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The CIEE Diaries: Teach Abroad - Two Week Immersion: Living in a Spanish Household

Spain, Aranjuez
I completely forgot to take pictures of my homestay. So here's me in front of a Spanish palace. We can pretend that this was my host home.

For the Two-Week Immersion experience, I had the privilege of living with a husband and wife that were in their mid-thirties. The homestay was a great opportunity to get a crash course in Spanish culture while taking my language classes. After my host homestay was over, I moved in with a Spanish woman, her two sons, and another Spanish girl, so I've become fairly familiar with life in a Spanish home at this point.

Let me start off by saying that I have experienced nothing but absolute warmth, openness, kindness, and generosity from all of the Spanish people I've encountered. To be invited as a guest into a Spanish home is an extra demonstration of generosity for them, and it shouldn't be taken lightly. Their home is their haven, and if you're going to make a good impression, your first job should be to learn their expectations and be aware of your own as well.

1. There's a solid chance that all the lessons your momma taught you about doing dishes after dinner are going to be thrown out the window while staying in the home of a Spanish woman. In many cases, the woman of the house considers it her duty and responsibility to take care of the cleanup. You can bring your dishes to the sink, but taking over the rinsing duties will likely make your host uncomfortable. After my first few attempts at helping with the dishes, I was asked very directly, "Why are you doing this?" I was a little taken aback, as I just assumed it's what everyone was supposed to do. Nevertheless, I'd highly encourage you to try to help in whatever way possible- just don't be forceful about it. Read the room, champ.

2. Continuing in vein of mealtime etiquette, let's talk food preferences. While younger generations are aware of and happy to accommodate dietary restrictions, a señora (an older Spanish woman) may need you to explain how being a vegan or vegetarian works. One of my friends is a pescatarian, and her señora was extremely confused by this. She kept asking, "But you eat chicken, right? Pork? Beef?" It boggled her mind. That being said, your host will be happy to accommodate your dietary restrictions, you may just have to explain yourself a little bit. Be patient.

3. While I did not have to deal with this, on rare occasions, some host families imposed curfews. This is not because they think they are your parents. It's more because they like to get a good night's sleep. They don't want to hear you stumbling in at 4:00 (or 5 or 6) in the morning. My experience was the opposite. Our host family actually left on the weekends to go see their kids, so my roommate and I had the apartment to ourselves. We didn't do anything crazy, and I doubt this is anywhere near typical, but it serves to show that there's really no predicting some parts of your host family experience.

4. Going barefoot is considered a little strange in Spain. Get some fuzzy socks or slippers just to avoid causing your host family to be afraid that you'll get pneumonia.

5. Electricity is expensive. Air conditioning is a luxury, so don't expect to get much of it. Your homestay may not even have an air conditioner, and if they do, they probably won't have it running much. Practice sleeping in a way that your legs and arms don't touch each other to minimize the sweating. I'm only partially joking about this. Also, be extra mindful about turning off the lights when you're not using them. 

6. Spaniards live in the moment. This means that plans are fluid and sometimes expectations aren't always communicated explicitly like we're used to in the States. There were a couple of times that my host mom sent me a message that I could have sworn meant one thing, but she actually meant something else. It's a learning experience, and sometimes you have to roll with it until you really get the hang of hearing/reading what they don't say as well as what they do say.

7. At the end of your homestay, give them a gift to remind them of you. It can be something from home, or something you buy while in Madrid. It doesn't have to be a big thing- just let it come from the heart. I made them a picture of an outline of Arkansas with a heart drawn where my hometown of Batesville is. My roommate got them a candle and beautiful glass bottle for refrigerating their water. 

To reiterate my introduction: in general, the Spanish people are incredibly warm and loving. My host family was so kind and thoughtful during our two weeks with them. They took us to dinner a couple of times, and we all worked hard battling the language barrier. Bea, our host mom, helped recommend a few good places for getting some new summer shoes since I had walked the soles out of mine. On our last night, she made a full dinner, and we spent the evening eating, laughing, and sharing stories. My two weeks with my host family and roommate were so helpful with getting adjusted to life in Madrid.


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