Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Host Families

As most of you know, I live with a host family here in Barcelona.  This was probably the best decision I’ve made so far regarding my study abroad experience, right behind choosing to go to Bilbao with Michelle and choosing to study in Barcelona.

I live with a 65-year old widow, Rafaela in her medium sized apartment (apartments are called “pisos” here in Spain).  She owns a clothes store in a near by market.  We have two pets here at home, a parrot (Dinu) and a Silky Terrier by the name of “Teri.”  The parrot can get quite obnoxious at times, expecially when it lets out 3 (or more) long screeches in succession. 

Now what can I say about Teri.  Well, Teri is a 12-year old dog, who would be every dog whisperer’s dream come true.  He has a problem with people leaving the house, because students come here for 3 months and then leave him forever. For this reason, he barks whenever someone leaves the house, but never when people come home.  One day I was leaving for school when he snuck out, plopping himself in front of the elevetor.  I tried my best to coax him to come back in the piso (“Teri, ¡tengo un palito!  Ven aquí”), but he wouldn’t have any of it.  I go over to try to pick him up and he growls at me bearing his teeth in the process.  As I was running late for school, I wanted to get this ordeal over with so I pick him up really quickly and (gently) toss him back in the piso.  He's a complete nervous wreck and when you add in some back problems you get one fragile dog.

The piso is a pretty good place to live.  It’s 3 bedrooms, one bathroom with a nice balcony.  However, the neighborhood we live in (Sants) isn’t the best for college age kids because it’s mostly a residential area with families and old people, plus it’s kind of far away from all the happening places.

That being said, I’m glad I live where I am because Rafaela is the best host mom anyone could ask for.  She’s a great cook and she’s very involved with our lives.  Everyday when she comes home from school she always asks how are day went and she loves it when we show her pictures when we come home from a weekend trip around Europe.  She also likes to talk a lot, which is really helpful for us because it helps us practice our Spanish.  She also helps me with my Catalan, by teaching me some words/phrases and helping me with my pronunciation (the double l’s are una puta!).

Rafaela also typically hosts exchange students all year round.  I didn't know this until I asked her about all the Paris decorations in her house (I was curious as to why she had them because she said that she's never been to Paris).  She's been hosting them for about 6 years now and she's told me plenty of stories about other students (two girls use to go out clubbing every night, another one got caught having her boyfriend spending the night).  Not to toot my horn or anything, but she did tell me that John and I are the best exchange students she's ever hosted because we're friendly, open/interested in learning about the culture and more family-like than the other students.

She lives alone, but her mom stayed with her for the first month I was there because she broke her leg falling down the stairs.  Since then, she's been spending a month at a time between her two daughter's piso; in fact, she just came back yesterday to spend November here.  Rafaela also has a friend, José, who comes over every evening.  Everyday, Rafaela, José and Teri go out for a walk near the little green space we have near our piso, then she always cooks our dinner so that John and I can eat around 9 (they hardly ever eat dinner) and we usually first watch a game show (Pasapalabra) followed by the news.  

Here’s some pictures from my home stay:
Oh Teri.  He spends most of his day in my room, either because he loves me or because he's worried about the next time I leave the apartment

My Room

The Living Room

The Kitchen

I’ve been very fortunate with my host families.  First, Arantza and Maren (the host family in the Basque Country) really made my transition to the Spanish way of life very easy (I don’t think I went through any culture shock what so ever) and now, I’m living with Rafaela; I couldn’t have asked for a better living situation over here in Spain.

I love living with host families for three main reasons:
  1. Food: Spanish food is soooo good.  Everything is cooked with olive oil, it's fresh and very healthy.  I have a salad for dinner everyday (with olive oil and vinegar for dressing, which is typical in Spain), some bread and either pasta, fish or meat.  She makes a mean tortilla española and in typical Spanish fashion, she always asks us if we want anymore of anything to eat (¿Algo más?  ¿Helado? ¿Fruta?).
  2. Culture: You get to experience the culture first hand when you live with a host family; you really submerge yourself in what it's actually like to live in Spain (as opposed to living in dorms with your fellow American students).  It's interesting because Arantza and Maren (the host family I stayed with in Bilbao) are Basque, Rafaela is Catalan, her mom is from Andalucía (Southern Spain) and José is from Galicia (Northwest corner of Spain), so I've kind gotten to know some of the major cultures that make up Spain as a whole.
  3. Spanish: You have to speak Spanish in your home stay.  My Spanish has improved so much in the last 2 and a half months partly because of my Spanish language class, but my host families have definitely made a bigger impact on my Spanish than any class ever could.  I'd say that I can speak Spanish on a conversational level, which is to say that even though I make mistakes from time to time with words choice/verb tenses I still can get my point across and continue the conversation.  Spanish kind of just flows out now and I don’t really think too much about it.
My advice to students who want to study abroad: choose to live with a host family.  Trust me, I know it’s going to be very tempting to live with your fellow study abroad compadres, but you will learn so much more if you step outside of your comfort zone and submerge yourself into the local culture.  You will learn more than you can ever hope to learn in your classes.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sean! First of all, thanks for this awesome blog. I will be headed to Barcelona in just a couple of months myself! I would love to live with a host family, but am not sure where to start. How did you find/get placed with a host family? Any help/tips would very much be appreciated. Thank you! Ken