During my time off from school I was looking for a program that would help me better my Spanish and allow me to immerse myself in another culture, and I can confidently say that Oyster provided exactly that. What I really loved about this program was the freedom and independence it allowed for. The Oyster correspondents were all helpful and were always happy to answer questions and concerns and provide a schedule of events, but the program structure was flexible enough that it allowed me to adjust for trips I wanted to take.
My favorite part of this experience was living with a host family. I think I was the first person to be dropped off at the respective host families' houses, and at first, I won't lie, I was terrified and thought I had made a horrible mistake. I was alone with a foreign family in a foreign country and had no one around me speaking English. The Chilean Spanish, if you didn't already know, might be one of the most difficult dialects to understand. I came in thinking I was semi-fluent and would have no problem conversing intellectually, but when my host mom asked if I wanted any tea, all I could answer was "que?". There was a lot of hand motioning and "sorry?" in the beginning, but don't let the language be a barrier because I ended up doing just fine.
The families don't see you as just a person staying in an extra room, but really want to integrate you into their family. I had a host brother to show me around and teach me the chilean slang. At the end of the three months I really felt like part of the family.
As far as the packing list went, it could be hit and miss depending on the school you were paired with. At my school I was fine in jeans and sneakers, but at some of the other schools the dress code was more strict and I would have needed a dress or skirt and tights.
The school I taught at had a bit of a "go with the flow" style - I think this might be a common cultural mentality. At first it was stressful for me not to have a concrete job or schedule, but once I accepted the organized chaos I felt much more relaxed and enjoyed my time with the kids. The teachers were all very welcoming and even threw a party for us at the end of my time there. Because many of the kids had never heard a native English speaker, I felt like I could really add to their education.
Traveling around the Patagonia region wasn't required of the volunteers, but I think most of us wanted to explore the natural beauty of the area. There was a trip to Laguna San Rafael that was offered through a separate program which was amazing and fully worth the money. The other trips I went on were either with my host family, or organized by myself and some of the other volunteers. Oyster offered connections to different trips, but also gave us the freedom to plan trips ourselves which is what we ended up doing most of the time.
By the end of the program I had tried an assortment of traditional Chilean meals, become part of a Chilean family both at home and at my school, integrated into the culture, learned to converse in coherent Spanish, and explored the rest of the Aysén region. It was an incredible experience that was greatly beneficial not only to my Spanish, but also to my ability to adapt to new environments and appreciate cultural differences.