Jen Aceto is a student at University of California, Los Angeles and an ISA Featured Blogger. Jen is currently studying abroad in Sevilla on a Fall 1 program.
Your family has probably been a huge reason why you were able to study abroad, and no doubt they’ve heard many stories and seen lots of pictures about your experience. But there’s nothing quite like seeing it in real life—so if you’re fortunate enough to have your family visit you while abroad, like I was, here are a few tips to make their visit the best it can be!
- Of course they’ll want to do some touristy things, especially if it’s their first time to the city, and that’s okay—but what they’ll really want to see is your city: your favorite café, favorite bakery, favorite park, etc. So do a few of the tourist activities—the ones that you really want to do, really enjoyed, or may not have had time for yet—but balance it out so they get a better idea of what your life abroad is really like.
- Take them on a “day in the life”—show them your walk to and from school, give them a little tour of your campus if possible, and some of the places and people that make up your daily routine.
- Introduce them to locals! My family’s favorite part of their visit was meeting my host family, so if that’s a possibility, they will love meeting the people who’ve become your new “family” for the last few months. Introduce them to your usual cashier at the supermarket, the baker who makes your baguettes every day, the man who makes your favorite café con leche…
- Just wander and see what you stumble upon. I planned out some activities for each day, but I also left time to walk around neighborhoods so that my family could get a better picture of the different parts of Sevilla and so that we wouldn’t feel like we were just running from place to place. I especially liked exploring places I hadn’t been yet because I was equally as excited to uncover something new as they were.
- Have a “typical” experience: here in Sevilla, flamenco is a huge part of the culture, so I took my family to a few different kinds of flamenco shows (both espectáculos and more casual, spontaneous flamenco bars).
- Tailor the visit to your family members’ interests; for example, my sister loves dance, so I knew the flamenco would be a must-do for her. And all of us are foodies, so I picked out restaurants that would let them try both traditional Spanish food, Sevillano specialties, and some more creative, different places that I knew they would appreciate. (And of course, we had to get churros con chocolate at least once!) Also, a tip for eating in Spain: mix packed, stand-up tapas bars with sit-down raciones—while we may be used to tapa-hopping or grabbing something at the bar, keep in mind that your visitors might not be used to walking all day and may want a break to sit down.
- Keep speaking the language! I usually don’t have a problem when speaking Spanish, but when my family came suddenly every waiter responded to my Spanish in English. I think this was because it was more obvious that we were a family of tourists than when it’s just me walking around the city, but rather than getting discouraged after trying to show off your new language skills, keep trying and most people will switch back to the native language, understanding that you want to practice.
- Orient yourself before they come (so you look like you know where you’re going… ha). Sevilla is a big city and I am really only familiar with a few parts of it—the neighborhoods that my homestay and school are in, especially—so before my family came, I walked around to find restaurants and other places I wanted to take them so they could just relax and follow instead of trying to make sense of maps or constantly ask for directions.
- Skip the “must-dos” if they’re not their thing—if there’s a great museum or beautiful old church but your family would rather go to a bullfight, do that instead. Don’t feel obligated to show them everything, because they’ll enjoy seeing fewer things that are more meaningful to you than going down a long list of sights.
- Try to know some basic historical facts about the city and its main attractions so you can answer their questions… I felt a little silly for not knowing the answers when they asked questions about who lived in the Alcázar or when the Cathedral was built. Obviously, they don’t expect you to know everything, but I recommend having a little background info so they’ll come away with something they didn’t know (and so you look like the expert!).
No matter what you choose to do, they’ll love getting a glimpse of your life abroad. And above all, thank them for giving you the opportunity to have this experience!