By Rebecca Land, Missouri State University
Once I decided to study abroad, all of my friends encouraged me to do a homestay. During their study abroad experiences, they had all stayed with local families and they all loved it. I consider myself an independent person so at first, I was skeptical. Back home, I live in a house with one roommate. I’m used to cleaning my house, doing my own laundry, and cooking my own meals. I talked to a representative from the program and they assured me that I could still be independent while living in a homestay. Host families cannot set a curfew for you and you have your own key to come and go as you wish. I ended up doing the homestay route, and while I love my host family, it ended up being a lot different than I expected it to be.
One of the things I never considered was that I might be the only student living with my host family. I didn’t request a separate room, so I assumed I would be sharing a room with another student. It was a little bit of a shock when I arrived to my homestay for the first time and I realized there weren’t any other students staying there.
After living on your own, you don’t realize how hard it is having no control over what you eat or when you eat dinner. Breakfast and dinner are provided by your host family; breakfast is usually things like cereal, bread/pastry, or fruit. My host family left breakfast items for me to eat whenever I wanted. Dinner in Barcelona can be a wide range of things and locals usually eat around the same time every night. My family ate around 9:00-9:30pm and they asked that I let them know a few hours in advance if I wouldn’t be home for dinner. In the beginning, it was difficult getting used to letting someone know if I would or wouldn’t be home because I’m a very spur of the moment person. Also, not cooking for myself (students living in a homestay are not supposed to use the stove/oven) is something I missed more than I thought I would.
One of the hardest things to adjust to was eating dinner with my host family. Some nights I was exhausted from a long day and eating dinner with others and making conversation in Spanish was hard. The point is, it can be hard to eat dinner with people you’ve just met multiple times a week – sometimes, you can feel tired and find it hard to say much or form your words in Spanish. However, dinner with my host family is where some of my favorite moments occurred – some nights we’d have an absolute blast and would be laughing and talking for hours. I loved getting to try all different types of Spanish dishes I maybe wouldn’t have normally tried. My host dad was from Africa, so as a bonus, I also got to experience several African dishes.
I felt like I was immersed in Spanish culture by staying with a local family. I saw the way they lived from day to day, the things they ate, how they celebrated the holidays, and so much more. Additionally, my Spanish improved a lot because of my host family. I wasn’t taking any Spanish classes, and I don’t think I would have learned much if it wasn’t for them.
In a homestay, your host family cleans your room and washes your laundry for you once a week. My family was super nice about washing my laundry on whatever day I asked, but you have to plan ahead. Most apartments in Barcelona don’t have dryers, so you have to wash your clothes a day before you need them to give them a chance to dry.
It was a little bit of a struggle going from having a whole house of my own in the U.S. to sharing a living space with a whole family. When I’m at home back in the States, I usually spend my time in the living room. But in my homestay, I usually preferred to stay in my room when relaxing.
I enjoyed staying with a host family for all the reasons I thought I would. It was helpful to have someone there to keep an eye on me and help guide me when I felt a little lost. My host mom encouraged me when I was extremely homesick, and she took care of me when I had a stomach bug. They were always willing to answer any questions I had, whether about things I had seen throughout the day, phrases I was unfamiliar with, or questions about Spanish life.
If I could do it all over again, I would still choose a homestay, hands down. I have many friends who stayed in student housing (apartments), and while we all had an amazing time, our experiences were quite different. If I could have done anything differently, I would have prepared myself more for how different living with a host family is from living on my own. If I would have been prepared for some of the differences I experienced, I don’t think I would have been as overwhelmed during the transition.