Living Abroad with a Host Family

Katherine Ram
April 9, 2016

I chose to live with a host family. Most everyone recommended I do so before my departure from the US. They told me that I would get to know the culture better and be forced to practice more Spanish. What they couldn’t have told me was that this experience would become foundational to my perception of family altogether. (*From here on out I will be referring to by host relatives without the word “host”*)

My brother-in-law recently mentioned to me that I’ve lived through a soap opera during my stay thus far in Chile. I’ve been with this family for the giving away of a foster child, the birth of two babies, the breakup of my actress sister and her famous boyfriend, the separation of my brother’s marriage, the construction of  my mom’s new home, the retirement of my dad, the 89th birthday of my grandma, and so much more. I have integrated into this family, because in a course of seven months, there cannot exist the superficiality that the typical host presents to his/her guests.

I most greatly appreciate the communication in this family. While we may mention the weather now and again, I am amazed at how observational, introspective, and thoughtful my parents and siblings are. We’ve joked many times about fixing the world’s problems with our post dinner conversations. We self analyze and give each other advice, especially when one of us feels down. I’ve learned that such consistent and open communication leads to an understanding and acceptance of one another.

Not all my observations of this family are exceptionally profound. Part of living with others is learning the unique habits of one’s housemates. For instance, my brother’s pajamas consist of inside out t-shirts, and my mom thinks she needs to yell into the phone for the person on the other line to hear her. My dad insists on serving all the wine glasses on one tray, because that way if one falls, they all fall (don’t worry; we don’t understand his logic either). My brother needs to add spice to all foods while my dad can’t handle spice on anything. Everyone has little nuances that make them who they are.

If you stick around long enough, however, you’ll notice people evolve and change too. My oldest sister went through a stressful pregnancy last year and has become a whole new person since the birth of her second little boy. She and her oldest have had a brighter presence than when I first met them. This made me realize that anytime you meet somebody new, you should consider that you are meeting the version of them respective to their current stage in life. Apparently people don’t always mean to change. My mom said that in the early stages of their marriage that my dad claimed he would never change…. Well, never say never.

Living with another family has also shown me how different family dynamics can work. Although I can think of a lot of examples, living in a house with two parents stands out the most to me. My biological parents split up when I was very little. I think the divorce was the healthiest decision for us as a family and I have always been given the opportunity to build a relationship with both of my parents (so no boo-hoo-me’s). However, not long after I moved in with my host family, I realized that my host parents where shaping my idea of how spouses interact at home, because I had no preconceived notion of what that should look like.

In short, I am in favor of living with a host family, because doing so has introduced me to new family dynamics and styles of communication. I cannot tell you whether or not my household is the paradigm of Chilean families; however, I have loved their Chilean language and culture lessons. Not every family is the same, but that is exactly why you should live with one.


Disclaimer: I also believe that students should not hesitate to speak up if they do not feel comfortable in their living situations. Whether the issue is chemistry, food, or whatever else related, students will not benefit from the experience of living with a host family if they feel uncomfortable. Take this from someone who changed host families almost two months into her program. 

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Katherine Ram

<p>I study Physics and Spanish at the University of the Pacific. When not studying, all I want to do is dance or get outdoors. I&#39;ve moved to Santiago to get the best of everything: city, mountains, beach, desert, and more!</p>

2016 Spring
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