Category Archives: Host Family

Semana Santa!

Spring Break.

These are two very exhilarating words.  Spring connotes a feeling of growth, beauty & freshness, and Break, well, who doesn’t love a break? A break from whatever you are consistently involved with. Whether it’s a fun & exciting thing or a mundane & taxing thing, a break from routine, or a break from reality is always welcome 🙂

For a week or two in March, sometimes April, in America we celebrate Spring Break. Whatever that means for you, whether you take off to a beach resort location, fly to Italy for 8 days, or simply relax in your house with your kiddos, everyone should have a little rest, however they deem worthy. In many Spanish speaking countries,  the time we call Spring Break, there they respectively refer to this time as Semana Santa (Holy Week). This year, Semana Santa official runs Sunday, March 24, 2013 through Easter Sunday on March 31. 2013. (Although this is one of the most popular Latin holidays, many people will take off the Friday before to begin their vacations making the unofficial start date, Fri. March 22nd).

Semana Santa is celebrated in many different ways, depending on country! It’s really an amazing phenomenon because while it’s contrived from the same origin, the method & exposition can be so vastly unique, it’s really quite amazing! Semana Santa is the week leading up to Easter and includes the Christian holidays of Palm Sunday, Maundry Thursday & Good Friday.

Have you investigated how & why Semana Santa is celebrated in YOUR host country? Let’s check out some facts:


In most Provinces of Argentina, Semana Santa is a time of parades, special Masses, Vía Crucis (special religious event – Station of the Cross), reenactments that remember the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Overall, whether you a devout Christian or not, it is a great time to remember & respect the traditions & customs of each town & city.  It is most definitely a time of rest & reflection for those practicing the Catholic faith and those that are not. It is a time of reflection para todo!

The Vía Crucis designates a specific path along which Jesus walked & many people reenact this walk to feel closer to God.

This week is really an amazing time to be in the city of Buenos Aires! For a more detailed calendar of cultural events during this week, visit the Official Website of Buenos Aires.


Costa Rica:

Although small in size, the country of Costa Rica has one of the strongest & largest cultural & religious strengths in Latin America! During Semana Santa the country flares with vitality & presence holding their dramatic religious processions & services, dedicated to the last remaining days of the life of Jesus Christ. The majority of Ticos & Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica consider this to be a time to be spent with their families and with travel to all distances to be able to do so. Because of their AMAZING geographical location, breathtaking coastal lines, and superbly luscious rainforests, many bigger cities are void of locals as they will spend their time off relaxing at the beaches & at tranquil mountain Hot Springs & getaways. Ticos observe the celebration in a variety of ways: bullfights, rodeos, dancing, parades, fireworks, etc.



Other than Christmas, this is one of the TOP, most important religious holidays in the country of Mexico! The country of Mexico is almost 90% catholic therefore making this celebration an almost completely country-wide assembly. A great highlight of this celebration in Mexico is that the weather is absolutely wonderful during this time! Many families go to the beach or enjoy camping. Of course there are the shared traditions such as the reflection of religion, fiestas, processions, vigils, reenactments of the Crucifixion of Christ and the Easter Sunday celebration, but Mexico also holds their own unique version  of the creating of the Palm crosses, celebration of the Good Friday mass and of course the burning of Judas in effigy (for betraying Christ).

Easter Eggs in Mexico? Another unique aspect to the way Mexico celebrates Semana Santa (and the day of Pascua) is with their colored eggs (just like the US!). But in Mexico, the insides are emptied out, filled with confetti & called cascarones.

The reenactments & dramatizations are one of the main ways the Mexicans observe this holiday. In some towns, they go all out as to put on full displays of the Last Supper, the Betrayal, the Judgement, the Procession of the 12 Stations of the Cross, the Crucifixion and, lastly, the Resurrection. Flagellation or even, real crucifixion is often included as well. Some participants will prepare the entire year for these events, therefore making them splendidly staged & very detailed in costumes & acting. It’s quite an amazing time there!



Spain outdoes other European countries in its celebration of Semana Santa. It is eminently renown for its celebration of Semana Santa! The celebrations comes immediately the week before Easter and the most charismatic & entrancing celebrations are in Andalucía (specifically Seville & Málaga).

One of the most iconic visions during this time may be initially off-putting for Americans, however, this traditional garb, called a Nazareno, has been a traditional ornamental dress for this holiday for as long as most can remember! These robes can vary depending on which type of procession they are being used.

Major towns in Spain may have a procession every night of Holy Week! The parades will include a variety of people & displays, including many floats anchored in religious decoration, followed by a plethora of Nazarenos. The Nazarenos are dressed in a long-hooded túnicas made of velvet or satin, and will carry a vela. Some may carry a sceptres. During the processions, people carry statues of saints on floats or wooden platforms. Some may discern a sense of mourning, which may seem oppressive to foreigners. The end of the Easter week & all its processions will blast off with Easter Sunday – a day full of light & color; cathedral & church bells can be heard blaring throughout the cities and mostly all of España.


Of course this wonderful & very traditional holiday is celebratated around the world and spawned from the same, very magical religious meaning! We hope that during this time you take a moment to relish in some of the very fun, and traditional ways your host country celebrates La Semana Santa and everything it encompasses! 🙂

Sol Education Abroad Packing Suggestions!

Are you getting ready to go? Check out the Study Abroad Store & Sol Education Abroad‘s collaboration on packing suggestions:

Argentina Program


  • Pack light: leave a little room for the things you will buy while abroad!
  • Lightweight clothing (Argentine summer only)
  • Swimsuit (Argentine summer only)
  • Sun hat, sun glasses, sunblock (Argentine summer only)
  • Warm hat, gloves, scarf, sweaters (Argentine winter months)
  • Fleece or sweater for any trips to the countryside (Argentine winter months in general)
  • Bring at least one outfit for going out. Argentines tend to dress up more when going out. Guys, make sure you have dressier shoes for this.
  • Comfortable walking shoes. Make sure you break them in before your trip. Also, if you plan on jogging or doing any sports you’ll want to bring the appropriate footwear.
  • Flip flops, typically you have one pair for inside the home. House shoes are an important part of Hispanic cultures

Costa Rica Program


  • Pack light: leave a little room for the things you will buy while abroad
  • Lightweight clothing (especially for weekend excursions)
  • Several pairs of jeans or pants. Although people do wear shorts, they are more likely to wear jeans or pants (both men and women).
  • “Going out clothes”—something you can wear to the theater and out to dance.  For example nice jeans, a nice top, and nicer shoes (guys, pay attention here!). Costa Ricans tend to dress up more when going out.
  • Costa Ricans generally dress up a little more than US students, i.e. they do NOT wear pajama pants, cut-off shorts, athletic clothing, or sweatpants to the university.
  • While at the University it is common for students to wear what we would characterize as “going out” clothes or “business casual”. Shorts are not common to wear to school, although if “dressed up” they would not only be more customary to the situation, but also trendier.
  • Sweatshirt/fleece/sweater/jacket—bring a few it because can get cool in the afternoon and night.
  • Swimsuit
  • Rain jacket
  • Windbreaker/warm-up pants (optional, but can be useful for cloud forest, hiking, and canopy tour to keep you warm and dry if it is rainy and windy).
  • Fleece, sweater, light sweatshirt or hoodie (for Poás Volcano)—you’ll need it!


  • Comfortable walking shoes for walking in the city and hiking. Make sure you break them in before your trip.
  • Sneakers for jogging, gym, soccer, or other sports.
  • Water sandals with a back strap (not flip flops) for rafting. You want shoes that you can get wet but will protect your feet and not fall off in a current. (Aqua Socks, Tevas or Chacos sandals, or sneakers.)
  • Flip flops; typically, in Costa Rica, you have one pair for inside the home. House shoes are an important part of Latin American cultures.

Mexico Program


  • Pack light: leave a little room for the things you will buy while abroad!
  • Lightweight clothing (layering is good)
  • Bring at least one outfit for going out. Mexicans tend to dress up when going out. For the guys, please make sure you have dressier shoes for this!
  • Comfortable walking shoes. Make sure you break them in before your trip! We’ll be hiking and walking around pretty often so make sure you can use these shoes for that. Also, if you plan on jogging or doing any sports you’ll want to bring the appropriate footwear.
  • Sun hat, sun glasses, swimsuit
  • Light fleece or sweater (for the evenings in Oaxaca)
  • Jacket, fleece , warm sweater for the Sierra Norte trips, it can get very cold in the mountains
  • Rain jacket, pants (if you have them)
  • Flip flops; typically you have one pair for inside the home. House shoes are an important part of Hispanic cultures.

Spain Program


  • Pack light: leave a little room for the things you will buy while abroad!
  • Lightweight clothing (summer). Air conditioning is not common in Spain – pack accordingly!
  • Swimsuit, sun hat, sun glasses, towel, sunblock (summer)
  • Warm hat, gloves, scarf, sweaters, jacket (winter)
  • Fleece or sweater for any mountain trips (winter months in general, for Alpujarras trips year-round)
  • Bring at least one outfit for going out. Spaniards dress up more when going out. Guys and girls, make sure you have dressier shoes for this! Tennis shoes are not allowed in many evening places.
  • Comfortable walking shoes! Make sure you break them in before your trip to avoid blisters. Also, if you plan on jogging or doing any sports you’ll want to bring the appropriate footwear. Granada is a great place for jogging.
  • Flip flops; typically you have one pair for inside the home. House shoes are an important cultural aspect of Hispanic cultures

Un regalo for your Host Family!

So, you’re going away! You’re gathering up your belongings and packing what you can into 1 or 2 suitcases (definitely not more!). You also get the wonderful opportunity to stay with a local host family. Don’t forget to stuff something into your suitcase for them!

You’ll get to share three meals a day with them and through their lifestyle learn the language & culture. The Host Family is one of the BEST ways to completely immerse yourself in your host culture. This will be your greatest and most intimate contact with the culture and people of your host country.

Now, what to bring them? Not only is it a nice gesture to someone welcoming you into their home, but it’s a nice ice breaker and also gives them a glimpse into YOUR culture 🙂

We have some ideas of gifts for your host family, but we also want to share with you what some of our students have taken to their host family.

Sol suggestions:

  • A small, inexpensive regional gift from the states (such as a coffee mug, postcard book, small bottle of maple syrup or hot sauce, etc.). Food items that the family can share always work well.
  • Something for the house (maybe a coffee table book from your state, a kitchen towel, etc.)
  • Family-style board games (that don’t require a language), local treats like preserves, candies, or maple syrup, a coffee-table photo book of their hometown, or a dry baking mix like blueberry muffins, biscuits, or scones

Alumni advice:

  • “I bought my Mama Tica an angel chime... She hung it by the door, and still tells me she thinks of me every time she hears it! I got a fashion watch for my sister and toys for mi hermano! Food is always good too! My second time I brought my moms Xmas cookies and a pretty picture frame. Ok I want to go back now!”- Emily Mullen (Wisconsin)  – Costa Rica
  • “I brought my Mama Tica a waffle iron… waffles are my favorite breakfast…. once I showed her how to make it she made them almost everyday… her daughter is like in love with waffles now and if was a nice start to the time being there… I also got the daughter her own gift and the family some picture frames…” – Lauryn Green (Southern California) – Costa Rica
  • “I bought my mama Oaxaquena a personalized spatula from my University because she loved to cook and also I bought a Christmas ornament!“- Brandi Moore (Kentucky) – Mexico
  • “I work at a boutique so I knew my family was religious and I brought them a handmade pearl cross for their wall”- Kasey Hirl (Texas) – Costa Rica
  • “I spent 3 weeks with 2 families in Japan in high school. I got each individual something small (like a Superman t-shirt for the teenage boy, jump rope for the 8 year-old girl), etc. As a family gift, I created a small scrapbook. It featured photos of my family, school, friends, and hobbies. The photos were then captioned (as best as possible) in both English and Japanese – so that they could show off where I was from!” – Karolyn Wotjowicz (Indiana) (Colleague &  Study Abroad Alumni)
  • “Spent a week in Costa Rica and I brought my family some maple syrup from home and they LOVED it.”- Ben Marx (New Hampshire) – Costa Rica
  • “I got a key chain of my state cause every student gets a home key in Argentina.” – Laury Valdes (Alabama) – Argentina
  • “I brought a candle to my host family. Somehow we lost something in translation and my host family thought it was something to eat. They liked it once they realized what it was though!”– Parker Tibbets (Texas) – Mexico
  • “I took a little photo album with pictures that i felt best resembled me. Also, being a Texan, it wasn’t hard to find souvenirs to take over to represent the Lone Star State; which they loved!!!”- Jory Garcia (Texas) – Spain
  • “I brought food that was only made in my state. and candy they loved it!”- Mat Walter (Minnesota) – Costa Rica
  • “When I went to Costa Rica I brought a few things like a coffee table book of my hometown and a t-shirt for the kid but my host mother absolutely loved the cook book that I brought!!”- Zoe Rianna – Costa Rica

The Host Family gift shouldn’t be anything too expensive or fancy, but it is a nice offering & an opportunity to share with them about your culture as well!

Please feel free to email us ( or post on the Facebook wall about an other suggestions you have and would like to see added to our list! Even things that didn’t work out – did you have a bust of a Host Family gift, and wish you would have had something as awesome as this helpful blog post to guide you on choosing an item? We’d love to hear your funny tales of the Host Family Gift that DIDN’T Quite make the cut. Or! Do you have a funny story like Parker? How did the communication go when you first presented them with your gift? Did they want to eat your candle? Let us know!

Texas Table Cactus – maybe not take this on the plane, but it’s an idea!