Host Fam

Hi everyone! Facebook friends and family! Sorry for the hiatus, I feel totally guilty for not updating this blog since my first post. I don’t really have a good excuse, I guess I wanted to wait until I had gained a bit more perspective. I don’t know what that means except that I was lazy and didn’t want to write down snap judgements of my life here, but rather wait until I could glean some more profound meaning from my experiences. Ha. Well that obviously hasn’t happened, yet here I am! So, this is a little post about my home life here in Madrid, now that I’m all settled in.

After a week of residencia-limbo, I finally moved in with my host family! They are kind, helpful, and so patient with me and my always-improving Spanish. I really could not have asked for a better situation. Upon arriving, I met my host mom Elena, my host dad Franc, my host sister Paula, my host brother Victor, and their dog Das. I also met Mariela, our housekeeper, who helps around the house during the weekdays.

Das, one of the cutest dogs around, and accurately described by my host sister as “muy tranquilo”

They showed me around their home and to my room, and then let me rest for a little while before my doctor’s appointment (bad news: I had mono [again], good news: the hospital’s translator was a lifesaver for some of the trickier medical words). Once I got back, we had our first meal as a family. The tortilla española was to die for and even though I barely knew what was being said, I had a lot of fun eating and talking with everyone. I quickly realized how much there was to learn, with the fast pace of conversation and slang thrown in here and there; my host sister Paula loves to call everything “raro” and the whole family greets one another with a “¿que tal?” and besos to go around. I also learned that my host brother Victor studied in Montana and can speak English very well, so whenever we get stumped at the dinner table on the name of a fruit, a particular species of tropical bird, or even one time the word “watermill,” he is the go-to translator.

Since that first night, I have spent a lot of time trying to learn not only how to live in a stranger’s home, but how to do so with limited speaking abilities and only a cursory knowledge of their culture and customs. Besides all of the obvious differences between this semester and any other — the city, the language, the ridiculous amount of free time—there are also tons and tons of funny little things to adjust to: the elevator that only works if you close all three doors, our doorknob that doesn’t turn (why is it even there?), and the inescapable lack of air conditioning. But, for me, the biggest, most obvious reminder that I am not in my home country are the meals, and I’m not just talking about Spain’s crazy eating schedule.

With my host family, mealtimes are an affair. My family’s dining table is covered by a nice white tablecloth, set with white dishes, extra sets of forks and knives, and pitchers of water. My host parents, or Mariela, if it’s lunchtime, wheel out the meal on a cart and place it on the table for everyone to help themselves, course by course, and after the end of each course, we put our used plates on the cart and grab new ones. The food is delicious, we have had everything from the classic jamón y queso, to breaded or grilled chicken, vegetable cream soup, empanadas, potatoes in all forms, salads and grilled vegetables, and the strangest of all, a fried “bun” made of corn to be cut lengthwise and filled with butter, cheese, ham, and some version of tuna salad.

The very best tortilla española in the entire world (and part of tonight’s dinner)

I have enjoyed every bite of food, and meals always end with an assortment of whole fruits to pick from, usually bananas, apples, peaches, kiwis, or even one time, something new and delicious called custard apple. And here is the strangest part: for dessert, each of us uses a new set of tiny utensils to peel the skin off of the fruit of choice, and then proceeds to slice and eat it. Let’s just say that after nearly a month, I still do not have the hang of it, and look like a total idiot in my attempt to peel an apple. Despite the formality of meals here, the atmosphere and conversation is lively and fun, and I am beginning to understand and participate more each time!

Speaking of conversation, Spanish at home has been a challenge, but a fun one! There are some key phrases that I have down, such as greeting and saying goodbye to my host family as I come and go, or asking them how their days went. However, answering their questions is always the hardest. I’ll understand a key word or a few, but I always manage to miss the who, what, when, where, or why part of the question, and end up answering the complete wrong thing. Oh well, it’s a work in progress, and they are all extremely patient and helpful, and truly only want to help me improve. Despite my struggles with the language, I have had some really great conversations with my host mom, and love hearing her talk about politics, Spain, travelling, and just her life here in Madrid in general.

Overall, it has been quite an adjustment moving back in with a family in a real house after living on campus for two years. Ask anyone who went abroad, and we will all say the same thing: it’s awkward being a fully independent “adult” living as a “child,” — in the home of stranger, no less — where you don’t have to cook or clean or be home at a reasonable hour but where you’re still trying to form relationships and experience home life in the country. I don’t think I will ever feel fully comfortable in this house, but then again, I’ll never feel fully comfortable being abroad either, and for me, that’s exactly the point!

Hasta luego, and stay tuned for posts on school (yes, it is study abroad, after all) and some trips I’ve been on this month!

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