"The world in which you are born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being like you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit." Wade Davis
I feel like I’ve said this before but I’m going to say it again. Your host family is such an important part of your study abroad experience. Yes, you have your Spanish classes, your volunteering, and excursions with the group, but your host family is really where you get to experience and become really immersed in the culture.
Here is what I mean.
I wake up and nobody is up because 8:00, at least for my family, is considered very early. Yet, I still have cereal and a bowl set out by my lovely host mom every morning when I get up. After breakfast, I make my way to school and after class around 1:30 I get home and wait for my host mom to knock on my door around 2:30-3:00 telling me lunch is ready. I usually eat with my host sister, who is home because her first class doesn’t start until 4:00 (lucky duck). While we eat my host mom is usually in the kitchen preparing food for my host dad, and my two aunts who are also currently living here as well (very cultural), but they all don’t eat until later…can you believe it, later?
During lunch my sister and I talk about classes, travels, family, friends, boys, really anything. It’s super casual and comfortable, and I’ve gotten really close with her, which has been fabulous. After lunch it is the hour of “siesta” or nap. Really, it’s an actual thing. A lot of the shops in town close down from around 2:00-5:00 for lunch and siesta (super cultural). I have a hard time taking a nap in the middle of the day because if I do it’s hard for me to get moving afterwards but I usually try to relax for a bit.
After siesta, some days I go to the park, meet a friend for tea at a café, go to volunteering, head to the gym or visit the Alcazar, Cathedral or Parliament with my CIEE group. Just like back home in the states I have to keep my host mom updated with where I am, except in Spanish. My host mom is super caring and really treats me like one of her own. She is always reminding me to take an umbrella or wear a scarf because it’s cold and at one point even referred to herself now as having “2 Martas” (my host sister).
After volunteering I come home and hang out until dinner is ready around 10:00. Yes, 10:00. Meal times, I have to say, have been the hardest adjustment. For me, 10:00 is really late to be eating, but it’s a big part of the culture. Just like in Chile, dinner time is when I have the most contact with my host family so it’s important that I’m there. During dinner I practice my Spanish listening and talking skills and jump into the conversation when I can. We talk about everything from current events to different places around Sevilla, including places I have visited on excursions or will be visiting, so I’m able to get background information before I go with the group. We also talk about different parts of Spain and Europe and typical Spanish foods. My host aunt and I share a love for cooking so we always have fabulous conversations about different kinds of recipes, and we even plan on having a recipe swap one day in the near future!
I also get asked about different parts of American culture, which I love. For example, once my host dad asked, “What is typical American food? Like what do Americans eat on a daily basis? Hamburgers and French fries from McDonalds?”
It was a hard question, because when I think of American cuisine I think of a range of foods because America is a huge melting pot of cultures. I explained what a typical meal in my family would be and how my mom is very health conscious so we eat a lot of organic fruits and vegetables, not that much meat, a lot of whole grains and not a lot of processed foods. After I explained this it was funny to see my host dad and the rest of my family’s expressions. They all looked slightly surprised at the fact that not all Americans necessarily like, or even eat fried foods all day, every day. Of course America is huge and there are all kinds of people who have a variety of eating habits but it was a great sense of accomplishment to feel like I changed this American stereotype in even just 5 people’s minds.
On a typical night, I finish my gazpacho (typical Spanish cold tomato soup) and tortilla de España (another typical Spanish dish-basically an omelette with potatoes and cheese) and then my host mom asks me 15 times if I want more and 15 times I say no thank you, another huge cultural difference I’ve experienced. Food is a sign of love here and since I am not used to this sometimes it feels very forced. Instead of serving oneself my host mom will serve everyone and then after we finish our servings insist we eat more and more…and sometimes even more. Saying no at least 15 times during a meal has just been one of those things I’ve had to get used to and really I know she only means well.
Like I said, my host sister and I got pretty close from the beginning. Marta is 19 so we are at similar points in our lives. Therefore, finding things to bond over, even with the culture and language difference, really wasn’t hard at all! And a couple of weeks ago I was ecstatic when she asked me if I wanted to go to Rome with her! I of course said yes, so we bought our tickets and last Thursday traveled to Rome, one Spanish chica and one American gal, quite a story!
We stayed with her good friend who is studying in Rome and living with 4 other Spanish girls so it was full on Spanish the whole time, which of course was overwhelming but was also really, really good practice for me. Rome was absolutely incredible, but it was extra special navigating through the city and seeing all the monuments with my host sister. We laughed over asking people in the streets for directions in English, then Spanish if they didn’t understand the first time, which still sometimes didn’t work! What could be better than sharing a pizza at a restaurant and listening to an Italian street performer play a little number on his accordion? How about tossing a coin in the Trevi Fountain then hiking up a bunch of stairs to a marvelous view of the city and watching the sun set over the wonderful city of Rome. Traveling to Rome with my Spanish host sister, Marta, was more than an adventure and quite an experience that will remain with me forever!
Here are some pictures from our adventure!