43 days ago, I moved into my Barcelona homestay and it’s been an unreal experience so far. From high school exchanges I have a little experience living in someone else’s home in Europe but those were short-term stays with people I already knew. This, in many ways, feels like a whole new ballgame!

So, in no specific order, here’s everything I wish I knew before moving into my homestay:

1

BE YOURSELF FROM THE GET-GO

“Mia, you were very serious in the beginning, but now you smile a lot!” is basically what my host mom told me just a few days ago at dinner. Dinners at our house are all in Spanish with my roommate, Aileen (who is fluent) our host mom, and host sister. Especially in the beginning of the trip, I was very concerned about understanding every single word they were saying which meant that my face looked focused, serious, and probably frustrated instead of reacting appropriately to the conversation. I wish I was less focused and tense about understanding every word that my host family was saying and simply asked more questions and tried to communicate. After a few weeks under my belt, I feel more comfortable letting them know when I don’t understand and I am working on trying to talk more at dinner. I have noticed that my comprehension has improved in the month that we’ve been here. So, if you are someone who is nervous about living in a homestay because of the awkward language barrier, know it will get better! My host mom is a very talkative person so she’s told me many times that she can talk whenever! She always gets excited when I try my best to speak Spanish with her. 

Our apartment complex with a stunning view of Tibidabo

2

BRING YOUR USUAL FABRIC REFRESHER

I am very grateful that my host mom does our laundry but I can’t deny; the first time I received my load of laundry back it was a little sad because I missed the comfort of putting on a shirt that smells familiar. Clothes get washed a little differently here, so a quick spray of a fabric spray would give me that familiar comforting smell of laundry from home. Also, the way that clothes dry here, either outside or on an indoor drying rack can be conducive to wrinkles so a spray would solve that issue too! Overall, it is a great convenience to have our host mom do our laundry and I am very appreciative, even if it doesn’t smell like home.

My roommate Aileen and I with our host mom and sister.

3

YOU’VE GOTTA MASTER THE 5 MINUTE SHOWER

As I’ve learned, the cost of living in Spain is pretty high. So, when I first got here my host mom stopped me – cold, wet, and wrapped in a towel – on my way back to my room from my shower. She asked me to take a quicker shower next time because it gets expensive to run hot water for so long. I love a nice, long, hot shower at home but I don’t want to cause any more expense on my host mom than I have to! Instead of being annoyed by the new rule, I’ve made it a game or a challenge for myself! Now, I play my favorite and most appropriate song, “Clean” by Taylor Swift (pun intended). It is 4 minutes and 31 seconds long so I get everything done while it’s playing and try to not let the next song play. I still need to improve my skills though because I’ve walked out with suds on my shoulders and in my hair a few times too many. 

Recently I visited the Palau Robert which had a temporary exhibition called “blue gold” that was all about how Catalonia has been a pioneer in the reservation of water since they experienced a severe drought in 2007 and 2008. There is still lots of work to be done but this experience gave me a better idea as to why the usage of water in my homestay is much more regulated than my home in the US. Before I visited this exhibition I thought about how bad I wanted to take a long hot shower at home. Now, I want to change my lengthy showering habits. 

Checking out Palau Robert’s water exhibit.

4

SOME HOMESTAY FAMILIES ONLY SPEAK SPANISH

One morning, I was making toast for myself when I noticed that the “butt” of the loaf was the only piece left. At home, my mom and I toss that piece out unless we are making french toast and I wasn’t sure what my host mom wanted me to do with it. Asking her if she keeps it was the longest conversation I’ve ever had about a piece of bread, but with our combined Spanglish I found out that she eats it. I feel lucky that my host mom speaks a little bit of English, so when I don’t understand what she is trying to tell me or I don’t know how to say something, we still manage to find a way to communicate. 

This luxury isn’t shared with all of my friends, however. They’ve told us that their host moms speak no English at all. Their Spanish isn’t very advanced so this makes communication a little difficult and frustrating for them. There comes a point where you can use all the Spanish you know in the moment and still not really convey what you want to say. My friends have said that the best way to get their point across and understand their host mom is by using hand gestures. Many of us also have group chats with our Spanish families so google translate is a great tool! 

A fun picture with our host mom inspired by the insane amount of oranges we have.

5

DINNER WILL BE THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR DAY

I always look forward to dinner. We typically eat around 8:30-9:00pm. The days I look forward to most are Wednesdays and Sundays. On Wednesday our host mom makes a tortilla de patatas with pan con tomate…and on Sundays, we have a giant stack of bikinis (grilled ham and cheese sandwiches cut in half to resemble a bikini!) While we eat, we usually watch a game show called Pasapalabra. It’s a show about words so I definitely struggle to play along…but I get the jist! One day, we really thought that we were going to see someone win but we are still waiting. #teampablo

I love getting time to sit down and get to know my host family during dinner time. It’s a great time to connect with my host family and get some Spanish practice in. But there are some nights my roommate and I were out and couldn’t eat with our family…and although we were having fun, it was a bummer to send the text to our homestay family that we’d be home late.

And this love and excitement for dinner at our homestays is a shared sentiment within our cohort. One person, Jake, said that “it is awesome to have dinner with them everyday.” He and his roommate often send us videos of them and their host mom watching music videos and dancing. 

Basically, if you have an option to live in a homestay or on your own in an apartment or residence hall, I would recommend the homestay experience every time! It’s an experience that you can make or break all on your own. Before coming, think about what you want from your time living in a homestay and make it happen! I wish I had done that for myself so I could have gotten the most out of my time from the very beginning. It’s normal to be nervous, uncomfortable, and even scared but those feelings will pass and make you stronger and more confident in the future. 

Mia Davis

Mia Davis

Mia is a Nursing major from Illinois Wesleyan University, and studied abroad through a Customized Program in Spring 2021.

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