By Kimberly Abbott

Inside the tangerine home perched above the Pacific ocean in the picturesque town of Valparaiso, Chile, American student Jordan Palmer helps his homestay mom, Teresa, prepare a traditional Chilean meal for their visitors. Jordan is a rising senior at Vassar College, and for the past four months he has been studying in Chile on an SIT Study Abroad program.

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Valparaiso, which means “Paradise Valley,” is the site of SIT’s Cultural Identity, Social Justice and Community Development program, which examines the political, economic, and social changes that have shaped Chile, including its cultural identity, community fabric, and development.

The orange house has been Jordan’s home base for the semester. A critical part of every SIT Study Abroad program, the homestay gives students an opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the culture by living with a local family. Teresa and her husband, Isaias, have welcomed SIT students for the past 7 years, or 15 semesters.

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In fluent Spanish — English isn’t spoken in the house — the two banter about politics, education and class systems in Chile. Jordan asks Teresa about the struggles her family faced during the Pinochet regime, and her thoughts about the current Bachelet administration. “Sitting around the dinner table with my family is my favorite part of the day,” Jordan says. “We talk about everything. Nothing is off-limits.”

For her part, Teresa says she loves learning about America from the students she hosts. And fueling them with her cooking.

“I have a hot meal waiting for me every night,” Jordan says, flashing Teresa an easy smile. “I love these,” he says, biting into an empanada. “I’m going to miss them when I go home!”

It is clear that Jordan and his host mom have formed a deep connection that will last far beyond his semester abroad. When asked if she is still in contact with the students that came before Jordan, Teresa replies enthusiastically, “Si, Si!”

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Listen to this conversation between Jordan, Teresa and World Learning Board Chair Tom Hiatt, who visited the program as part of a presidential delegation to Chile and Argentina in May.

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