Home away from Home.. Living with a Host Family!

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As this is my first study abroad experience, this is also my first experience living with a host family. I would absolutely recommend it if you have the opportunity!

First and foremost, I would like to address that yes – it might be intense and even uncomfortable at first. It probably will be! For me, I felt totally nervous walking into my host family’s house the first day. It’s a completely new environment, with an entirely new set of rules and cultural customs to abide by. It helped me to take the first few days to simply observe how things around the house functioned, and to not be afraid to ask questions – including if I forgot something they’d already mentioned! Try to get to know your host family and don’t forget to let them get to know you too – they’re also meeting someone new for the first time and it’s up to all of you to create a comfortable environment. It can be hard establishing your personal boundaries while respecting all of the boundaries of the house, or in other words – understanding where you fit into this new environment in a way that feels like you are honoring what you want as well as what the family wants from you. For me, this was a really important opportunity to sit with any discomfort that arose and practice being flexible, but also a key chance to practice identifying my needs and advocating for myself.

That being said, I really believe the experience of living with a family while studying abroad is unmatched. Especially for first-time travelers, being able to live with a family literally means you’ll have a home away from home, and honestly it feels really comforting knowing you have people who are looking out for you. Also – I can’t talk enough about how thankful I am to have home-cooked meals while studying abroad – the best!!

To be able to travel to a country is one thing, but to be able to live with a family in their home; watching the local Madrid news after dinner with them, seeing the Neruda poetry collection that decorates their bookshelves, eating the gazpacho and oranges they’ve prepared for dinner – it’s unparalleled. I have the privilege of listening to my host señora talk about her experiences in Madrid after the country’s civil war, while other students in my program are able to hear their 7th grade host sister talk about her day in Spain’s public schools. Every one of these conversations bring to life a history and culture we learned across the ocean, and being part of a family’s everyday life and having the privilege to see Spain through their eyes adds such a rich depth to the experience of living in this country.

Not to mention the fact that I’m able to practice my Spanish in a completely immersive but relaxed environment – challenging myself every day to recount what I did and asking my host family for recommendations around the city, but pushing myself further with the support of my host family’s patience and enthusiasm to speak about a variety of subjects. During our lunchtime conversations, I’ve found myself using Spanish to share my experiences with the pandemic in America, to discuss global politics, to discuss my cultural and family background, to talk about my hopes and dreams. I’ve only been in Spain for 2 weeks, and I already feel like my Spanish has grown immensely, simply because I’m surrounded by people who are cheering me on – including at home.