Studying abroad brings out all sorts of feelings: there is the initial, “Oh my god, I’m studying in Spain next semester!” tell everybody-phase, followed by a phase of sadness when you realize you won’t be at school for an entire semester. The last phase takes place in the airport right before the big flight when the nerves really set in. I experienced the height of every one of these feelings. I was incredibly excited, made a Facebook status, told virtually everybody I knew and even went as far to Instagram a picture of my passport. But as excited as I was, I was equally as nervous to speak Spanish for the next four months and to meet new people. But, above all else, nervous about my homestay.
My program, Syracuse University Abroad, Madrid has one option for housing, a homestay. I think this factor made everybody nervous. As my pre-semester seminar group pulled up to Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, the home of Real Madrid and the place in which we would be meeting our host families, nervous chatter could be heard all throughout the bus. It didn’t help that our professors played a video of students circa 1990 meeting their families in which the awkwardness radiated off the screen. The next thing I knew, I was off the bus and my roommate and I were searching for our host mom, Luisa, who we knew vaguely from pictures. We spotted her almost instantly and searched for a taxi to get our luggage, seven bags between the two of us, and ourselves home.
The cab ride was nearly silent. The only talking that occurred was between the cab driver and Luisa, and most of what the cab driver was saying referred to our Spanish speaking skills. In fact, he told my host mom “buena suerte,” Spanish for good luck, upwards of five times. I still don’t think he knew we could 100 percent understand every word of what he was saying. At this point, I thought I was doomed. My hope was restored when, after being in our new home for nearly five minutes, Luisa was in my room chatting my ear off and laughing at the amount of clothes that I brought for the next four months.
That night at dinner, we sat around the table for nearly two hours talking about ourselves, Spain and Madrid itself. We showed pictures of our families and ate a typical Spanish dish, tortilla de patatas. We had been prepared for long dinners and lengthy conversations, but I soon realized that this wasn’t as much of a burden as I expected it to be, but an opportunity to be immersed in Spanish culture. 10 days later and I’m still learning new things with every passing meal. Aside from providing us with culture, she has created an environment where we are comfortable to come home and talk to her about anything. She is especially interested after a night spent at a discoteca.
This past week, on the night I happened to have my first bit of homework since starting classes, Luisa came knocking on my door, asking if we could become Facebook friends. She proceeded to sit on my tiny bed with me for the next hour showing me all the photos on her iPad that she thought were really “chulo,” or cool. These photos included the cast of The Hunger Games, Audrey Hepburn, a cartoon woman she is especially fond of, destination spots throughout Europe and a few photographs. She forgot to show me one of her very favorite photographs, but rest assured, she posted it on my Facebook wall moments after walking out of my room. I couldn’t help but smile. I had never envisioned my night turning out like it had, but I didn’t mind at all. It didn’t take long after arriving to Madrid to realize that my nerves about my homestay were misplaced. Now, I consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to learn this much about both the culture and language of Spain. I would definitely recommend a homestay.