Homestay: Did I Make the Right Decision?

Jessica Fragnoli is a student at the University of New Hampshire and is an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA Service Learning in Salamanca, Spain.

“Si, si, perfecto” were the only words I managed to squeak out of my mouth for the first 48 hours I spent in utter shock upon my arrival in Salamanca, Spain. I’m someone who regularly pushes limits and steps far outside of comfort zones. Nonetheless, the feeling of culture shock set in once I dragged my far-too-heavy suitcase up three flights of stairs to my new home, plopped it onto my twin bed, and attempted to listen to my host mom talk a mile a minute about everything and anything I needed to know pertaining to living in her home.

My over-packed suitcase before I left New York. I know what you’re thinking, and I’m not sure how it all fit either!

With thousands of other thoughts racking my brain, I could barely keep up. I just about mastered the “nod-and-smile-even-though-you-have-no-idea-what-is-going-on” look within the first ten minutes. With external delight, came internal panic. As my host mom stood in the doorway and talked without taking a breath for what felt like an eternity, I suddenly felt doubts wash over me. Doubts about choosing a homestay, doubts about my language abilities, and doubts about being able to share a limited amount of space with a roommate. My fear and hesitation took over, yet somehow I could not wipe the optimism off my face. Smile, nod, “si, si, todo es perfecto”. I felt an overwhelming sense of unfamiliarity, yet somehow, my host mom radiated warmth with a presence and smile that calmed me, and the Salamanca sun peeked through the single window, illuminating the cozy room.

Outside seating right down the street from my house where I usually grab coffee and do homework.

A long night followed the long day; a night of introspection and emotion. I realized these were all normal feelings; the thrill and eagerness of now living in a foreign country mirrored by the unease of the same situation. As I lay in the unfamiliar bed, I thought to myself that I truly did not want to be anywhere else. I recalled reasons why I chose to study abroad in the first place; to push myself through language barriers and work to understand and speak more Spanish, to create meaningful and lasting relationships with others in my program, my host family, and locals, and to challenge my levels of cultural competence, striving to learn variations among my culture and that of Spain. I rehearsed in my head that, in fact, si, si, todo fue perfecto.

Almost two weeks later as I reflect on my first night in Salamanca, my doubts have washed away and thoughts about not feeling “fit” for a homestay have disappeared. Of course I am “fit” and capable of this style of living! Anyone is if the right mindset is maintained. The triumphs of understanding, compromising, and cooperating with a roommate has given me the opportunity to reflect on my actions and learn that communication is the most important aspect of working through adversities.

My roommate Lindsay and I are close enough to hold hands while we sleep… that’s one way to bond!

Learning how to live respectfully in a host family has opened my mind to ideas of selflessness and awareness. Whether that means shortening my shower, not texting at the dinner table, cleaning up after myself, or outwardly showing my appreciation, all are components that cannot be found outside of a homestay. These factors contribute towards growing into an adult who is conscious of my choices and mindful of keeping my glass half full by changing hardships into chances and opportunities. Si, si, todo es perfecto.


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