What’s It Like Living with a Host Family?
I’ve met a lot of foreign exchange students here in Santiago—from all over Europe, Latin American, and the United States.What I’ve come to notice is that my study abroad experience is totally different from theirs in one major respect: living with a host family. While all ten of us IFSA-Butler program students are staying with Chilean families, I’ve come to realize that we’re living an unique experience that most other students I’ve met do not get to enjoy. Living with a Chilean host family has come to shape my experience abroad, and I decided that it is an important aspect for me to share for any students who are considering studying abroad with IFSA-Butler.
As I’ve discussed in a previous blog post, moving in with a new family was an adjustment for me. For the first couple of weeks I struggled with the loss of my newfound freedom and independence that I found in college. However, I have grown to love it more and more each day. Perhaps this is what inspired today’s blog post: last night I had a dream that I was going to be moving from my host family’s apartment into a student-housing residence for the rest of my duration in Chile. I found myself panicking. I didn’t want to move—I realized I would miss my Chilean host mom, home-cooked meals, and playing with our dog, Toldito. Most importantly I feared no longer having a family to come home to at the end of the day to talk to in Spanish. The next day, as I am writing this blog post, I now know that it was all a dream (or nightmare). But it made me really recognize the fact that I now truly feel at home here.
A few weeks ago, my mom (biological, not host mom) came to visit me in Santiago. I showed her all the touristy sights, the beautiful view at the top of Cerro San Cristobal; we ate amazing food, and even toured some wineries on a weekend getaway in Santa Cruz. At the end of the week, I asked my mom what her favorite part of Santiago was. I guess I should not have been so surprised to learn that it was meeting my host family. My host mom Pili was very excited to invite over my real mom for lunch, and as soon as my mom stepped through the door, Pili excitedly told her to “Make herself at home, my dear.” While Pili speaks some English, it was my job to translate between English and Spanish for my mother and host family. While it was definitely chaotic and confusing, it was also very fun and amusing. My host dad, Ivan, would explain a complicated history about Chilean exports in Spanish and then excitedly direct me to translate for my mother. There were plenty of us around the table sharing empanadas—six of us including my host parents, my host brother and his girlfriend, and my mom and I. Every single one of them was so kind to my mom, and the lunch that my host mom prepared, as usual, was delicious. Discussing it later, my mom and I compared my experience with my brother’s homestay in Spain. A few years ago, while visiting my brother in Grenada, my mom and I had lunch at his host mother’s house; the difference was, we concluded, that she was not as warm and friendly as my host mom is. Unfortunately, my brother’s host mother was not so interested in forming a relationship with the exchange students she hosted. I am so lucky then, to have a Chilean host mom that truly wanted to bond with my real mom. Later that week, my mother and Pili went out to lunch by themselves, though neither of them knows much of each other’s language. I found it adorable and I was so proud of the both of them. My positive home stay experience can be explained by many factors: the general warmth of Chilean culture, the great job that IFSA did in finding us host families, and the fact that I was just lucky enough to be placed with special people.
No matter what the explanation is, I have been showered with kindness and affection. Whether it’s my host brother packing me lunches when my host mom’s away, Ivan introducing me to his friends as his “hija gringa,” or my host mom giving me a hug when I come home from class, I have been accepted into a family that make me feel like their home is my home. I’ll admit that there are both pros and cons when deciding between doing a homestay and living with other students, but the choice I made is one of my favorite parts of studying in Chile.