Last Updated on August 10, 2020 by Emily Chamberlain
When I decided to study abroad, I knew I wanted to do a homestay. There is no better way to immerse yourself into another country and culture than by living with a local host family! Before making such a bold decision, there are a few things I wish I had thought about.
Here are 5 things I think you should consider when choosing to live in a homestay while studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain:
1. The Family
As awesome and accommodating as study abroad programs are, there is no guarantee your host family will meet your “ideal family” expectations. I was expecting a mother and father and two-or-so children. However, host families come in all shapes and sizes. In my case, I’ve been placed with a single woman who is now an empty-nester.
This isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact, my host mom has been so kind and reminds me of my grandmother. She is so sweet to me and can always tell if I’m not myself. She uses kind language and helps my housemate and I in all ways possible. So, as long as you enter into the homestay with an open and honest mind, I truly believe it will work out for you.
2. The Lifestyle
For many of us who study abroad, we have been off at college without having to report to our parents. There is no set dinner or breakfast time, and nobody who is keeping tabs on your whereabouts. This has actually been the hardest part of my transition.
Culturally, meals are eaten together. It is nice to know I can come home and have dinner with my Señora, but having dinner time set, for me, is difficult. If I want to stay out with friends for an extra half hour or so, I make it a point to text my host mom to let her know. Additionally, since she can’t set a curfew, I do my best to be extra quiet when I come home at night so that she isn’t woken up or bothered.
I’ve found that adjusting to someone else’s living arrangements can be difficult, but being immersed into the lifestyle and having the commodities of living at home is worth it.
3. The Space
In the United States, I have a huge backyard and a lot of space in my actual house. In Barcelona, the living spaces are approximately a third of the size they are at home! You may be used to living in a small dorm room, but it’s different to share that space with a family.
This transition took a lot to get used to for me personally. I’m used to having an abundance of space and not worrying about stepping on my family’s feet at home (or my roommates at school even)!
4. The Language
The language barrier has been a challenge for me. I came to Spain not knowing any Spanish, but I’m minoring in French so I figured I could understand some of my homestay family and learn quickly. First of all, that was my mistake. Everyone says, “Romance languages are all similar, it won’t be too hard.” To me, that could not be any more wrong. I have found these two to be so, so, so different!
Barcelona is in Catalonia, so not only do they speak Spanish, but most people speak Catalan. Catalan is actually almost more common to hear than Spanish. That was another huge challenge: is the person I’m speaking to speaking in Spanish or in Catalan?
Thankfully, my roommate speaks Spanish, but it’s hard to have every conversation interpreted. After the 3-month program, I can understand fairly well. My host mom and I can communicate pretty well, but it was really difficult at first, almost enough to give up!
5. The Meals
Having somebody at home preparing breakfast and dinner for me made it easier to spend time out and about doing my own thing. I went out for lunch a lot, but typically grabbed sandwiches at small cafés nearby.
Culturally, Spaniards eat dinner late and it is the smallest meal of the day. Sitting down to eat at 9 PM has been an adjustment and has proven to be the hardest part about meal time in Spain. Because dinner was so late, I found myself hungry by the time we would eat. Breakfast and lunch are at “normal” times: breakfast around 9 AM and lunch around 2 PM.
Breakfast was pretty normal for me — a yogurt and fruit. Sometimes my host mom would leave out muffins or croissants. Since lunch is not a responsibility of a host mom, I grab sandwiches often.
For dinner, it has been pretty common for my host mom to make it earlier in the day and leave it out until 9pm, when she would microwave it. She always prepared a salad and had a bowl of bread for us. Every Sunday, we would have homemade pizza. On weekends, she would make paella or Spanish omelet, although we weren’t home a lot on weekends. Some of my favorite meals she has made include pasta with pesto and walnuts, rice with chicken cutlets, and a lasagna dish with Alfredo-like sauce. My host mom is rather good at cooking and the food has been good!
Overall, it has been a really amazing experience and I don’t regret choosing a homestay as my housing option abroad. My host mom has been amazing and so kind towards us. She really has cared about my roommate and I, and always tries to help us with any problems we encounter. She is attentive and was kind enough to do our laundry quickly and often. She has paid close attention to our class schedule, and she always loves to hear about our weekend travels! I will definitely miss my Señora when I’m back at home in the United States, but I also look forward to being on my own again on my home university’s campus.
This post was contributed by Emily Chamberlain, a student from Roger Williams University who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Barcelona, Spain.