I remember it all so well, that moment after being accepted into the program where the time came to print the paperwork to take things one step further into what would become my reality. Sheets of paper that seemed to slowly become “inked” with words fell into my hand, but only after first floating in a back and forth motion like a feather. Among the requested information was a page about my preferences for the type of family I would be living with.
Four brief descriptions of the types of family I could be placed with.
Four empty boxes by the sides of those descriptions.
One direction: Choose your preference.
Looking down, I read each one:
Choice one: I prefer to stay with a family with no Children.
Choice two: I prefer to stay with a family with children, (younger in age)
Choice three: I prefer to stay with someone who has widowed.
Choice four: I prefer to stay with a family with children (closer to my age) and be integrated as member of the family, attending family functions.
Three empty boxes.
One box checked off: My decision; Choice Four.
As I finished the paper work, I sent it out to the mail and went on with the semester until I went home for winter break.
A few weeks go by at home.
“Mom!” I screamed. “I got an email! I have a host SISTER IN CHILE!” It happened, whether I knew it or not. Starting from this one simple email, the beginning of the sister-hood had begun.
I discovered that my host sister´s name was Andrea (Andy). My eyes raced through the long letter written in Spanish and she began by showering me with a warm welcome, introducing herself and telling me about the city. Shortly after, she followed it by a long list of suggestions about what to pack, and all sorts of advice about what awaited me. She was sure to mention that many girls have passed through her house, yet as I had thought, these were girls that had just simply passed through for their study abroad programs. At the bottom of the email, there were two names from girls who live in the United States that had stayed with them previously and the following: “Feel free to contact them, they can tell you about their experience here in Chile and give you some advice too. And of course, if you need help with anything, don’t hesitate to contact me!”
As the weeks became closer to my February departure I found myself contacting these girls, asking questions such as “What’s one thing you found that you didn’t need to pack?” and questions about their experience in the family. Yet, in between the questions there became a dialogue about us, such as the fact that one of them was from my home state of Michigan. Thus, we found our bond over the fact that, for us, winter in Chile would not be like the frigid cold of the north with harsh winds and lake-effect snow, rather it would, for us it would feel more like a splash of a gently cold Michigan Spring. These connections were small, but were soon to be followed by a much bigger and longer connection. These were my “hermanas gringas;” and these were only just two.
Time passed and soon enough I was living in Chile and even sooner came the time to move in with my host family came. Andy and my host parents took me in not as a visitor, but as the new daughter, or as they said “la gringa” of the family. Showing me the room where I lived, my host mom began to pull out something wooden with a string attached. “These are your sisters,” she told me. She began to name the girl in the first picture. She bubbled over with happiness as her finger pointed to the next girl, “and she was the second girl, she was the third gringa, and she was the fourth.” My host mother explained her love for being a host mom as her job, because it was about the connection she developed with the girls. Her favorite reward was not only keeping contact with them, but also seeing her daughters-“gringas” from the United States come and go. “Come and go?” I asked. “Yes, we have many visitors and one of them is a girl who stayed here and now lives here in Chile.” She continued, “You’ll meet her one day soon.”
“Gringa! Come meet your sister!” That day, I met Michelle, the first of “mis hermanas gringas” who had suddenly seemed to spring to life beyond the small photo in the near four and a half foot picture frame in the living room that held the faces of the girls who had came to live with the family. Michelle, I found out, shortly after her experience with this host family, moved back to Chile. Eight years had passed since then. This was home for her, thus, I found out that not only Andy was my host sister in Chile, but also Michelle, who was adoringly known as “mi hermana gringa.”
Over the course of time that I was there, I heard stories about girl, after girl, after girl, after girl, which had passed through the house. The catch was, they were not simply just young ladies who had passed through, but each one was member of the family. Each one was my sister that in some way added to this “sisterhood of hermanas gringas”, in which I got to know during the stories told during once (the meal that is taken during the evening time in Chile), through letters sent from the US announcing recent graduations, a new jobs, weddings, and my personal favorite, a trip to the house, in which I was able to meet a girl, or rather another sister, named Hannah, who by far was one of my favorites!
Yet, this “encuentro” (meeting) and “amistad” (friendship) of hermanas-gringas was not confined to just Chile. Andy, one day came in excitedly showing on her phone a picture of two girls standing side by side who had met by chance. What they found out about one another was something incredible: they were sisters, having both past time living in the “Pérez-Castro” household as “the gringa,” during different years. Back in the United States the sister-hood of “traveling gringas,” the connections that bonded us together turned out to be from the time we spent miles apart.
I had no clue that when I joined this host family that it would be me joining a sister-hood of people that in some way find a connection to one another. Yet, that is thing about life, connections will always form between humanity. I checked box number four and it lead to me being a link in a part of sister-hood of young women. Perhaps you will check box one, maybe box number two, or even box three. Needless to say that what exciting possibility that follows after is awaiting you just as excitedly. The experience will be different for each one of us, as I know several people who chose differently. Some stayed with a house full of students from the local region, another who became a sister in a house of three brothers, others who stayed with only a host couple- each experience though provides its own distinct connection with an unforgettable experience.
There are more than four countries to choose from.
The description of the experience has not yet been written.
Nor have the great connections you will make been determined.
The stories, the experience and the connections await you.
Where will you go? You have one direction:
Choose your preference.
Tangelica Glover is a student at Miami University of Ohio and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler on the Chilean Universities Program, Valparaiso in 2013