Mi Familia Chilena: How I Found Home After Being Uprooted Abroad
About a month and a half into my semester abroad, I had to switch host families for reasons beyond my control. While this experience was disorienting and stressful, in the end it turned out about as well as it could have, and it revealed a lot to me about the support network that IFSA-Butler cultivates in the host communities.
I moved my things out of my first host family’s apartment in kind of a blur and said teary goodbyes to my host mom. Isa, the program director in Santiago, and basically another mom to me while I was in Chile, rode with me in a taxi to a hotel, holding my hand the whole way. She got me all settled in my hotel room and made a point of telling me, “my house is just a few blocks away, so if you get lonely or sad or anything tonight, just give me a call and I can come keep you company.” I didn’t end up needing to call her, but it was comforting to know that she was in my corner and was going out of her way to make sure I was okay.
When Isa first told me I needed to move out of my first house, she said, “I think I have the perfect family for you to move in with,” and called my future host mom right then to tell her I needed a home. I was so impressed that Isa had such a close network with all of the host families, even to the extent that she could pair me with a new family on a moment’s notice. As I came to discover, my new host family shared IFSA’s dedication to supporting students when they welcomed me into their home.
My new host mom and host siblings, Laura (5) and Alonso (11), came to pick me up at the hotel just two days later and loaded all of my stuff into their car. We arrived at their home, a cute stucco house on a quiet, gated lane. They helped me carry my things inside and showed me my room; this was the moment I really knew that I had landed in a good place. On my bedroom door, the kids had made welcome signs for me with little cartoons and pictures of Chilean flags that they had drawn.
The kids were on the shyer side at first, but that changed quickly. They immediately integrated me into their Sunday lunch routine. After we ate, I washed dishes with Alonso, which was his opportunity to ask me every question about my life that he could think of and to tell me all about his schoolwork. Isa later told me that my family had been hosting students since Alonso was very young (and since before Laura was born), and it really showed he was completely comfortable with my being there. He also had a certain maturity to him that came from growing up with host students.
One of the first things that I noticed about this new family was their concern for my safety in getting around Santiago. At first I found this a little bit annoying – after all, I had been in the country for a month already – but when I mentioned this to my mom, she found it reassuring. She was happy to know that they were watching my back and making sure I was safe. In the following months, I decided to humor my host dad and let him walk me to the bus after dark when I was going out to meet friends, even if it was only to leave him with some peace of mind.
My semester abroad culminated in my mom coming to visit me in Santiago for a week. I of course wanted my mom to meet my host family, so I suggested to my host mom that I bring her for lunch at the house one afternoon, and she absolutely loved the idea. My entire host family was so excited to meet my mom; I swear they were counting down the days more than I was.
Not surprisingly, my host family adored my mom. My host mom understood English a lot better than I had realized, and my mom’s limited Spanish still allowed her to communicate herself well enough. They were even able to joke in spite of the language barrier. When my spazzy host sister got wound up, my mom quoted a safety poster that she had seen on the metro – “Siempre mantén la calma” or “Always remain calm” – which all of them thought was hilarious.
The best moment came when my mom really clicked with my host siblings. The kids were obsessed with the water bottle challenge (“la botella challenge!”), where you toss a water bottle just right to get it to land standing up. They took my mom outside to teach her the game, and they thought my mom was the coolest person ever because she knew that you’re supposed to dab when it lands right. My mom’s visit confirmed the feeling of home that I’d found with this Chilean family.
So, even though the journey was a little bit tumultuous, IFSA made sure that I ended up in a good place. Isa told us at the beginning of the semester, “Chile will teach you patience.” But this experience also taught me an important lesson about trust. I’m generally a very independent person, so it was difficult for me to let go and just trust that everything would work out. In this case, it was essential that I just let go, and although the road was a little bit rocky, I landed in one of the most loving families I’ve ever met – mi familia chilena.
Jane Doyle was a Spanish Language & Literature major at Georgetown University and studied abroad with IFSA on the Chilean Universities Program in Fall 2016. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.