the same time – and some delicious Chinese dishes which she generously shares with everyone in the household.
In short, there’s been a lot of need for adjustment on both sides. The time I would ordinarily spend writing has been taken up with ferrying Shuping to the grocery store, getting her acquainted with the neighborhood and bus routes, and – I’ll admit it – enjoying her exquisite cooking. In a way, it’s like having a new baby in the house; until she gets on her feet in this foreign country, we need to be there for her at all times.
I thrive on structure and routine, so having things so topsy-turvy has been a challenge for me. I feel guilty when I use my writing time for something other than writing, but right now I have very little choice. And in the back of my mind, I know that sometimes it’s okay – and even good – to let life get in the way of productivity. I’m trying to allow myself to embrace this new experience, knowing that when I do get back to writing, my work will be all the richer for the time I spent with Shuping.
Have you ever had to let life get in the way of your writing routine? How did you adjust?