Uno: The Ultimate Guide to Host Family Vacations

Emily Alcock is a student at Luther College, and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad and participating in service-learning with ISA in Valparaiso, Chile.

Olmue, Valparaiso, Chile - Alcock - Photo1
Performers wearing the traditional clothing of Chile while dancing the traditional dance, cueca.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to join my host family on an annual weekend vacation to Olmué, Chile. Olmué is a small town of about 14,000 that lies just north of Valparaíso and home to La Campana National Park. It is known as the folkloric capital of Chile because of its dedication to preserving the traditional lifestyle of Chile: dances, clothing, food, and more. As we pulled into Olmué on Friday evening, the town square was thriving with artesian markets, fresh food stands, and people performing the traditional dance of Chile, cueca.

Host Family, Valparaiso, Chile - Alcock - Photo2
My host family and I posing with our private pool for the weekend.

It is not surprising that joining your host family’s annual vacation in the middle of nowhere will throw you right out of your comfort zone. Everything that happened during the weekend was completely new: speaking strictly Spanish for 48 hours, eating Chilean barbeque food, and doing what Chilean families like to do for fun. It wasn’t until we started playing the card game “Uno” on Saturday that I recognized how much more we have in common than what I originally thought.

Similar to games in the United States, every family has their own house rules. Of course, the same is true in Chile; some of my host family’s rules for “Uno” and also “Phase Ten” were definitely different than how I had played in the States. However, these differences fostered discussion about our respective countries and why we play the way we do. It was these conversations that eventually led to celebrating the rules that unified the way we play cards and ultimately, allowed me to successfully compete in my second language. Suddenly, it was clear that I could apply what I had learned in “Uno” to adapt to life in a new country. When moving to a foreign country, it is easy to focus on the customs that separate us from the new culture. Don’t get me wrong, these differences are important. They allow us to realize aspects of our own culture that we might take for granted or aspects that we desire to change. But, it is more useful to grasp the power of moving beyond differences to celebrate similarities. When we recognize similarities between cultures, we acknowledge the humanity that connects us across the globe, allowing us to come together rather than pull us apart.

So, next time you embark on a family vacation in a foreign country, embrace the intersection of cultures and don’t forget to pack a deck of cards.

The world awaits…discover it.

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