This week, in the Thanksgiving spirit, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m grateful for, especially in my time in España. I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to spend a semester in this wonderful city, and even though Thanksgiving isn’t a Spanish holiday, the fact that we have less than a month less in Spain (¡OSTRAS!) has inspired me to do a lot of reflecting about the things that have made me happy and brought me joy in the last three months. While there are a lot of aspects of Madrid that I adore, one of the things I have come to love the most is my host family.
When I met with Susan last spring, she asked me what I wanted in a Spanish family. I explained that I was super easy going, loved kids or pets, and would be happy anywhere that I could feel at home, but that this was the one aspect of abroad that I was the most nervous about. She assured me not to worry, and told me they’d find the right fit for me. She was not wrong.
My host family consists of me, a lovely young couple, Neska (the family dog), and Santino, our new kitten. Joanna is a meteorologist who writes for el País and the Weather Channel, among other cool jobs, and Rubén is a former member of the Spanish Army Special Forces, who is now an actor. So, in short, they are both WAY cooler than I am. Not a joke. We live in a cozy apartment in Tetuán/Cuatro Caminos, a cool and quiet barrio in the northern part of Madrid.
There are so many reasons to love Joanna and Rubén (and Neska/Santino), that I couldn’t possibly explain it all in one blog post. For instance, when I go on trips outside of Madrid for the weekend, Joanna, weather-woman extraordinaire, will sit down with me and go over a detailed forecast of what I should expect: temperature, rain, wind… the works. She makes sure I have enough layers before I leave, or that I’m equipped with an umbrella and a scarf. She never fails to greet me with dos besos after a crazy day of class or invite me to grab una cerveza with her friends, and we’ve spent countless hours giggling and judging the critically acclaimed (*not acclaimed at all) Spanish TV show “First Dates.” Rubén loves Star Wars and James Bond, and tells me incredibly interesting stories about his time in the army or his acting pursuits. He’s an excellent cook, and can always be counted on for a quick-witted joke at the dinner table. One time, when I had to be at Barajas airport for an early flight to Munich, he volunteered to willingly get up at 5am and drive me across the city so I didn’t have to hail a taxi, which ranks top 5 on the list of “Nicest Things Anyone Has Ever Done for Me.” They’ve made me like seafood (no small task), and put up with me waking up early because I’m more productive in the mornings. All in all, they’re wonderful.
In the best possible way, my host family knows how to “Mom” me without treating me like a kid. While I was chatting with Joanna midway through the semester about my time in Spain, and how much I liked living with them, she told me about her “host family” philosophy; she explained that her and Rubén wanted to be there for me and be my family in whatever way I wanted and needed, but also give me the space knowing that I am an adult (even if most Spanish people think that I’m 15). Knowing friends who have had nightmare living situations abroad, I was struck by how great this mentality was, and how well it worked for what I was looking for: The ability to adventure, but at the same time an affectionate and warm place to come home to. Joanna’s family (her grandmother, Eva, and Mom, Belén) have been hosting American students for over 25 years now, and it seems to me that Joanna (and Rubén) have taken that experience as part of their identity and know how to make their house feel like home.
So although there are a lot of things in Madrid that I’m grateful for, like tortilla española, strolls through Parque Retiro, Spanish coffee, or getting to see Las Meninas and hang around the Prado twice a week, the thing I’m most grateful for is the lovely host family that has taken me into their lives and opened their home to a college kid from Boston. To Joanna and Rubén, the coolest host parents in the world, I say “muchísimas gracias y os quiero un montón.”
Word of the week: Ostras = “Yikes!”