I think everyone who goes abroad should live with a host family. Period. There’s nothing more immersive, and frankly, I don’t know how I would survive living in Spain without two square meals a day and a lovely set of Spanish parents to guide me.
Picture this – you spend all day at school learning and working, hang out in the city, do homework, navigate public transportation, and then you finally get to come home to a real house (It’s an apartment, but you catch my drift). Not just a real house, but someone’s house that they’ve decorated and made up so that you see family photos and art and plants – stuff that really makes it feel like a home as opposed to some sterile dorm or student apartment.
My host parents are honestly the nicest people I know. Their names are Maria and Arman, and they’re very much the quintessential set of grandparents. I enjoy coming home, because they’re usually there and we greet each other, but there’s no real expectation of a conversation, and for the most part they leave me be until dinner. Most of that is probably because they know by now that my Spanish is sub-par, but let’s pretend otherwise.
Living in a homestay in no way constricts my freedom. I have a key to come and go as I please, I don’t share my room, and my host parents aren’t fazed if I tell them I’m getting dinner with friends or spending the night out. I don’t even really have to tell them where am I as long as I tell them whether or not I’ll be there for dinner. And I can come home at 3 AM or later (not that I would) and no one would complain because that’s more or less the norm for youth here in Spain. As long as I’m not loud I pretty much have the freedom to do whatever and go wherever I wish.
Living in a homestay is also a utter dream because everything I would normally do myself is done for me. Goodbye hiking to the cafeteria to get a half grilled chicken patty, goodbye lugging a laundry basket across the building to do two loads of laundry and have the dryer quit on you with the clothes still half soaked, and goodbye cleaning my own room! My host parents (and a lovely house keeper) do all that. ALL OF IT. I come home to a clean apartment, with my freshly folded and crisply clean clothes on my bed, and then I just have to sit around and wait for meals like some sort of spoiled aristocrat. And that’s not a choice I made, that’s just how IES homestays work. I could not be more grateful.
I also get to experience for the first time in my life (as an only child) what it’s like to have siblings. Obviously my two roommates are not my actual siblings, but a homestay vibe is very different from a dorm vibe and they feel much more like relatives then just simply roommates. Especially since we sit down every night to a home cooked meal. It’s lucky that my roommates, who are both named Jessica, are also wonderful human beings, because if I didn’t like them I really don’t know how this experience would have gone. They also knew each other prior to coming abroad, so they share a bedroom and and I get a very nice room all to myself.
Maria makes us a lot of food, and for the most part tries to give us traditional Spanish dishes so we get a taste of the culture. They also tell us the best stories (of which I understand about 20%) but both of my roommates are fluent so they translate the important stuff. The other day I was profoundly exhausted from school, and dinner in Spain isn’t served until 9 PM, so my roommates and I actually considered going out for dinner to stave off starvation. But in that precise moment Maria and Arman came home from a political demonstration and told us they were making dinner. It was pasta and steak, it was so insanely delicious that I cried. I feel sorry for those abroad who don’t have that experience, the experience of a Spanish mom making you steak that makes you cry, that’s one in a million.
Another thing those not is homestays miss out on is pets! My host parents had a puppy named Draco living with them for a few weeks, an adorable puppy with a Harry Potter name, who can beat that? It’s also…free! Well of course nothing is free, but in IES there is no additional fee beyond what you are already charged to attend the program. So people in dorms or apartments have to pay extra to buy and make their own food and do their own chores, but I’m paying nothing extra to be treated astoundingly well by two amazing surrogate parents.
What is the down side? There is none.