The most unique facet of the Temple in Spain Program is living with a host family. It was definitely the part that scared me the most when I chose to study in Oviedo in the Spring of 2019, but it ended up being one of my favorite experiences. When I talk to potential Temple Spain students now, a lot of them have the same fears that I did: What if I can’t communicate with my host family? What if I don’t like the food they make me? What if they can’t understand me?
I’ll be honest: a lot of these fears will probably become reality at some point, but it won’t be the end of the world. It’s part of the learning experience. Not only does living with a host family allow you to better your language skills, you can also form an incredible bond with them. I wanted to write a bit about the bond I formed with my host family and why it made Temple Spain one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
First Day Jitters
Any student who’s done the Temple Spain program can tell you, the day you meet your host family is the most nerve-racking day of the program. You ride a bus from Madrid to Oviedo for five hours anticipating meeting the people you’re going to live with for the next five months. When you arrive in Oviedo, you see the group of families waiting at the bus stop. You get off the bus, program director Jaime calls out your names, and then you’re sent away with your host family.
My first day with my host family was pretty typical. My host dad, Paco, picked me up at the bus station and we took a taxi to the apartment. I was so nervous and unconfident in my Spanish abilities that I planned out questions to ask him ahead of time. I met my host mom, Pilar, when we arrived at the apartment. They showed me around the apartment, got me settled into my room, and made me feel as comfortable as possible. Though I couldn’t understand their words, I still felt welcomed. She had hung up reference sheets with English translations for common household vocabulary, which was definitely helpful when my toilet clogged on the first night.
After I was settled, we had our first lunch together: spaghetti, fresh bread, and this spreadable cheese that I devoured every lunch thereafter. (Fresh pan from a local bakery is an Asturian staple). We tried our best to have a conversation with the help of google translate and hand miming, and even though I still wasn’t confident in my language skills, I knew I would find a home there.
As time went on, my Spanish improved, and so did our conversations. Some nights after dinner, Pilar and I would watch one of her favorite shows, a Flamenco singing competition. She would talk to me about what was happening in the show and I would ask her questions. She liked to watch the Big Bang Theory (dubbed in Spanish) at dinner, which became a tradition for us. Pilar was also really passionate about the moon, and every time there was a full moon she would bring me outside with her to take pictures of it. I loved that as time went on, I was able to talk to them more and more. We experienced a lot of important moments together: I was there with Pilar and Paco through some family struggles, helped Pilar bury her pet hedgehog after he passed away, and talked with her when I was feeling lonely. I felt myself becoming a part of their family.
Pilar, Paco and me.
My host family always pushed me to improve my Spanish. Sometimes, I would come back from weekend trips where I spoke little to no Spanish, and Pilar would tell me that my Spanish got worse. She’d force me to sit down after dinner and read one of her books aloud for 30 minutes. She would be very honest about how my pronunciation sounded, and though the criticism was hard to take sometimes, it only helped me improve. They both always offered to help and encouraged me to speak up if there was something I didn’t understand. They wanted me to learn, not to pretend that I understood (which admittedly, I would still do sometimes).
One of my favorite memories was when my parents came to visit and met my host parents. They don’t speak Spanish, so I knew I would have to do some serious translating. Pilar and Paco set up plates of appetizers with jamon serrano, queso manchego, and souffle de cangrejo. They even opened up some of their best bottles of vino tinto (red wine) to welcome them. Though they and my parents did not speak the same language, my being able to translate and allow them to get to know each other felt very gratifying.
My mom and Pilar
Our Last Night Together
My last night in Oviedo was bittersweet: I felt excited to head home and see my family, but sad to be leaving my new family. After going out and spending time with friends, I came back home and Pilar and I watched Big Bang Theory, drank wine, and reminisced on our five months together. In the morning, we cried when she sent me off to the airport, but she assured me that “No es adios, es ‘hasta mañana,’” meaning, “it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.”
Pilar and me on my last night in Oviedo.
During this global pandemic, I worry about my host family, but I feel incredibly lucky that I can keep in touch with them via WhatsApp and make sure they are safe and healthy, despite the time difference. I still talk to them frequently, and Pilar keeps up with my family via Facebook.
My biggest piece of advice to all prospective study abroad students is to consider living with a host family. It’s definitely different than living in a traditional dorm or apartment, but it can make your experience so much more enriching- especially if you are learning a language. Not only did I leave Oviedo with stronger language skills and better cultural understanding, I left with a whole new family.