Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Week One (Primera Semana): Maintaining Sonrisas

Time February 8th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Cuba | No Comments by

My Cuban host father picked me up in a black Led Zeplin t-shirt and what appeared to be a pair of new, dark-brown Timberland’s. His wife, my new host mom, emerged from behind him, a giant, welcoming smile — “sonrisa” (I love this word because it sounds like they refer to smiles as sunrises) — in tow. I ran to them and awkwardly planted the traditional Cuban-one-kiss-greeting on their cheeks as we embraced. This is mi familia for the next four months, along with their twenty-five year old daughter, Nelli, and two adorable dogs: Sombra (Shadow) and some other name I have yet to make out (it starts with a “C” I think, but only those with an ear for the Cuban accent can confirm, which is not me — at least, not yet).

I live in the most amazing old casa. The ceilings are so high I get dizzy looking at them, the long halls are stacked with painting after painting (in which I find a new detail each time I pass), and the sound of birds chirping on the red-budded tree outside the stain glass window in our room greets my roommate and I each morning. I am immediately filled with questions about how a family living off of the equivalent of twenty dollars a month can afford such a beautiful home, but maybe it is government owned or maybe they are able to afford it because they are paid so much to host us (and in the past, tourists). And what are the homes of other Cubans like? I want to ask about my host dad’s job with the radio station — whether he can broadcast whatever he wants or only what the government tells him — and I want to ask my host mom about being a woman in Cuba and what she has done with the prestigious, free education she has benefitted from. I want to know the word for every foreign object and type of food, the instructions on how to unlock the front door (I’ve been fumbling with that), and the biographies of every human who seems to come and go daily from this big ol’ house. Most of these are questions that I expect to either find out the answer to myself in the coming days, or questions that I feel can only be asked after a close, trusting relationship has been formed. My host padre has already said that he is here to answer any and all of our questions — just not to comment on politics. We’ll see. Read More »


What’s It Like Living with a Host Family?

Time October 24th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Chile | No Comments by

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.


Leavin’ on a Jet Plane…

Time February 21st, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Don’t know when I’ll come back again.  Hi all, and thanks again for tuning in.  I’m writing this post today because the time for my departure is almost upon me, and I wanted to update y’all on my travel plans, and talk a little bit about my host family.  Tomorrow, I’m going to board a plane from Denver that takes me to Atlanta, and then from Atlanta I have my 12 hour flight (8 AM to 8 PM) with the majority of my IFSA-Butler Study Abroad group to Buenos Aires.  From there, we are whisked off into the 2nd largest city in the Southern Hemisphere for a few days of a orientation, introductions to our host families, and registration for our classes (as well as much more, I’m sure).

And speaking of host families, my new folks seem absolutely wonderful.  I will be living with a family of four in a lovely house in a nice suburb of Buenos Aires called Almagro.  My host father, Javier Carroll, works for the Department of Justice, and my host mother works for the hospital as a hematology technician.  I also have TWO younger brothers named Julian and Martín, who are both high-schoolers and look like super fun guys.  After growing up with a younger brother my whole life, I can’t wait for more of that experience.  Bottom line; I can’t wait to meet my new family, and I’ll post pictures of all of them as soon as I am able.

My life is about to change in so many ways, and while I’m a little apprehensive, I’m mostly stoked.  After spending my whole life living in some variety of a small town, I can’t wait for some big city life.  Wish me luck, and I’ll for sure send out an update once I land in beautiful Buenos Aires.  Until then, enjoy some quality old school rap.






“Mi casa es su casa.” For real this time.

Time July 25th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Four hours!  The bus ride from Liberia to Heredia was supposed to take four hours, not a minute less!  But there we were, a meager three and a half whirls of the watchhand later, and the bus was grinding to a torturous crawl through city traffic.  It was not long after midday, and we were about to meet our host families.  Before long we came to a stop in front of a superficially calm but no doubt ravenous horde of middle-aged mothers.  Tracy (one of our IFSA program leaders) told us to stay in our seats while she went out to talk too them.  I knew a better analogy would be the moment of strained but peaceful contact between formerly isolated tribes, but I couldn’t help but think about that part in Hotel Rwanda when the militants hack into the refugee caravan with machetes.

“Alright, chiquillos.  Come on out.” (Or something to that effect in Spanish.)

I stood up and was surprised to find my legs still worked.  Dammit.

But when I saw my host mom, Doña Marlene, her smile was like Alexander’s sword cutting the Gordian knot I had gotten my panties into.  My host dad Don Carlos was there, too, and he exuded a jolliness that made me feel immediately welcome.  We got my bags, bade goodbye to the flock of fledgling gringos, and drove home.

Upon arrival I met my host sister María (25, about to finish her thesis in accounting at UNA), and later my host brother José (22, studying architecture at la Universidad Latina).  Doña Marlene had prepared a rich lunch of rice and beans, baked chicken and potatoes, avocado with salt, salad, and fresh fruit juice.  Initially intimidated, I managed to fit it all in as Doña Marlene explained her rules and expectations.  Rules: 1) If you’re going to miss a meal, call or text me to let me know.  2) If you are coming home late, please take a taxi so I know you’re safe.  Expectations: 1) Feel free to have friends over.  2) Stay in or go out as you please.  3) Do whatever you want.

I think we can make this work.

But even more valuable than Doña Marlene’s laissez faire policies was the way she somehow made me feel immediately at home.  Part of that was how fondly she talked of her past guest students (she said the worst part of hosting students was when they had to leave).  While trying to keep in mind that first impressions are not always accurate, I felt pretty sure I was going to have a very special experience.

After lunch she thoughtfully suggested I rest, giving me a few hours of much needed writing-and-relaxing time in my room.  My room is small and simple—just how I like it.  It is easy to keep clean and orderly, giving me a sense of peace and control.  In fact, the whole house is an architectural echo of the intimacy I already felt from my host family.  It is very compact, with only a few small rooms on each of the two floors.  My room and the bathroom both look out over the enclosed patio, which creates a corridor that allows domestic sounds to connect most parts of the house: Doña Marlene washing clothes, María singing in the shower…  With a different family that might be uncomfortable, and with a big noisy family like mine it would be annoying, but here I find the closeness reassuring.


Looking good, Mendoza!

Time August 16th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

Today I’ll be talking about:

I. Speaking Spanish
II. Technical Concerns
III. Getting to Know Mendoza
IV. Vocabulario
V. Música
VI. Links to Previous Posts


I. Speaking Spanish

I thought I spoke Spanish, and I was ready to speak Spanish…until I actually met my host mom.

I think I finally understood something about one of my friends from Japan. When I first met her my freshman year, I was all sorts of hyper and overexcited to be there at my dream school in California, and so I was talking about 80 million miles an hour. Poor Junko’s eyes were as big as dinner plates. “Sorry—can you slow down?” she said.

“Oh yeah, sure, of course!” I said. And I would slow down…until I got excited about something and forgot again.

That’s how my host mom and I interacted, only I was in Junko’s shoes this time. I guess it’s my linguistic karma.

The first thing my host momma said to me was, “I talk really, really fast, so just let me know if you don’t understand something!” Good luck getting a word in edgewise to let her know though.

However, she’s very sweet, very concerned about my happiness and well-being. She’s also sassy and funny. Plus, her paintings are all over the house, which is awesome. You can check out my host momma’s art here.

All the same, I thought I was gonna cry on day one, even thought host momma was so nice, because I was just so overwhelmed. Not to mention frustrated with my sudden clumsiness with Spanish. I had about 5 minutes to put down my things, and then we hopped back in the car and headed over to one of her many, many friends’ houses. She’s a little social butterfly. We stopped at a bakery first, and all the Spanish was making my head spin. So fast and so mumbly! She told me to pick out facturas, which I think was the single most terrifying thing she could have asked of me at that point. I just didn’t have the mental power to make decisions.

When we arrived at her friend’s house, I was delighted to see two other girls from my program. Our host moms are friends. Think back to Saturday morning cartoons, where the sailor who’s been lost at sea finally washes up on the beach and starts kissing the sand. Land! English! That’s how I felt.
Before I left, I was determined to have mostly Argentine friends and only talk to people from the program when I had to, because I was going to live in Spanish Mode, the end. …Hahaha, that’s cute, Yona. Here in the real world, I am so grateful for English-speakers. Honestly, I overindulge in it, considering I can speak English any time I want in the U.S. and I’m only here for a few months. But sometimes you just need a mental break.

In addition to my host momma, I’ve also got a dog, who knows how to open the front door and let himself out.


And I’ve got…I guess she’s my host sister, but she’s not related to my host mom. She’s very sweet, patient with my limited vocabulary. I learn a lot of my slang from her, plus advice about boys and alcohol. 😉 She also understands a surprising amount of English (mostly from watching TV, I think, because a lot of it is English shows with subtitles) which is super helpful when I’m looking for the Spanish equivalent of non-dictionary words.

I’ve been here a few weeks now, and I feel very comfortable at my host family’s house. I’m excited to go back to it after a long day of class—it feels like my house. I like my host mom, and I feel comfortable talking to her about pretty much anything. (She has strong opinions about men though, and I’m not sure I agree all the time.) This morning she asked me if I translate in my head when I speak Spanish to her or if I’m thinking in Spanish…and I realized, no, I’m not translating for the most part, I’m just speaking. My vocabulary has its limits, and I still can’t do Spanish too well when I’m tired, but I do speak Spanish here. And I’m fully capable. :)



II. Technical Concerns


I seriously recommend that you wait until you get here to buy a phone or a converter. First, I was lucky and my host mom already had a phone and a converter for me to use from the last time she hosted. I would’ve wasted my money if I’d bought them myself. Second, in the U.S. they tend to sell converters in packs, and you don’t necessarily know which one you need. Converters are cheap and easy to find at ferreterias here, and if you need a phone IFSA helps you get one.

Things you WILL want are shoes with arch support and nice-looking sweaters. You’re going to be wearing your jacket constantly for a while, so make sure you bring ones you really like.

WiFi may be spotty. Talk to your host family…and pray. The IFSA office has good WiFi though, if all else fails.

Make sure you know how to use your house key before you leave the house. The keys here are large and old fashioned, and the locks are finicky. I got locked out of my house on the first day, with the keys in my hand. :( With a little practice, I’ve finally learned the exact way to jiggle the lock until it pops open. I’m not sure what exactly I learned because I don’t think I’m doing anything drastically different, but there you go.


III. Getting to Know Mendoza


The prospect of trying to find my way around terrified me. This was my internal map of Mendoza on day three before I walked to Congreso by myself for the first time:


But finding my way was actually very straightforward. Medoza is a nice place, and I already love it. (I can’t wait to see it in the spring!) Most things are within walking distance of each other. Street signs are marked more clearly than in BA. If you like coffee, you’ll like it here, because if you trip walking in the centro, odds are good that you’ll land in a café.

Traffic is also a little less voluminous here, though equally as dangerous as in Buenos Aires. The “do not walk” sign really means something more like “cross fast and don’t look back!” Still, be careful and be smart about it.

In addition to learning the geography of the place, I’m obviously also learning some things about the culture of the area. Let’s talk about food:


I’m only exaggerating a little.

Oh, and mate obviously. Tortas and other egg-y things are also pretty big, and so is jam. Tea exists, but if you order just a tea in a café, people worry about you.

You might get Salad, but it might not look like the salad you’re expecting. I’ve had a tomato salad (chopped tomato with lemon and olive oil), a carrot salad (grated carrot with lemon and olive oil)…

My mom can definitely cook, but we also do a lot of reheating of stuff she bought around the corner or something. My momma loves the microwave. It’s still good, mind you. But it’s definitely a big change from the way I was cooking for myself all summer!

However, it really depends on who your family is. One of my friends has a real mixed green salad every night, very little meat. Some families cook really well…and others, well… I’ve heard some funny but tragic stories from other kids in the program.

Brace yourself, basically.




IV. Vocabulario


Once you hit Mendoza, unfamiliar words start flying thick and fast. You should definitely keep a notebook on hand to help you remember some of them. I’ve got pages and pages in my notebook about vocab, but I’ll give you guys just a few of the most frequently used/confusing ones.


Copada – cool

Re – very, super

Factura – pastry

Ubicar – located / to be located (estar)

Varon – boy

Alargador – extension cord

Enchufar – to plug into a wall outlet

Materias – courses

Parciales – midterms


Words you thought you knew in Spanish but don’t if you didn’t learn Spanish in Argentina:


Avocado = Palta, NOT  aguacate

Corn = Choclo, NOT maiz or elote

Fridge = Heladera, NOT refrigerador

Strawberry = Frutilla, NOT fresa



V. Música

First and foremost, expect to hear a lot of American music here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Call Me Maybe since arriving—there’s no escaping it. Argentine radio is also…full of surprises. One minute you’ve got Lady Gaga, the next it’s a dubstep remix of the Beatles, next it’s an actual song in Spanish, next it’s 70’s rock. All on the same station. So, expect the unexpected.

Here’s a song in Spanish for you to jam out to. My host sister likes this one a lot.


VI. Links to Previous Posts

1. Antes de que me voy (Before I Leave)

2. Host Families and Fun with Public Transportation

3. “Are You the Girl with the Blog?”

4. Playing Tourists in Buenos Aires