To be honest, the answer to your question “How do you know that these people are safe?” is I don’t. No idea. It’s all about gut feeling. My famil stays are always about trust. Searching for a family that will receive me has been very challenging yet I have received overwhelming responses.
I arrived Uruguay the day of my birthday (2014) and once again, I couldn’t imagine celebrating my birthday with strangers again. Last year, my birthday was extra special for there were a lot of things happening in my life and that period was the first few months of starting my life of travel.I celebrated my birthday with a Brazilian family and this year, I was again surprised with the goodness of mankind. It actually exists and traveling made me believe in that.
My host family is composed of 5: Orlando (Father), Raquel (Mother) and children, Dahiana, Andres and Sebastian. I found them by posting an ad on Couchsurfing saying that I want to change my way of travelling as I have always been volunteering. This time, learning about the culture, food and language of Uruguay with a family is the better option. Even though I mentioned “strictly family invitations only,” I received a handful of responses from Couchsurfing Montevideo from single men who most probably wanted something else. Then I received Andres’ message filled with good intentions and real words so I accepted his invite.
Like most Latin American countries, Uruguay is family-oriented to the extent that they consider their neighbours as part of their family. My host lives an hour away from the capital and I can’t believe how is it possible to know everyone living in your city! Whenever we go out, everyone greets each other on first name basis (as in everyone!). The town is so small so when I arrived, word spread and everyone was greeting me too! “Ahhh, you’re the exchange student from the Philippines!” Even though I wasn’t, I just nod or say yes because if I don’t, I have to explain the long process on how I was able to find this family. Yes, exchange student it is.
The country is very small and the population consists of 3.407 million. Children usually live with their families because of the high cost of living of the country.
The members of the household (and what I think of them)
I had the chance to spend time with each member of the family separately and I had to say that it made me become close to them day by day. Every time, I would always take note on my mini notebook on what I learned about each individual because they’re definitely worth telling/writing on my future novel about travelling South America.
Orlando (Father). The man of the house and like in most traditional families, he is the provider. He sustains the family by having his own auto shop. Life was easier for him because the shop is located in the home compound so he doesn’t have to leave everyday to work. He works Mondays-Saturdays (more than 12 hours a day) and on Sundays, he runs errands for the family. I can’t even believe how he does it! There was one Sunday where I was able to join him in the markets of Progreso, buying our lunch and visiting his mother at the home for the aged. I was moved with his relationship with his mother. He visits her regularly and takes care of her well. I mean, he’s a really funny dude. Always joking and saying hilarious stuff. I didn’t realize he had this soft side not until we visited his mother.
Raquel (Mother). Since everyone goes to school/work, I spend most of the day with Raquel. She’s a full-time mother and home-maker and I am impressed on how she runs this family with extreme love and care. She cooks real good food and most of my learning about Uruguayan culture are from here. We’ll spend a whole afternoon talking about everything Uruguay over mate and biscuits. On weekends, she visits her mother living alone in another city. The time that Uruguayans dedicate to family members is impressive!
Dahiana. Funny, smart, kind and a very strong woman. If you think Latin women are underdogs and following instructions from men, then don’t consider Dahiana as a latina. Her personality is so strong that I can relate to her sentiments. She has so much to say about life, living simply, and we jive because she is a hardcore football fan as well! When Raquel is not around, Dahiana takes care of everything in the house. She got the cooking skills of her mother too!
Andres. If there’s one thing that me and Andy strongly share, it’s the idea of there is no Universal rule on how to live your life. Andres has very strong thoughts about not living life in chronological order — going to school, graduating, getting a job, getting married, buying a house, having kids and dogs, and so on. He is really smart — top of his class, spends the weekend studying and thinking about when his next travel will be. I learned about hitchhiking in Uruguay and the rest of the continent through him.
Sebastian. My favorite!!! The youngest of the family, Seba (as we all call him) is so funny! Since he’s into theatre, he always comes with winning punch lines that brings light and laughter through the entire house. He lives in another city so we only see him during weekends but those weekends that he’s in the house was always fun.
They might be different in their ways but there is one factor that this family share in common: politics. Well, Uruguayans in general are concerned with their welfare, politically and economically speaking, and this family reflects that. I was never interested in politics (even in my own country) but whenever I hear them argue about which candidate is which, what system will work well for the country, etc, it gets me thinking.
How To Stay With Uruguayan Families
- Participate. Don’t just lock yourself in the room. You need to talk and join them in their family activities.
- Share your culture. My host was really interested in the Asian culture and I told them a lot about my country. I also cooked the famous Bistek Tagalog for them before I left! They really liked it!
- Help with household chores. Even if the mother does everything, make sure to take part in washing dishes, making your own bed, walking the dogs and volunteering to go to the market.
- Consider yourself as a part of the family. Obey house rules and treat them as your own. With my family stays, my trick of immersing is calling the parents Mama and Papa instead of their first names.
Even if you’re just backpacking, as much as possible, do the things above when staying with a family. Their house is not a hostel and you can’t just do whatever you want! Living like them is the best way of knowing a culture and society of a country.
What was the overall experience like?
Fantastic. One of a kind. One full month of everything Uruguay! I know I say this a lot but still, thank you for the good memories and the amazing experience. I wouldn’t have it any other way — staying with a local family is really the best way to learn about a country. I highly recommend you try it too!