And we’re off! Our round-the-world journey has begun and we’re delighted with our first home exchanges!
What a joy it is to relax in the homes that have welcomed us! We are now in our second country, Vietnam, and we have just arrived in our third home exchange.
We’ve really come to appreciate each “magical” moment when we first open the door. No matter how big or small the home, there’s always a feeling of excitement, mixed with adrenaline, joy and envy.
These exchanges and the discovery of the homes are moments for which our whole family is grateful, a time when each of us can reestablish a bit of personal space. After all, it isn’t easy to create personal space when we’re constantly on the move or five people sharing one room in a hotel. But the kids settle quickly into new homes, even if those homes are all very different from our own. We’ve been in a large five-story home in Hong Kong, an apartment in China and a three-floor house in Vietnam.
As soon as we cross the home’s threshold, we are always a little surprised by habits and customs. We remove our shoes, the space is well-defined (lounge here, kitchen there). There are numerous water points and toilets with little shower hoses, which amuses the children.
Unlike our previous exchanges in Europe, we are noticing that we don’t have the same welcome customs as our hosts. At home, we have left short notes, welcome gifts, a book, a first dinner in the refrigerator and the makings for a first breakfast.
Here it’s quite different. In the beginning, we were a little confused, but now, after one and a half months in different Asian countries, we’ve understood that it’s just another way of doing things. For example, they don’t eat the same things for breakfast and meals are often taken in the street or small restaurants, or delivered.
We were also astonished not to find many dishes in their kitchens, certainly not enough of a matching set for our family of 5. In talking with our hosts, we learned that they basically only use bowls and, of course, chopsticks.
So our first impressions were off the mark. We weren’t being poorly received. Instead, we were changing into a new lifestyle and it was up to us, the Westerners, to adapt. This is something we now try to do every day. For instance, we eat noodles or rice in the morning. In short, we’re varying our food, even though we sometimes crave a good baguette or chocolate croissant whenever we see a bakery or pastry shop.
Our exchange partners, however, have helped us a lot during our stays. They have all made themselves very available and accessible, even stopping by (because we’re on non-simultaneous exchanges). We’ve appreciated this ease of access and contact. As far as we’re concerned, our connections are even more interesting, as we can discuss and exchange. These are our first non-simultaneous exchanges and we have found it very enriching.
Meanwhile, the kids have been bewildered by how few toys there are in our partners’ homes. This triggered some family reflections about our Western spending habits. We are trying to make our kids aware that, at home, they have too many toys!
They have also been enormously surprised by the number of bathrooms in our exchange homes. They now amuse themselves by making predictions about the number of showers we’ll find in the next home. What they say and their joy of discovering these as-yet unknown places make us laugh.
Also baffling to them are what they call the “house animals.” For them, having cockroaches and and mice in a house and geckos on the walls is unthinkable. We had to explain that it wasn’t because the house was dirty, but that because of the heat, insects were more visible walking around and taking advantage of the air conditioning. LOL!
Accordingly, we had to remind them that nothing could be left out, especially not food, as the ants would come. As soon as we finish eating, we put the leftover food in the fridge and sweep up. Camille makes us laugh when she says “Mommy, I’m putting this (sugar, cake) in the fridge too!”
In sum, because of the many differences with exchange in Europe, this exchange experience in Asia is truly rewarding. Car exchange? Nope. Here people get around on motorbikes, which we haven’t tried with the kids. We’re not brave enough to hit the asphalt with our three little creatures on one scooter.
Home exchanges make it possible for us, a family, to rest, to set quiet time for our kids’ studies every morning, to quietly do some laundry, to cook food that suits our tastes (not too spicy!) and to have some time, to find our personal space. Our exchange homes are where we can come up for air during our trip around the world. Our whole family can’t say enough about it… and impatiently awaits the next step.