The primary reason I chose to study abroad with the Arcadia program rather than with my own university was that Arcadia offered me the ability to stay with a host family. I wanted this experience in order to fully immerse myself in the Spanish language and familiarize myself with Spanish customs and daily life through getting to know an average family. After having lived with my host family for three weeks now, I can tell you that it’s been a wonderful experience, but not what I had expected.
Coming into the program, I did not know anyone who has stayed with a host family before, so I had no practical idea of what to expect. I fully expected to come in and become a part of the family instantly, for the two young girls in the house to treat me like a big sister, and for everything to look like a scene out of Full House. I thought we would all be best friends and that there would be a tearful goodbye and promises to stay in touch when I leave. However, that’s not exactly how it works. My host family typically does not eat dinner all together, my host father usually gets home pretty late from work, and the two young sisters would rather play with each other than spend time with me. They have something going on nearly every night and every weekend, such as dance recitals, violin lessons, weddings, and visits to grandparents’ houses. In short, I have stepped into the life of a perfectly normal family during the craziness of the last weeks of the school year. While the girls greeted my roommate and me with abundant excitement, songs, and dances, that’s not what daily life looks like. They go to school, they come home and do homework, and they have extracurricular activities. They don’t have time to talk with me 24/7.
I had to step back and realize that there is no reason whatsoever to take offense. My family hosts people year-round. It’s their job. While the family is wonderful and welcoming and so helpful every day, young children cannot get super attached to every person that visits them for a month and then leaves forever. They would always be devastated! The parents work and take care of the children and get their windows fixed just like any other family. These are practical things that I had not thought of when imagining what it would be like to have a Spanish host family.
Nonetheless, I would highly recommend staying with a host family to anyone who is interested in immersing themselves in the language and culture here. While we do not eat dinner together every single night, the family occasionally goes out for tapas together, which is a great time to bond and to discuss cultural norms in Spain. While the girls are often busy, I have had delightful conversations with them about dogs, music, and dance recitals. It turns out I had a lot in common with them when I was their age, so we can relate to each other well. The parents have also been a wealth of knowledge about Granada that I could not have done without. For instance, I had no idea that you cannot get a taxi on the street anywhere other than a club at 6:30 am when I needed one, but my host mom called the taxi company ahead of time and reserved one for me. They always have wonderful recommendations for restaurants and activities in Granada and anywhere I travel on the weekends. I love hanging out with them in the evenings and discussing happenings of the day and differences between Spanish and American culture.
While living with a host family has not been what I originally anticipated, it has still been a wonderful and rewarding experience that has truly enriched my understanding of Spain and my entire experience here while studying abroad. I adore my family, and I will certainly miss them when I leave.