Living with a Host Family

Living with a Host Family Image 1Choosing a living situation plays a big part in the study abroad experience. Based on advice from other friends who had studied abroad in Spain, I decided to live with a host family. This one is for anyone interested in how it’s going so far for me or for anyone who wants guidance on living situations abroad.

How does it work? 

Specifically in Sevilla, and I think most places in Spain, having a host family doesn’t necessarily mean having a whole “family.” Although I know a few people with host “siblings,” many hosts are older women, either single or widowed, who have hosted several students over the years. My host mom has had at least ten different girls live in her home. I think she enjoys having the company and getting to meet new people.

Living with a host family also helps with the little things. Going abroad comes with a lot of personal and cultural challenges, so having someone to do laundry and cook meals makes it feel a little more like home. I especially like eating meals with my host mom because I get a chance to try Spanish food that I might not otherwise know about, and it gives us a chance to talk. We eat lunch together every day around 3 pm and dinner at 9:30.

The Challenges and Rewards

Sounds perfect, but the best experiences come with challenges as well as rewards.

For me, living with a host mom can sometimes feel like being in high school again. I have freedom to come and go as I please, but after being in college for two years and living in an apartment for the past two summers, it felt a little weird having someone cooking my meals and doing my laundry. I also have to let my host mom know when I won’t be around for lunch or dinner, which can be difficult for me when trying to make plans on the fly. After the first week or two, I got used to it and now think of it more as common courtesy rather than being “parented.”

Sometimes it also feels a little strange to think of my host mom as a “mom.” She’s been very caring and kind, like when she made me tea and brought me medicine from the pharmacy this week, but deep down I know she’s not really my “mom.” Coming to a new country and having a new “family” can feel a little strange!

They aren’t meant to replace the people you love back home, but it is nice to have someone looking out for you in a new place that they call home. There’s also a unique relationship with your host family that you won’t necessarily develop with professors or other locals during your time abroad. Since you see your host family every day (minus travel days) and share meals together, you get to know each other very well and start to see the city and culture through their eyes. You know their likes and dislikes, their family, their routines. Living in someone’s home teaches you a lot about them, which is an opportunity rarely encountered outside your own family life.

Language barriers can also be difficult. As someone who has difficulty speaking frequently in English, the challenge intensifies when throwing Spanish into the mix. I usually go through the process of “translate what she says, think of my response in English, translate into Spanish, okay, talk.” Many times I get frustrated when I’m unable to articulate more complicated feelings or have to reword my thoughts into simpler sentences and vocabulary that I know.

There are silver linings, though. Even though my host mom speaks incredibly fast on the phone, she speaks much slower when talking to my housemate and me and even leaves Spanish subtitles on the television for us. She knows that we are trying to improve our language skills, and she is very accommodating. The biggest upside in all of this is that my Spanish, or at least my confidence in speaking Spanish, has increased a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfectly fluent and there are days when I am perfectly confused, but having someone to talk to in Spanish everyday forces me to practice, whether I feel like it or not.

Overall, living with a host family in Spain has been the right choice for me and is probably the best way to get acclimated to the language and culture of your host city.

Madeline Cortes is a student at Boston College and an official API Blogger. Madeline is studying abroad with API in Seville, Spain.

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