University of Iowa

La Familia Anfitriona Correcta

December 5th, 2016

By Elly Martens*


How cute are we??? This was one of the first sites they took me to in Santiago, Cerro San Cristobal.

I want to preface this post by saying that my host family here is fanfreakingtastic. I love them as if I were related to them, and I feel like an actual part of their family: an older sister, a cousin, a niece, a granddaughter. My host sister, Rosario (who would like everyone to know she’ll be six very soon), apparently threw her school psychologist for a loop when she started telling people she had an older sister from the United States. I’ve known Amparo, the two-year-old, for practically a quarter of her life. I will cry when I leave them, and I know my host mom will be right there with me. My mamita and tía (grandmother and aunt) have asked me when I’m coming back to Chile, and I haven’t even left yet.

But, not all host families are like this. This is the picture-perfect scenario that they preach to you when you are going through the study-abroad application process.

“You and your host family will no doubt be such good friends, you’ll want to have them at your graduation, your wedding, blah blah blah.”

I’ve been fortunate enough to have lived abroad twice, and I have had polar opposite host family experiences. During my first exchange, it was obvious that I was not actually wanted in the house. I felt like more of a burden than anything else. None of my host siblings wanted anything to do with me, and I really only conversed with my host mom.

When I came into my host family in Santiago, I had zero expectations. I had ignored all of those comments about how my host family will be so welcoming and excited to have me, because I had already seen the other side. But the Acuñas are absolutely perfect… Not to brag or anything.


La Mamita making pallella—Chilean style—for my host mom’s birthday. This lady has the best attitude all the time.

A few friends back at Iowa have been asking me for study abroad advice, and that’s what prompted me to write this post. I don’t want to sugarcoat the fact that not all host families are like the Acuñas.

There’s nothing wrong with switching host families. If the one you’re with isn’t working out, or isn’t the kind of dynamic you need to achieve your study-abroad goals, you should see if you can switch host families. If I had known I could have switched families in my first exchange, I would have had a much better experience there. At least six people in my program here in Santiago ended up switching host families, for various reasons, and were much happier in their new homes. And I think there were about three others who probably could have benefited from a switch, as well.

I love the clothesline at our house. It’s like a constant reminder that I’m not treated like something additional, but rather a part of something.

When applying to this program, I tried to be as specific and honest as possible in my application. I requested a family, with young children, and a dog would have been welcome. I also told them straight up, that I don’t go out and party, and am somewhat of a homebody. When prompted with the question “What do you look for in a host family” my answer was “a family unit that is enthusiastic about hosting, and is willing to let me into their culture.” And that’s just what I received!

I can’t believe how lucky I was to receive this family, to be completely accepted into not only their house, but their daily life, their culture. So as I’m sitting in my sticker-studded room that previously belonged to the five-year-old, listening to the two-year-old watch Alvin y las Ardillas for the umpteenth time this week, I know I’m going to miss them, but I know that I’ll always have a family here, and they know they’ve got a family in the States.

*Elly Martens is studying biomedical engineering with a minor in Spanish at the University of Iowa. The Lindenhurst, Illinois, native is spending her semester at Universidad de Chile as part of the CIEE Liberal Arts Program in Santiago, Chile

Student blog entries posted to this International Accents page may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UI Study Abroad and International Programs.  The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

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