Colleen McGuinness is a student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is an ISA Featured Blogger and is studying abroad with ISA in Sevilla, Spain.
The thought of invading a stranger’s daily routine made me hesitant to check the “homestay” box in my application. I had been on the other end of the commitment, welcoming both an Ecuadorian and Chinese exchange student into my home in Concord, Massachusetts. My family is fairly closed off and we rarely have guests visit, so I was uncomfortable with these strangers snoring just a wall away. I did not want to put anyone in the same position as me, but I knew the best Spanish immersion would mean living the lifestyle in a small city apartment with a Sevillana Señora. Even though sometimes I wake up to my host mom’s loud phone conversations, or I have Spanish tortilla for three nights in a row, my homestay has been the biggest part of making my study abroad experience as comfortable and amazingly authentic as it has been.
Last week was the Feria de Abril, and my host mother dug out four of her old Flamenco dresses from storage for my roommate and I to wear during the festival. I honestly have no idea how these dresses fit me so well because my host mom is 5′ 2″ and I am a half foot taller at 5′ 8″. It must be the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” Flamenco dress, or just the magic of living in a homestay.
The #1 reason to live in a homestay: Food. On Sundays, my host does meal preparation, and these past couple weeks she has woken my roommate and I up from our sleep, dragging into the early afternoon to teach us. I have recorded three of my favorite recipes which I hope to recreate back home. The only challenge is that she never uses a measuring tool… there is no such thing as too much salt right?
The #2 reason to live in a homestay: Cost. If you are on a tighter budget, a homestay is definitely the best bet. The students who opt for a residencia or independent apartment are responsible for buying and making their own meals three times a day. Although it would be nice to have a more hearty breakfast, or a bocadillo (sandwich) without a tortilla in the middle (my host mom really likes tortillas if you can’t tell), not having to slave over a stove at dinner time is an under-appreciated luxury.
The #3 reason to live in a homestay: A home away from home. Something I had forgotten about after two years in a college dorm room is how nice it can be to come home to a family. A couple weeks ago, I was sick and my host mom made sure I had all of the necessary medications and proper food for a speedy recovery. She checked in on me regularly in my bedridden state and made sure I was as comfortable as could be. When my host mom found out about me and my roommate’s chocolate addiction, the cabinet was quickly stocked with three giant chocolate bars and always refilled when the stash was dwindling. These families are only required to do the bare minimum yet they regularly go above and beyond.
A homestay is a risk, but I think it is a risk that everyone should bet on. There are undoubtedly students who have had conflicts and there are students who eat more frozen meals than fresh-cooked, but that is the minority. So play the odds, because coming from a lottery winner, the prize is well worth it.
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