EMILY FRITZSON- I love this study abroad program for many reasons, but hands down, without a doubt, no competition, my host family takes the top spot. I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little reluctant about the idea of living with a host family way back when I was just beginning to check out study abroad programs. I had heard about a bad experience that a distant relative had had living abroad with a host family, and there’s always the possibility of clashing with a person or family that you’re matched with based on a written questionnaire. And quite frankly, the idea of simply showing up at the doorstep of someone you’ve never even spoken with before but are expected to live with for four months was somewhat daunting.
I was surprised at the wide variety of responses I got from people when I told them I would be living with a Spanish host for the duration of my time abroad. Most replied with delight and reassurance while one classmate of mine immediately replied, “Oh I could never live with a host family!” I took the more pessimistic responses with a grain of salt but kept myself from setting my expectations too high.
When we all arrived in Spain, we spent the first couple of days at a hotel, where our host families came to retrieve us after one night. All of us were instructed to wait in the lobby of the hotel and told that staff would come and find us when our hosts had arrived. I think my time waiting in that hotel lobby were some of the most nerve-racking moments of my life.
But my worry dissolved the minute that I was introduced to my family. My host mother Gema and her youngest daughter Nerea greeted me with big smiles and the traditional Spanish kisses. Gema immediately commented on how tall I am and how much prettier I was in person than in the picture the program had sent them (which I’d admittedly still love to get my hands on!). They helped me carry my luggage to the car, where my other host sister Claudia was waiting. I was pleasantly surprised when all three separately told me that I had the least amount of luggage of all the students they had hosted. I had been worried that there would be awkward silence during the car ride but the conversation flowed with ease. Things only improved from there, and I don’t regret for minute choosing to live with a host family. I’d recommend it to anyone in a heartbeat over living with other American exchange students.
One of my initial concerns was that I would feel out of place in their home. But since those moments of anticipation before meeting them, I have never experienced any feelings of anxiety or discomfort surrounding my hosts. I immediately felt comfortable walking around the apartment in my pajamas, with wet hair and no makeup. Although it took time, just like it has at Skidmore, my room now feels like my room. I actually look forward to returning home after a weekend away.
Without a doubt, my favorite part of my day is eating dinner with my family. It’s when I feel most apart of the family. Especially during my bouts of homesickness, it’s very comforting to sit down to a “family dinner.” They always make me a wonderful meal and the conversation is always lively if sometimes disjointed because of our uneven Spanish language skills. Although we often have moments of miscommunication, I’ve never felt self-conscious of my language limitations or mistakes. They are more than understanding of the learning curve and have been very patient with me. I ask questions about conjugations and vocabulary, and they are all more than happy to help. I think my Spanish has improved more in my homestay than anywhere else in Spain, including my classes.
There’s a feeling of authenticity I get from living with a Spanish family that I would have missed out on had I just lived with other American students. It’s comforting and eye opening to see what regular, daily life is like in Spain, especially since I idealized Spanish life before arriving. When I feel like I’ve had a monotonous day of class, work, and commuting, as if I’m not living the “abroad dream,” it’s encouraging to realize that my host sisters have had similar sorts of days. My host family grounds me. They’ve shown me what it’s truly like to live the life of a local, something I wish to be (and think I’m growing to become) here in Spain.