You may think you speak Spanish, but you don’t. I double majored in Business and Spanish in college and I still wasn’t quite ready for the all day, every day, often heavily accented Spanish of Andalucia. My host family didn’t speak any English, and I often found myself explaining what I wanted to say by circling around a topic. That simple exercise alone increased my vocabulary, and my confidence. My señora and my host family were easy going and would correct me if I asked for it, and encourage me when I did something well. If you don’t know what’s being said, ask! Slang and jokes are a big part of language, too.
I had learned long before I set foot in my señora’s home that the Spanish kitchen is a special place. After six months of Josefina’s cooking, I would call that an understatement. Although some host families did cook a bit differently for their students, my American roommate and I were always at the table like equals. In Spain, the midday meal is the largest and often involves a lot of people and a lot of food. In my opinion, this is tied with siesta for the best part of the day. Josefina asked us our favorites (croquetas) and went out of her way to bake a birthday cake, make mashed potatoes and more than once made a spectacular paella the size of the dining room table.
Some students worry that living with a host family means giving up their independence, and reverting back to that high school level of oversight. Not so. Many señoras have a few guidelines to live by: no overnight guests, no stumbling drunkenness and if you plan not to come home, let her know. This is a bare minimum of respect for the woman taking care of you, not a prison sentence. Your host mother will gladly pack you a bocadillo (sandwich), and send you on your way for the weekend. She may also encourage you to get the heck out of the house if you’ve been lingering in your room on Skype for three days straight.