The big Chilean family

Young people from overseas spare no praise for the homes that welcomed them into the country.


Isis Irizarry has a bad cold and can hardly talk. Her «Chilean mother» Patricia, a language teacher, makes sure she is well fed in accordance with the Chilean saying «the sick person who eats doesn’t die». Her «Chilean father» Fernando, a public official, is preparing a home remedy consisting of a grated avocado pit and honey. Fortunately, the 20-year-old Puerto Rican student has an appetite for natural medicine. One of her «Chilean sisters» is also in bed with the same cold. In between fits of coughing, they are talking back and forth between bedrooms.

While teaching English to her new «sisters», Isis is learning some «Chilean». She already knows that «carretear» means partying, she finishes her sentences using «poh» and says «al tiro» when Fernando tells her to take her medication. Thanks to the home remedy, she knows that avocados are called «paltas» in Chile. The girl makes fun of herself, exaggerating her «gringo» accent when she speaks Spanish, infecting the family with both her flu and keen sense of humor.

Registered for literature and Latin American culture courses as part of her studies started at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, Isis Irizarry came to Santiago thanks to the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). “They contacted my Chilean family on behalf of the program”, she recalls when telling about her adventure.

An incredible experience

Vail Lauren Miller chose Chile from several exchange program alternatives available at the University of California, where she is studying international relations. “My career stresses the importance of travel and experience around the world. We are encouraged to travel abroad. I have always wanted to visit South America and the pictures of Chile’s landscapes convinced me”, she says.

Vail is 20 years old and says she is “also from Gringolandia”. She plays soccer and likes the way girls play soccer in Chile. People definitely talk differently out on the soccer field than in the classroom. “I’m not that good at languages or learning ‘Chilean Spanish’. Fortunately, people here are kind, relaxed and interested in helping us”, says the US citizen.

“Living with my Chilean family has been an incredible experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. They take care of me and protect me without placing any restrictions or trying to control me. I love speaking and learning from them. It’s not just about the language. I am fortunate in that my ‘Chilean parents’ are very well-educated about the country”, she highlights. Her «Chilean father» Juan Gustavo is an expert in Mapuche culture.

Eat all of your food

20-year-old Katherine Hill came to Chile under the same agreement. She took a short leave from the University of Southern California to get to know Latin America, learn Spanish and to study political science and international relations from a different perspective.

Katherine registered at Universidad Católica de Santiago and says that some of her classmates “pronounce very slowly when I tell them they are talking too fast. They are practical jokers but welcome me into their peer groups at the same time”.

Besides the local sayings and the way people talk so fast in Chile, about her stay in the country she says «the food is different here, not as spicy or tasty as it is in the United States. It’s mostly good for you».

She says that Chilean mothers really make sure “that you eat all of your food, so they try to make the kind of food you like or let you cook whatever you want … and then you have to clean up the kitchen. If you don’t eat right then they will fulfill their role as mothers and let you know what you’re doing wrong”.