Today was the first day I saw my host sister cry. We were all having our normal Sunday lunch with the whole family, and I noticed immediately how upset she was. Her normal buoyancy and lighthearted comments weren’t there. When my host dad asked what was wrong she starting talking very fast and very quietly until her words were masked by her tears. I couldn’t understand her muffled Spanish completely, and was stuck between asking more questions to find out what was wrong and giving her space. I realized the struggle of the place I have in a host family. It’s unbelievably complicated. You’re a friend to your host sister, but also a sister, but also an outsider that never knows when it’s your place. I felt a little on the outside during the rest of almuerzo not knowing my place in this complicated situation.
Later, my host sister came into my room and we began talking as we always do. I trotted carefully in our conversation, not wanting to ask what was wrong. But then she told me. She spilled all about her problems, both boyfriend, family, and school. I felt so touched afterward, nearly on the point of tears. My previous thoughts of being separated from the family were completely washed away. I felt closer than ever to my host family, and I know more than ever that I am an accepted part in their family.
Being part of a host family is complicated and strange. You’re partially adopted, partially a visitor for just a long amount of time. I have seen my parents bicker, my siblings scream at each other, my brother bring home different girlfriends (much to my parents annoyance), spent time with my sister’s boyfriend, met cousins after cousins, talked with family friends, spent whole cold days with my host mom in her bed, painting with my dad late into the night. Over long conversations you become friends. You learn about each other’s past, what they hate, what they love. You learn who they are and who they are becoming. Over 6 months of being together, you become part of their family. When these things happen in my life here I escape the word “traveling”. I live here. Yet we all know it is going to end. It’s a weird concept and how to go about living for only 5 to 6 months in a different place is challenging. To immerse yourself completely or to stand off guard knowing it will end in a few months? Though the question is hard, the answer is so simple. I want to have a life here, and although it will be painful when I return to the United States, I will know my experience in Chile was truly amazing.