Adapted Repost from “Seville & More” | Alyssa Ward | ISA Veritas Spain Fall 2019
Hold up…not only are you living in a foreign country for 3 months, but you are also living with a family you’ve never met before who doesn’t speak your first language? For some of you, the thought of this may terrify you, overwhelm you, excite you, or all of the above. Your living situation will affect your entire study-abroad experience, so it’s important to make the best choice for you.
When you go abroad, you usually have 3 housing options. You can either stay in an apartment, a dorm, or a homestay. I chose a homestay, and it was the best decision I could have made. In this blog, I am going to share about my personal experience living with my host-mom … and how it made my study abroad experience even better than I expected. Here’s why:
One thing I knew before studying abroad was the fact that there would be over 150 Americans in my program. Though many of my classes were advanced Spanish classes taught by natives, my classmates were all American. With that being said, most of my practice speaking the language came from communicating with my host-mom everyday. I would eat lunch and dinner with her and we would talk for at least an hour at both meals (sometimes even longer). Normally I would tell her how my day was going and what I was learning in my classes. Sometimes we would watch the news together and get into deeper conversations about culture, politics, economics, and religion of Spain and how it differs from the US. Every time I went on a weekend trip, I knew I could always come back to a place that felt like home and share funny stories about my travels. [My host mom] was always willing to have intentional conversations with me, and would correct me if I made any mistakes in the nicest way. There is no way I would have gotten this much practice if I had lived in an apartment.
Immersed in the Culture
Living with [my host mom] really allowed me to get a feel for the Spanish culture. If you live in a homestay, you have to adjust to their daily life. For example, I would eat breakfast at 8am, a big lunch around 2pm, and a light dinner around 9pm because that was when she ate. Because she had lived in Seville her whole life, she was also able to share with me her favorite places and restaurants in the city. When Christmas time came around, I was able to help her put up and decorate a Christmas tree in her living room. She shared with me about the Christmas markets and the massive light display they put up in December. The other family I got connected with even dressed me up in a Flamenco dress, which is a type of dance that originated in Andalusia (the region of Spain I was living in).
For real, who actually wants to cook for themselves when they are studying abroad? Even if you do, your meals are not going to be nearly as good as an authentic, homemade meal cooked by a Spanish native. For those of you who don’t already know, I absolutely love food. Some of the many meals we ate were Tortilla Española (Spanish omelette with egg & potatoes), Croquetas (Fried ham & potatoes), Empañadas, Homemade pizza, chicken and rice, Alfredo or marinara pasta, chorizo or beef stew, and more. Everything was always served with a salad and a loaf of bread. She even made us desserts like tarta de chocolate (chocolate cake) & arroz con leche (creamy rice pudding). In her cabinet, she always had galletas (shortbread cookies filled with chocolate) that we could snack on. They never eat peanut butter in Spain, but she still managed to have a never ending stock of it just for us. So yeah, our host-mom rocked.
While some programs place only you with a family, others allow you to have a roommate. ISA Veritas allowed me to request a roommate since one of my close friends was also doing the same program. This would have been the best of both worlds, I thought, because I would get the authentic homestay experience and have a friend whom I could share it with. I knew I would be speaking to my roommate in English because she didn’t know Spanish, which made me a little nervous at first that I wouldn’t get the full immersion experience. However, it actually worked out really well because I was able to translate for her and my host-mom so they could communicate. This actually helped me with Spanish more.
Of course, there is always a fear that you won’t connect with your family or you will have a bad experience. I had an expectation of living with two parents and a few kids. When I found out I got placed with a host-mom who lived alone, I wondered if that would give me an authentic homestay experience or if I would even connect with her. It was through prayer and reliance on the Lord that gave me peace through these unknowns. Sure enough, a few weeks in I knew that this was exactly where I was meant to be. [My host mom] was the most caring person I had ever met. She touched my life, and I know we made an impact on her life as well. Though I didn’t have any siblings, the Lord opened up another opportunity for me to get to know [another lady], who introduced me to her husband and 3 kids and invited me over once a week. …
The Bottom Line
During my freshman year of college, I loved the idea of living with 3 of my best friends in an apartment while studying abroad. However, as the years went by I began to evaluate the motivations I had for studying abroad. My advice for you would be to make a list of what you want to get out of your experience. If you want to learn a language, live in a homestay. Though it may be more challenging, getting out of your comfort zone will be more rewarding than you would ever expect!