Tyler Wigington is a a student at Texas A&M University and an official API Student Blogger. Tyler is studying abroad with API this spring in Madrid, Spain.
After deciding to study abroad in Madrid, I had to select my housing preference. I had three choices: live with a host family, live in a residencia (a dorm with American and Spanish students), or live in an apartment with other students. For me, the choice was an easy one. I really wanted to live with a host family for several reasons. First, I lived with a host family when I was in Spain in the summer of 2009, and it was such a wonderful experience that I still stay in touch with them. Second, I really wanted to be an environment that forced me to speak Spanish on a daily basis, not just in class. Third, I wanted a home away from home, with home-cooked meals and a sense of being part of a family.
Everything was going great and I was confident about my decision until the end of December, only days away from my departure. I had received a letter in the mail from API telling me that I would be living with an older, widowed woman in an apartment in the center of Madrid. The finality of my housing decision led to me having doubts about living with a host family. Would I be able to communicate with her? Would I like her food? Would I have a curfew every night? I had all these questions, but what was done was done, so I boarded the plane to Madrid and began my Spain adventure.
However, the minute I stepped foot in my new home and met Isabel, my host mom, I knew I had made the right decision. I felt at ease and knew that I wouldn’t have any problems with my host home during the semester. Not only was Isabel extremely accommodating and friendly, she was an interesting person with a love for life.
Isabel was born in Spain and married her husband there, as well. However, she raised her three kids in Puerto Rico and lived there for about twenty years due to her husband’s job, as well as their desire to do something different. While in Puerto Rico, Isabel worked for a cosmetics company, and still wears the company’s makeup and promo merchandise (including her kitchen apron!) in Spain. All of their kids eventually moved to the U.S. to attend college, including one who went to an Ivy League school in the northeast. All three of her kids still live in the U.S with their families; her daughter and oldest son in Florida and her youngest son in New Hampshire. Isabel’s daughter has two daughters of her own, while her youngest son and his wife are expecting a baby in August. After Puerto Rico, Isabel and her husband moved back to Madrid because they got tired of “living on a tiny island,” as Isabel has told me. They began hosting students about six years ago, and even after her husband unexpectedly died two years ago, Isabel continued opening up her home to API students.
I could go on and on about Isabel’s interesting life, because she loves talking about her family and friends and I love listening. She really makes an effort to talk to me and get to know me, as well as help me practice my Spanish speaking and listening skills. At dinner, we always talk at length (in Spanish), and she somehow keeps her patience with me even when I can’t understand basic words or sentences. On the other hand, I also get to help her improve her English! She’s currently taking English classes at the local Red Cross, and every week, I help her with her homework, turning the tables even if just for a short amount of time. Isabel has always wanted to learn English and became even more motivated to do so when she realized her youngest son’s wife couldn’t speak a word of Spanish.
At one point, I realized that I had planned three out-of-town weekend trips in a row, and I told her that I was concerned about traveling too much. Just like a true mom, she gave me wonderful advice. “Travel while you’re young and while you still can.” Of course, this was all in Spanish but still wise, nonetheless. It was reassuring to have someone tell me to take advantage of my time abroad. Not only is Isabel my host mom, but she’s also one of my biggest supporters for learning the language and getting the most out of my time in Spain and Europe.
Whether she’s helping me learn Spanish, telling me I’m going to catch a cold, giving me advice, or telling me I don’t eat enough, Isabel makes sure I am taking care of myself and enjoying my experience. It is easy to get distracted and even lost when studying abroad, but living in a Spanish home has given me support and added an enriching element to my study abroad experience in Madrid.