During our first few days in Madrid, we learned about the difference between personal space in Spain and the Unites States. We witnessed our peer mentors kiss and touch in ways that most Americans would consider intimate. To acclimate, throughout orientation we tested our boundaries by approaching each other and having what we would call “uncomfortably close” conversations. We circled our partners and played with the distance between our bodies. I have no clue how we looked to anyone walking by, but I know the room was filled with the laughter of uncomfortable college students.
On the last day of orientation my host parents came to pick me up and take me to my home for the next few months. Like all of my peers who had received personal space training and been pushed to adapt the social norms of Spain, our host parents had received similar training. But instead of being taught about giving dos besos to your friends and acquaintances, they were told that we might appear cold or distant because we are not accustomed to standing, sitting, or existing in such close proximity to other human beings.
From the beginning, it seemed like a recipe for miscommunication: students feeling weird standing so close to their host mom, looking them in the eye as they talk about their day, and host parents wondering if the student is okay, why they are behaving so distant, and why they are so cold.
This was not my experience.
From day one, I have felt at home in Madrid. I don’t know if it is because I am from San Francisco and grew up speaking Spanish, or because I like to travel, or something completely different. At the hotel, my host mom came up to me and gave me the customary dos besos. We carried my luggage out of the hotel where we were greeted by my host dad who also gave me dos besos on my cheeks. Antonio and Manuela are two incredible people. I live with them, their daughter Reyes and a feisty Chihuahua named Sansa. Manuela is an incredible artist and cook. I especially love her chicken, soup, tortilla, mashed potatoes, and squash. The food is simple, delicious, and truly made with love. On the other hand, Antonio is kind, a recently retired plumber, and an avid dog lover. Their daughter Reyes is a happy and hard working physiotherapist who splits her time between work and friends. My host family has taught me a lot. They are some of the most genuine people I have met. They remind me to live everyday to the fullest and have shared their lives with me.
I have been in Spain now for over a month and I can’t imagine having a better experience than the one I am having thus far. Before traveling to Madrid I didn’t indicate any preferences for the composition of my host family with the exception of living in a non-smoking household. I honestly had no preferences and wanted to let the world take me where it would. With most of my study abroad experience and more recently in my life, this is what I have done. I have found that things work out the best when I have approached a situation with the same open mindedness and relaxation that I did when picking and meeting my host family.