GABRIEL CANO- I’ve been living in Madrid for a little over a month now with a lovely family of 5, which includes my Mamá Carmen, Papá Jaime, brothers Pablo and Santi (20 and 26 years old), and sister Icíar (23 years old). While there was certainly a transition period during the beginning of my Spanish cultural assimilation, I’m eternally grateful that my hosts have done everything in their power to make me feel as part of the family as possible. This was most evident on my birthday only a few days ago. I had been out late the night before, so I ended up sleeping until 1 PM (for sure the latest I ever got up on my birthday!). I woke up to the most drool-inducing aroma coming from the kitchen—while I had been slumbering, Jaime had been laboring away on paella de marisco. This is a typical Spanish dish made up of a mouth-watering stew consisting of prawn, calamari, mussels, shrimp, clams, and probably even more seafood species, all served over yellow rice. Alongside my host dad, Icíar was mashing avocados for her homemade guacamole, also known as the best dip known to humankind. That wasn’t all—next to my host sister, Carmen (bless her soul) was making me a homemade cheesecake… Are they kidding me? There was barely any room in the kitchen with everyone toiling away—all for me! Waking up to a family of Spaniards, who I’d known for less than a month, making me the best birthday lunch banquet feast I could dream of out of the kindness of their own hearts, was among one of the most uplifting moments I’ve felt in recent memory. They even let me invite my program buddies Christian and Farley over to eat. They, along with Carmen’s 88 year old father, made it a 9 person lunch, which went on for hours stuffed with lively conversations, toasts, and hilarious anecdotes.
After this unforgettable afternoon, I began to fully realize the true reason why my family here hosts American students like me semester after semester. I assume that there are certain people that are hosting students mostly for the money they receive from the program– however, based on our nightly sobremesas (1-3 hour long post-dinner sessions where the conversation never seems to end), my siblings allowing me to tag along when they go out with their friends, and especially my birthday lunch, it’s safe for me to say that simply earning the income isn’t my family’s main motivation. Carmen, Jaime, Icíar, Pablo, and Santi are intending to bring me in as one of their own. This was made more evident earlier tonight when my family invited Emma to dinner– Emma was a Skidmore student they hosted 3 years ago. The fact that Emma is still having dinner with my host family 3 years later shows that these people want to develop real, loving, long-lasting relationships with their guests. Waking up to my hosts making my birthday lunch solidified this Madrid apartment as a real second home, and my hosts as a second family for me to come back to for decades to come.