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Navigating Homestay Relationships

April 26, 2018

Navigating homestay relations while on study abroad is a difficult task. While I am not staying long enough to be treated as another familial member, I am also expected to have more responsibilities than a passing guest.

I am given keys to the home and have my own room, yet I am only allowed to use certain appliances in the kitchen and have hardly entered into my homestay mother’s bedroom. Though my homestay mother will occasionally invite me to eat leftover food from the fridge or a pastry she bought in the evening, I should not rely on her generosity, since program rules stipulate that I should buy my own dinner. Though she introduces me as mi niña, ‘my young girl,’ to all of her friends, I still have yet to remember the names and relations of all of these people she knows.

The truth is: I occupy a strenuous position between a daughter, a friend, and a means of economic income for my homestay mother. And while this can be an occasional source of confusion and tension, it has led to so many unexpected sweet moments with my homestay mother.

First things first- my homestay mother’s name is Fanny, she is a woman over the age of 50 (who’s exact age I will not divulge). She is a widow, and a mother, though her son no longer lives in her apartment. Fanny spends her extra time acting for benefit shows, taking care of her friend’s cats when they are away, furniture shopping for her son’s new apartment, and cooking food as colorful as her personality. In a few words, she’s incredibly animated, warm and amiable to every person she meets.

Although she speaks with a rapid Andalusian Spanish accent, she’s a natural storyteller, and will often pull out old photo albums to show me and my homestay sister what it was like to grow up in Granada, or live in Paris with her French husband. Every object in her house has a story—the mugs given to her by former study abroad students, the colorful lamps bought by her friends for her birthdays, the paintings made by family members—and these objects all form part of her own narrative.

When I found out that Fanny had a keyboard that was gifted to her by her brother, I thought it would be a perfect way for me to learn how to play the piano (after several previous attempts). Yet, when I asked if I could borrow the keyboard, she told me that I could only use it if I had a certain level of expertise, since she didn’t want me to break the keyboard, since it was so special to her. At the time, I remember being taken aback by her mistrust of me. But in these past few months, I’ve learned that Fanny’s home and her habits form a part of who she is, and the people who have been most important to her in her life- and we are an active part of that process. After coming back from Prague for spring break, I brought her back a colorfully decorated egg-shaped candle, which she has since exhibited in one of the mantles in her living room-- along with the cards I wrote her for Valentine's Day and before her concert. 

As she mops, and cleans dishes, and washes laundry endlessly—she prepares a place that is always open for people to come to and feel at home. One day, while having tapas together, a friend asked Fanny where she thought the best churros were sold in Granada. Fanny responded by saying, “10am. Tomorrow. My house. I will buy the best churros and you will come over to the apartment and see.” And when we couldn’t finish all of those churros the next morning, she had me message everyone I knew to see if they would want to come over and help finish the churros.

Adjusting to being in a homestay is not always easy, but it is incredibly rewarding;  seeing the smile on Fanny’s face when we bought her flowers for Valentine’s Day, rehearsing lines with her for a theater performance, coming back after a weeklong trip to find Fanny and her friend playing the guitar, singing on a karaoke microphone and giggling like little girls— moments like this really just remind me of joyous occasion of each day.


The other week, Fanny asked us to write down a bucket list of all the things we wanted to do together during the rest of our time in Spain. Included on this list were:

  • Have a night of películas, partidos y pizza (movies, games and pizza)
  • Have a picnic up in the mountains
  • Watch another live concert
  • Visit the beaches near Granada
  • Celebrate Fanny’s youth (otherwise known as her birthday party)

Needless to say, though I only have few weeks left in Granada, my relationship with my homestay mother is an incredible, confusing, unpredictable experience that I continue to look forward to.    

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