When preparing to study abroad, everyone asked me where I was living and I knew that I’d be staying with a host family; however, it never dawned on me that it meant native Spaniards! It wasn’t until I was picked up from the airport that it truly hit me: I need to be speaking Spanish because these people aren’t my professors from college, we can’t just pause the Spanish and ask a question in English. When I met my host family I quickly learned that they do not know any English. But, that doesn’t mean communication is impossible, quite the opposite. I find it thrilling using my Spanish repertoire I’ve stored over the past five years to communicate with the family.
For example, every day I always have a story to tell the host family; whether it be about classes, something funny that happened in the metro, or something my family back home wanted me to tell them, I am communicating with them. Most nights during the week we eat dinner together and everyone shares stories and we talk about plans for the weekend. These moments are the ones I cherish greatly because this is when I learn the most. The family is so patient and listens when I conjugate verbs wrong but then go back and fix it, or when use the wrong article of a noun. They have a lot of patience and I admire what they’re doing.
Furthermore, in general, families that take in foreign exchange students typically make careers out of it. I find that absolutely fascinating! In the United States, most families wouldn’t want to take in a student from a foreign country because we aren’t very social and we like our privacy. However, here in Spain, it’s very common for students to be living with families abroad.
One great bonus of staying with a host family is being given the opportunity to learn about not just the youth culture but the adult culture. One weekend I went to a brand new food festival in Las Ventas’s Plaza de Toros accompanied by my host mom. It’s completely different navigating a city when you’re a foreigner compared to being led by a native. Another advantage of living with a host family is the incredible food they provide you with. Every day the host family cooks for me, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The dinners are when the Spanish culture shines through! From paella, tortilla española, purees, gazpacho, jamon serrano, chorizo, to all the cheese and bread you could imagine.
Overall, despite not having thought through the decision of choosing to live with a host family, it’s one of the most amazing experiences of my life and has truly transformed my study abroad experience. My Spanish family brings me a lot of comfort and I know they’ll make returning home to the States very hard! I’m so thankful for their love and support in this very scary and challenging time.