As I leave the Metro station and begin the long trek up the hill towards the piso after a long day of classes and commuting, I look forward to my return to the wonderful company of my host parents and an amazing meal. Living with a host family is definitely one of the highlights of my experience so far, and I recommend it to everyone who is interested in studying abroad! I always knew I wanted to stay with a host family, because I wanted a chance to practice speaking Spanish and to experience and witness the daily life in Madrid.
My host family is an older (but still very vibrant and full of character) couple who live in an area called El Centro—within a short walking distance to the art museums, El Buen Retiro Park, and a central transportation system. It is the perfect location! I have visited the Prado a few times as well as the Reina Sofia, and I frequently go to the park to walk for a bit as well as use the library within its walls. I also have a housemate who is in IES Abroad, and when we first arrived, our host parents took us on a walk through Retiro to show us the most popular sites, although we didn’t even make it through the entire thing, it’s that big!
I first arrived at the piso at about the time it would have been midnight for me in Colorado, so I was a little tired but very excited to be in Madrid! I was a bit nervous about the language aspect, as I’ve mentioned in prior blogs, because it has been a while since I had last taken Spanish, and I was worried that I would stumble in conversations and forget words and have to result to miming and Google Translate—all of which has happened. But since then, I have also improved my grammar, learned new vocabulary, had substantive conversations, and even watched full length movies. On that first morning, they sat me down with a café con leche and some pan with mermelada, and we were able to communicate with them, basic details about ourselves and the schedule I would have in the next few days. While I unpacked, I shared the gifts I had brought them: a calendar with pictures that could only hope to capture the beauty of Colorado, chocolate treats from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, and a small jar of homemade jelly from my grandfather. I wanted to bring things that both represented where I was from and could be useful (or tasty)!
- TIP 1: Bring a host gift, it can be something small, just as a thank you for welcoming you into their home!
When I first had a meal at my homestay, it was dinner, and it was at 9 PM, as per custom. But it was delicious chicken with rice, gazpacho, and bread. I loved the chicken and rice, but the gazpacho was a taste I’m not sure I particularly enjoyed. I didn’t want to mention that I didn’t like it per se, but my host mom noticed I wasn’t eating it, and told my roommate and I that if that happened again to let her know because she never wanted us to have food we didn’t want to eat. Since then I have felt more comfortable telling her what I want to eat, although it is not totally necessary since I have loved almost everything I have eaten there!
- TIP 2: Definitely try to talk with your host parents if something is bothering you or you need something, because they may not know about it and usually only want to help!
My room is not big, but it is comfortable and I have a desk to do work if I need to, as well as an armoire for all of my clothes. I get breakfast and one other meal a day that I can choose according to my schedule. I love when I have lunch, or la comida as they call it in Spain, because I can eat with my host parents and talk about my day, their day or whatever else might be on our minds. They are very animated and we communicate with both Spanish and body language as we share stories or talk about other things. It was in this way that I found out my host dad also loves to read, and loves to watch Marvel movies, Star Wars, and Game of Thrones too! Because of this, just the other night they ordered pizza and we watched Black Panther! Although I may not be able to bond so much over fútbol, I am glad I found an area where I could!
- TIP 3: Utilize the time you have with your host family to get to know them, practice the language, and learn the ins and outs of the city you are in!
Sometimes it can be daunting to begin your stay in a foreign country in the home of someone who is at first a stranger. There are certain cultural differences that you’ll need to adjust to, such as wearing “slippers” or flip flops in the house, or taking much shorter showers, that should be discussed beforehand. I also know it can be especially worrying if you don’t speak the language. But I’m here to tell you, you don’t even need to speak the language before you come! I have several friends, including my roommate who came in with little to no Spanish experience and are now 2 months in able to carry conversations and ask for what they need with only a little help from Google. In such a short amount of time you can learn so much, and continue to learn and practice speaking with your host family, which often if you stay in an apartment or in the dorms, you won’t get as much chance to do so.
- TIP 4: If you don’t have a lot of experience with the language, try to learn basic phrases before you go to be more comfortable! (Duolingo is a great tool, especially for vocab)
Overall, I highly recommend homestays. I am enjoying my experience, and I can’t wait to learn more from and about my host family! And it is important to remember that you get out what you put in in every situation, but it holds true for homestays as well. Put in the time to get to know your family, and you’ll have a much better time!
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<p>Juliana Trujillo is just a girl from Colorado ready to do big things. A love for learning, family support, and food inspired her ambitions to study abroad. She is a Bioengineering major with a Chemistry minor with a passion for promoting STEM equity and equality. In her free time, Juliana loves to read, be outdoors, or read outdoors in addition to spending time with friends and family.</p>