Tag Archives: #hostfamily

Goodbyes are the Hardest Part

Have you ever met someone and within a very short amount of time felt an immediate close connection with them? I have thought I felt something like this before but I never could have imagined just how close you could get to someone in five days.

Five days ago my program traveled to Putre. Putre is a small rural mountain town on the border of Bolivia. For our five days there we were staying with a homestay family in groups. There were three other girls and myself staying with a family in Putre. Throughout the entire time we were there, our host family was so welcoming and caring.

Our mom gave us small flutes that had llama/alpaca designs and said Putre on them at lunch the first day together. The first night at dinner we had an amazing conversation about religion. Our mom asked us if we were religious. This can sometimes be a very touchy subject but she was very open to hearing everyone’s opinions and beliefs. We talked about being spiritual without adhering to a specific religion and about Buddhist beliefs as well as Christianity. At the end of the conversation she even said to us that our differing beliefs about religion would not separate us. After dinner we even went to the Evangelical church that she is the pastor of and participated in the service. It was very different from religious services I have attended previously. The majority of the time we were in the church we were singing. For every song there was a video that accompanied it. Some of the songs we sang in Spanish and for these the lyrics were part of the video projected up on the wall of the church. Many of the other songs we sang came from a hymn book. In the book each song was written in both Spanish and Aymara, the native language of a large majority of the people who live in Putre. Because we were there, they decided to sing in Aymara for us. These songs all had videos to accompany them with images of people in traditional clothing in fields with different animals or in water playing instruments and singing. We followed along in our hymnals trying our best to sing in Aymara. For the first two songs it was really challenging but it got much easier as we started understanding the pronunciation. After singing two songs in Spanish and four or five songs in Aymara, our host-mom read a gospel passage and started her homily. Then came the Sign of Peace. After that we all headed over to another small building next to the church that had a kitchen and an dining room with several long tables. On one table there were three plates of sopapilla that had been made before church and cups of tea. We sat there for about 20 or 30 minutes just talking to the other members of the parish. They were all so welcoming of us.



The view from just outside my homestay in Putre.


A mural depicting llamas and alpacas.


Throughout the rest of our time in Putre I consistently felt so welcomed by our host family and also by everyone we met. Part of the program was talking to the Aymara traditional medicine providers in Putre. Señor Teófilo is the yatiri. His role in traditional medicine within Aymara culture is to communicate with different spiritual entities. He does this to read hojas de coca (coca leaves) for people. Within these readings he can tell you about your health, your job, and your love life. He can use this to help figure out if someone has an imbalance within their body that is causing them to be sick. Additionally, Señora Fausta is the qulliri/usuyiri of the town. A qulliri is the person who uses herbs to help cure illnesses and prevent illnesses as well. A usuyiri is a traditional midwife. Both of them were very welcoming and taught us so much. I even went to Señor Teófilo one morning to get my coca leaves read and Señora Fausta made me a jarabe (a solution of eucalyptus, honey, and a root of an herb called yareta) for my cough and bronchitis as well as a cream for muscle aches. I feel like I learned the most from them. Through them I saw the potential for intercultural medicine to succeed. They worked with the local health center to treat patients and they were so open to learning about and incorporating occidental medicine in their traditional practices. They used occidental diagnoses to help cater traditional remedies and medicines for their patients and they also understood which types of illnesses they were able to effectively treat and which ones they were better treated by occidental doctors. However, this system does not yet go both ways. The medics at the clinic in Putre change a lot. At least every four years there is a completely new medical team in Putre. This means that some of the doctors that come are more open and accepting of traditional medicine and its benefits than others and it presents even more of a challenge in creating a sustainable system of reciprocity between the two types of medicine to best benefit the patients in Putre and surrounding towns.



Welcome pawa with the yatiri and qulliri/usuyiri of Putre.


The last night that we were in Putre the group of girls that I was staying with went stargazing and on the way back we saw that our host parents were in church so we stopped in. It was just about the end of the service so we stayed. At the end our host mom said that she was so happy we had come to Putre and that she hoped we learned a lot while we were here and that she had learned a lot from us. After that she asked us is if we wanted to say a few words about our time in Putre. We all said that we felt we had created a very strong connection with the people and the place in the short time we had been there and that we learned a lot about the Aymara culture. Then another woman from the parish started to close the service with a prayer. Her prayer lasted for five minutes or so. I have never heard so many well wishes for strangers in my life. A large part of her prayer was directed at us and wishing us well in life and in our studies. It was amazing to see someone who thought the best of everyone, even people she had only met twice for very brief instances. By the end of her prayer I was almost in tears and one of the other girls I was staying with was crying. The rest of that night was spent saying very heartfelt goodbyes to our host father since we wouldn’t see him the next morning. Our sister-in-law gave us hair ties that she had made for us. They were flowers made out of fabric with traditional patterns.

The next morning we left at around 9:30 but as we walked to the bus we saw our sister-in-law again. She was in a store and beckoned us in. Once we were in the store she asked us if we wanted any snacks for the ride home. As we started to get out our wallets she quickly told us no, she would be paying for whatever we wanted. It was very sweet. We each ended up getting a lollipop for the drive up Lauca National Park, where we were visiting before returning to Arica that day. It was very hard to get on that bus and leave behind Putre and our family. I don’t think I have ever connected to someone so quickly and with such strength before in my life. I couldn’t have imagined an better first trip out of Arica.



Volcano of Parinacota in Lauca National Park.


More mountains in Lauca National Park.


Selfie with some vicuñas in Lauca National Park.


More vicuñas in Lauca National Park.


A viscacha in Lauca National Park.


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Filed under Brooke in Chile, south america

New Surroundings, New Perspective

¡Hola a todos!

Today marks two weeks since the night that I landed in Quito, Ecuador. It is hard to remember the last few days that I spent in the United States. They seem like a blur, a rapid time lapse of the friends and family who wanted to spend time with me and I them before I was on my way to another continent! Mixed with a dose of last minute packing and stressing about documents I needed when abroad made time go even faster, and in a blink of an eye I was saying goodbye to my boyfriend and was ready to board my flight, which happened to be delayed by just a few hours. Little did I know this delay was quite the foreshadowing for the culture that I would be surrounded by later that very night.

A few phone conversations, a layover, and one burger later, I was en route to Quito from Fort Lauderdale! Sitting next to me on the plane were two Ecuadorian siblings who were on their way home from visiting Washington D.C. with their parents. This was my first experience of many to come where I truly had to use my mind as the Google Translator I know it can be. My time here will perhaps even require me to translate my thoughts into English upon my return!

I didn’t expect it, but after my flight landed and the doors slid open to reveal people with balloons, flowers, signs, smiles, tears, and more, I found myself getting a little emotional. I was in a completely foreign place and it was just starting to set in. Beyond the different language, the people around me had a way about them unlike any I had seen before. Their mannerisms, gestures, the colorful tones I heard when they spoke, combined with seeing families and couples reunited after what must have felt like ages, my eyes started to water. I could feel the welcoming environment around me, and even more so when I met my host mom and her friend, who hugged me while asking me endless questions and helping me with my luggage.


View from kitchen

The view from my host family’s kitchen!


The sky was pitch black during the drive home, but the city of Quito was still awake, with lights from houses, streets, and stores, shining so bright that they created shadows of the seemingly endless and immense mountains that engulfed the city. The next morning, I saw those breathtaking mountains everywhere I went, and I am sure that if there is one aspect of my life here that I will never get used to, it will be this beautiful landscape.


View from USFQ

The beautiful landscape I see on my way to La Universidad San Francisco de Quito, the university I am attending this semester.


The feelings that my experience two weeks ago at the airport gave me have yet to leave and perhaps they never will. I meet Ecuadorians on the bus, walking on the street, in stores, getting lunch, in classes, anywhere you can imagine, and they are all filled with love that they want to share with you. Although these past two weeks have been filled with ups and downs, of feeling homesick and lost throughout conversations or in classes filled with Ecuadorian students, I am starting to feel more and more at home and have been stepping out of my comfort zone daily, making every day I spend here an adventure that I look forward to.




Filed under Alicia in Ecuador, south america

I’m Back?

When I think about being in Salamanca or try to tell someone else about my experiences there, I feel like I’m in a fog. It’s almost as if I was never there and I’m telling folks a fairy tale of sorts. To have explored a foreign country and return home is a very surreal thing. I didn’t expect to be watching my children play and think about the kids playing in the fountain at La Parque Alamadillo. Or go for breakfast with my husband and not being able to finish a good ol’ American pancake meal when all I want is just a cafe con leche and a croissant. Crazy.


Garden Wall in Madrid, Spain.


The best churros in Spain at Valor in Salamanca.


I’m not sure that I even thought about what would happen once I returned home and to my routine. I haven’t had much trouble adjusting to my old life (strange to call it “my old life”). I’ve jumped back into the swing of things with both feet and I think I’m doing a good job of it (if I say so myself…and I do). But I feel myself fighting to hang on to my memories of being in Spain. I’m not quite able to express to my friends and family EXACTLY what my walk to school was like. Or what pinchos really are. Or how I really feel about being back home.



San Sebastian Coastline, Northern Spain.

La Senora y Yo

My señora (host mom) in Spain.


I may never be able to explain all that I gained in Spain through this wonderful opportunity Alamo College and the Gilman Program gave me, but I will always have my memories of this very special place. I am forever changed. I will never be able to fit into a cookie cutter mold. And that in itself has made everything worth it.

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Filed under Meya in Spain, Western Europe

A Day in the Life of Robert in Argentina

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Filed under Robert in Argentina, south america, Video Bloggers

Finding Inner Strength to Combat Culture Shock


Culture shock is the really yucky part of the cultural immersion experience that happens to most people at some point. It’s the point during study abroad where a person may face information overload or begin feeling especially frustrated with adjusting to different aspects of a new culture such as a language barrier. With 29 more days remaining until the completion of my study abroad program, I think the best kind of advice I could ever give to any future students going on a language exchange program in the face of culture shock is to be patient with yourself when coping with stressors, don’t compare your journey to other students’ in your program, be strong, and don’t give up.

Being patient with yourself means understanding you are human and with that comes limitations when facing frustrations. I had this idea in my head that coming here I would soak up the Spanish language like a sponge and that I would leave here completely fluent. It’s my seventh month into my program in Costa Rica and I still have days where I wake up and I feel like I can’t express everything I want to say correctly. This started a cycle of me being hyper-critical of myself and with that, the language barrier seemed to widen between me and the culture here because I would be so focused on wanting to prevent an error or sounding foolish when I speak that I would sometimes lose the ability to communicate clearly altogether! As a learner of Spanish as a second language, I have to accept that my ability to communicate is not comparable to native speakers—but that’s completely okay because I came here to grow with a new language! Learning a new language is a challenge in and of itself, and with that comes inevitable mistakes! I have a professor who speaks English fluently, and he has even admitted that despite having several years of experience in another language, he also makes errors!



On weekends, I have been able to assist a fellow student, Liz, with English. This past month we worked on a project where she needed opinions from native English speakers about learning a second language. She is as enthusiastic about learning and speaking English as she is helping me out with my Spanish..


Not comparing yourself to your peers means accepting that you’re on your own unique journey and that adjusting to a new culture is different for everyone. The classroom setting where you learn a new language is a culture in and of itself, and this is a time where it’s important to focus on personal growth in the language. For the first time in my life, I am taking a full course load in another language which is something I never anticipated I would be doing in my life. That being said, I have had some intense moments of feeling overwhelmed with information, especially in my advanced Spanish grammar course. Sometimes I would also catch myself comparing my struggle to students who seem to so easily grasp a complicated subject when I’m needing to ask the professor to repeat the same thing several times. I think comparing myself exacerbated my sense of feeling overwhelmed because then I would start second guessing my own knowledge which definitely does not help me learn. If you ever feel yourself making a comparison to others during your time abroad, it helps to take a step back to acknowledge that everyone comes from different walks of life and thus handles situations differently. In my case, there are native speakers in some of my courses, and naturally their transition into our courses may have been different than mine as someone who is acquiring Spanish as a second language—therefore there is absolutely no good reason to make such an unjust comparison!

Being strong and not giving up means finding your strength with a support group and realizing that you can accomplish your goals with a positive outlook. Though my culture shock has bestowed moments of frustrations, and intense moments of homesickness, learning to develop an attitude of gratitude has allowed me to finish my year off strongly.  I am really fortunate to have been blessed with a loving support system–my host mom, a really incredible best friend in my program, and my parents in the States whom I can call during times of distress. My host mom has been supportive by checking in on me, and just spending quality time with her has helped me so much. We actually just finished reading Charlotte’s Web together in Spanish. I read it aloud to her each week for the past few months, and I must say, even in Spanish this book makes my eyes water!



My all time favorite book that my host mom and I read together.


This is Sharky, the family pooch taking his weekly bath with my host mom. She is the only one who can bathe him because he only trusts her. He is so cute! My host mom completely lights up when she gets to groom him.


One day I came home from school and my host mom randomly asked if I wanted to go pick mangoes off the neighborhood tree. It was one of the richest moments I got to spend with Maryela. It took us probably a good twenty minutes to come up with a plan to get the mangoes down! She is so crafty because she found a large stick to knock them down with!


These are the mangoes we collected–we also picked some lemons too! When we came home she chopped the mangoes up and put a spicy sauce on them and we ate them together. They were so good!


One of my best friends in the program has also been really emotionally supportive by volunteering with me at the Reforestation Center at our host university. We’ve been helping bundle trees in small bags with soil so that the university can reforest areas around Costa Rica. The professors and students who work at the center have also been so friendly and kind to us with enthusiasm to teach us about the different species they have in the greenhouse and around UNA (Universidad Nactional de Costa Rica).



This is me and my really good friend Nikki. After class her and I volunteered together in the campus reforestation center. This was us putting arbolitos in fresh soil for future reforestation.


The weather was perfect that morning! I had a great time learning about the different species of trees located around the university!


One of my close friends Kristin and I on went on a chocolate tour together! We got to learn so much about how chocolate is processed, made, and distributed for economic growth. Plus we got to drink and eat chocolate!


I took a trip with two of my friends to Arenal and we swam in the caterata which translates as “waterfall.” It was so beautiful, especially when the rain came!


And lastly, my parents at home have also been supportive of me when I’ve felt overwhelmed. While it’s important to be conscious of spending too much time Skyping with family because it may intensify homesickness, I think it’s important to keep in contact with family who can offer insight on your personal strengths, which my parents definitely do. They’ve given me so much encouragement to finish my year abroad strongly—which is exactly what I’m doing!

Also, when facing culture shock another powerful tool is to always take time to acknowledge the little things that are special about the culture you’re living in–like Costa Rican iced coffee!



My favorite treat while studying will always be cold coffee in Costa Rica.


Another “little thing” I love to stop and admire is the sloths that casually hang around in the trees. Apparently they sleep 21 hours a day.


Hasta Mayo,


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Filed under Alexandria in Costa Rica, Central America

New Host Family, First Chess Tournament, and Possibly Peace Corps Bound!

After my host family change in early September, I’m happy to share I have been living with an incredible host family! I currently live with a host mom and a host sister. Both of them are so warm and welcoming. Both of them have an incredible sense of humor and I feel very cared about here. I instantly made a connection with my host sister, who is 18 and studies Medicine. We like to joke around the same way I joke around with my sisters back at home. My host mom has also helped me navigate through finding the bus station from Heredia to San Jose, and even walked me to school my first day! Since my arrival to this new host home two weeks ago, I have been so grateful for how comforted I have been since living here.


My goofy host sister, Jenny and I!


My sweet host mother, Maria and I!

Gallo Pinto (a very traditional dish of Costa Rica and Nicaragua) and plantains (also very commonly eaten in Costa Rica).

Gallo Pinto (a very traditional dish of Costa Rica and Nicaragua) and plantains (also very commonly eaten in Costa Rica).

My host mom is so sweet. Recently, I had to go see a doctor for an issue I’ve been having. The doctor prescribed me medication to take once every night, and my host mom always prepares it for me and checks on me. It has made me feel so at home, and since my last entry, I’m pleased to say that my “mal de patria” has immensely diminished.

The weekend of September 10th, I attended a national university competition known as JUNCOS, where universities around Costa Rica compete in various sports, including chess!

How awesome it was to have experienced my first chess tournament in Costa Rica!

I was so proud of all my fellow group members who competed! A fun fact: Costa Rica only has one current grandmaster (the highest title a chess player can attain). A group member from my host university, Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica (UNA) actually competed against him and they had a draw (for those of you who don’t know, that’s a pretty huge deal!). I can officially say I know someone who has played against a grandmaster and who is also among the top players of an entire country!

JUNCOS Chess Tournament 2015! My first time going to a chess tournament! It was so interesting watching university students from around Costa Rica compete!

JUNCOS Chess Tournament 2015! My first time going to a chess tournament! It was so interesting watching university students from around Costa Rica compete!

Carolina forfeited during her game, but she played with such viciousness! We were all so proud of her!

Carolina forfeited during her game, but she played with such viciousness! We were all so proud of her!

On my way to the Chess tournament, I stopped Parque Espana (San Jose). It's my favorite park in San Jose because of how peaceful it is.

On my way to the Chess tournament, I stopped Parque Espana (San Jose). It’s my favorite park in San Jose because of how peaceful it is.

A member from the club, Roberto, also invited me to his home for a small gathering and chess. It was the first time in Heredia I felt like I had a group of tico friends. While I played a game with a girl from our group, the guys were singing Spanish songs. It was truly a beautiful night spent with good people, and the best game in the world. And as of two weeks ago, I finally won my first game of chess playing against my group members.

One of the best evenings I've had in Heredia--passing the time with music and chess!

One of the best evenings I’ve had in Heredia–passing the time with music and chess!

I have also become closer with a fellow group member named Ariel. Ariel studies Business Administration at two universities, including UNA and another one. Ariel is also studying English, which is remotely comparable to my level of Spanish. He has been so helpful and patient with helping me review grammar in Spanish, especially concepts I have been having trouble with. This past day, he helped me review ser and estar (very basic verbs, I know, but I still have some confusion about when to use es or esta for usted/el/ella)! My other amigo tico, Alejandro, joked with me saying he has never met a gringo who can speak real Spanish. When Ariel was reviewing es and esta with me, he jokingly referenced Alejandro’s judgment as I incorrectly blurted out:

“El es feliz.” (A poorly conjugated way of saying “He is happy.”)

“No!,” Ariel exclaimed. “Gringos say ‘el es feliz’–but you know better!” We both laughed.

And as for mi amigo, Alejandro, he will see how beautifully I speak Spanish come May! I am determined to prove him wrong!

Mi amigo tico, Ariel! I treated him to ice cream after he helped me with my Spanish grammar!

Mi amigo tico, Ariel! I treated him to ice cream after he helped me with my Spanish grammar!

My Spanish professor's family invited the entire class over for breakfast and class lessons in his backyard!

My Spanish professor’s family invited the entire class over for breakfast and class lessons in his backyard!

My Spanish professor's family invited the entire class over for breakfast and class lessons in his backyard!

My entire Spanish class! (We love you Professor Atturo!!)

Something I have also grown to love about Latin culture is the passion for dancing! I decided to take a dance course as part of my study abroad program. I enrolled not having much faith my two left feet would get me very far, but our dance instructor took us to a dancing venue outside our classroom as part of her evaluation of what we have learned. I was so impressed with myself and had such a blast dancing salsa, merengue, and bachata! My moves are basic, but it really is all in the hips! I also love that all my tico friends either love dancing too or at least know the basic moves because when we play chess, we will usually put music on and I love dancing bachata in-between games!

As of October 2nd, I officially applied to the Peace Corps to volunteer in Peru and Guatemala. I would just like to say that as a requirement to apply to these programs, previous college-level Spanish instruction is a requirement. So I owe a sincere thanks to Gilman for opening this window of opportunity for me, because without studying abroad in Costa Rica, this would not have been a futuristic opportunity. As of last week of August, I have been using my time for all my postgraduate applications. Being a senior in university is stressful, but finishing applications does offer some peace of mind. To any other seniors studying abroad right now, here’s to the possibilities which await us upon our return to the U.S.!

On a closing note, Costa Rica does not celebrate Halloween! So as of late, I have been contemplating how I am going to spend my favorite day of the year! I was originally planning to spend it with American Horror Story and chocolate in bed, but as of late, I have been on the lookout for children’s books in Spanish with a spooky theme. I have not had any luck but maybe I will find a translated version of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark online!

Wishing everyone a beautiful October, wherever in the world you are!



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Filed under Alexandria in Costa Rica, Central America