The Language of Laughter

By Christine Kelly

Every pore in my body was sweating profusely as I nervously attempted to communicate with my host family for the first time. Our supervisors organized a fiesta at the hostel for all of the participants to meet their new families. My eardrums rang from the sound of what felt like 1,000 excited voices introducing themselves to one another. Because I could hear absolutely everything in the room, I couldn’t hear anything my new host family was saying to me. I blame my lack of understanding on the loud noises around me, but the communication barrier was more a result of my inability to comprehend Spanish.


Although I could only understand one-sixteenth of what my family was saying to me, I understood their hand gestures to get my belongings from my room so we could go home. The combination of nerves and excitement hindered my coordination and I tripped up the stairs after three steps. I’m sure it gave my family a lovely first impression of me… I turned around to a bunch of gasps and my new family members all asking if I was okay. My face was definitely bright red but I just laughed it off and continued my way up the stairs. I heard my family’s giggles from behind and for some reason, I felt relieved.


Last weekend, all of the families and participants got together for a barbecue. When I first arrived to the picnic, I found my host family and sat down next to them. We carried on a basic conversation with the other people around us for about 10 minutes, and then it got awkward. Everyone was silently twiddling their thumbs and waiting around for something to do next. Another Tufts fellow and I decided to go to the middle of the room and start doing the salsa in order to ease some of the tension. We were terrible and had no music for awhile, but other people eventually started to join us. Some host siblings attempted to teach us more moves but we just laughed together at our subpar dancing abilities.


Some nights I’ll be sitting in my room doing homework and my host mom will come in and sit next to me. We’ll ask about each other’s days and our plans for the next. I know those questions pretty well and don’t have much trouble answering them, but things get tricky when she strays away from the surface level. I often won’t understand her and have to ask her to repeat herself numerous times. She’ll start acting out words and I end up laughing at our game of charades, rather than comprehending the message. Regardless, the laughter we share together seems to bring us closer than the questions we answer.


Throughout the past month, I’ve learned that laughter is the best response to all awkward and uncomfortable situations. Not only that, but I’ve come to realize that laughter has no language. Humor has the power to bring joy to others and has allowed me to form relationships with people that I cannot even speak to.

Offerings from the spiritual ceremony that a host mom held to welcome us to Ecuador