One of the most daunting aspects of studying abroad is living apart from your family for five months. There were moments in the days leading up to my departure that I was unsure if I would ever feel comfortable and “at home” in a stranger’s house. As I got off the bus in Bilbao and came face to face with my host mom, Ana, I was so nervous; it was hard to speak. We soon arrived at her apartment and she had a wonderful meal waiting for me and it was an almost instant feeling of “everything is going to be okay.” I think that embodies the best part of living with a host family. Although you are thousands of miles away from your loved ones, your host family very quickly becomes just that- your family.
My host mom, Ana, is an amazing cook. Anything and everything you can think of, she probably does it better. Cooking is truly her gift and her way of caring for those around her. In my first few weeks of living in Spain, the community I have felt as we sit together and eat has been very special. We talk about her life and my dreams and laugh about my inability to peel oranges and she tells me about her favorite places in the city I am now calling home.
Living with a Spanish host family has also allowed me to have a firsthand peek into how they live their day to day. If I didn’t live here, I would never know that Ana goes out everyday to buy freshly baked bread or that computers scare her. I wouldn’t know that her son, Alberto, used to live in England or that he is a pro at finding cheap train tickets. Living in this apartment has given me the gift of seeing how Ana cares for her loved ones and I have been on the receiving end of that care, too. My host family has also helped me learn and discover more of Bilbao than I ever imagined. They truly are your best travel guides. They know of the closest café or the best spot to get churros and chocolate and what pharmacies to stop at if you need medicine.
Living with a host family enriches your experience in special ways that can’t be found in an apartment or a dorm. Not only do you feel cared for physically by having a place to stay and meals being provided, but you also gain a partner in your study abroad experience. This partner will help you understand the new city and country and help you adjust to your new environment. What is the best part of living with a host home, however? You get to see your new country from their eyes. You gain a better understanding of the culture, society, politics, and food and this all helps you appreciate your new home even more. As the Spanish say, living with a host family is ¡muy guay!
The world awaits…discover it.