A Word About Homestays

So, let’s set the scene.

You’re a sophomore (maybe a junior by credits, don’t get cocky). You’re about to study abroad. You notice a lot of the coolest places (*cough* Spain *cough*) require or highly suggest a homestay. You wish you had someone to give you advice about the dirty details of the homestay life. You stumble across this blog.

Or, scenario B: you’re a future employer stalking me on Google. You stumble across this blog.

So, either way, here you are, reading my advice about homestays. Homestays are tricky to write about because everyone has such a unique experience. So, I would like to disclaim that my observations and experiences may not hold true for every place, family, program, etc.

To begin, I would like to touch on the type of people who sign up to host a student. The first type of homestay is a family that wants to provide a room to a student in order to supplement their income. As Spain is having tough economic times, this is a very common scenario. The next type of homestay is someone elderly and/or alone, usually a woman, who would like some company. This situation can be weird because you almost feel obligated to spend time with your host family. The last type of homestay includes a family with kids. In this type of homestay, the family sometimes would like you to practice English with their kids.

The three scenarios for homestays are just generalizations, naturally. Sometimes, the host family can be a combination of the different types described above. For example, my host mom Maria* is a combination of the first and second situation. However, sometimes homestays can be nothing like what I described. For example, my friend’s family requested to be a homestay because their cousin hosts students as well.

After realizing the different types of families, the best advice I could give is to fill out the homestay request form as detailed as possible. A lot of other applicants do not take the time to do this. Therefore, if you are more specific you will likely get things you request. For example, I wrote down a specific neighborhood on the form. You could request a specific walking distance from school. Some of the surfers on my program asked to be closer to the beach (however, this did pose a longer commute to school and metros don’t run super late every night of the weekend!). A lot of people request families with kids.

I requested to be near the Guggenheim, a central location in Bilbao.
I requested to be near the Guggenheim Museum, a central location in Bilbao, Spain.

Another important part of the homestay request form is the roommate section. I said I did not care if I had roommate and I was assigned a single. At first I was excited to have a single, because roommates sound like the epitome of freshman year. I soon realized there were pros and cons to living in a homestay alone. For example, it might have been easier to have a friend to work through the language barrier with. It also could have been nice to have a friend to go out with, because it is always safer to walk home with someone. However, living alone helped me be independent from the group and I also got to practice more Spanish! You should consider these things before filling out the form because it really shapes the homestay experience.

Finally, once you are abroad and living in a homestay, remember that it is going to be weird. Maria treats me like a child a lot, as if I have not been living on my own for a while now. For example, after my return from Morocco, my host mom had reorganized my whole closet. All of my sandals are now missing. The same thing happened to my swimsuit top in September. If my bed isn’t made perfectly, she will remake it. She does my laundry, cleans my dishes, and has even blow dried my hair. And I kind of feel helpless because I never had the courage to tell her these things bothered me and that I am a capable adult. I also was not really sure how to say all of these things in Spanish. If I had been honest with Maria, I would have saved a lot of time harboring anger toward her. However, if you are only going to be honest with your host family about one thing, let it be the food. Otherwise, they will cook you the same crappy dish they think you like (think: pigs’ feet).

In the end, I had a lot of trouble getting along with my host mom. But do I regret it? Not really. If I had lived with friends, I would not have practiced Spanish every day. I would have wasted time cooking and cleaning that I could have used exploring. In the end, it is one thing to live alongside a while culture abroad, but my homestay let me live within the Spanish culture.

*name has been changed


My Favorite Souvenir

I’ve been in Bilbao, Spain for almost two weeks, and so far I’m realizing that our textbooks have taught us a lot of Latin American Spanish.  So, I’ve been sitting in front of mi ordenador for a of couple days (previously known as mi computadora portatíl), trying to detail my experiences abroad thus far.  And I’ve been having trouble putting my experiences in words; I’ve been having trouble thinking of the most important things to tell.

This is what I know: I am so lucky to be studying abroad.  I do productive things every day because my time is limited, and there is not much to do inside anyway since the Wi-Fi connections are all shoddy (no longer la conexión inalámbrica).  I’ve seen ornate churches, toured famous museums, been wine tasting, swam on nude beaches, and hiked through the Basque country.  And the best part?  I can do all of these things after class (or on Fridays because there aren’t classes—remember those times, Pios?).

Tomorrow, I'll be at this little beach in Bakio after my classes
Tomorrow, I’ll be at this little beach in Bakio after my classes

Additionally, I’m learning a lot about myself abroad. Like, I’m not good with maps (which I may or may not have known before, but it is now confirmed).  My Spanish needs work (a lot).  And, I’m noticing a lot of little things that I take for granted.  Google Maps, hot showers, cold milk (don’t even ask), peanut butter? Never forget.

Pinxtos hopping in Casco Viejo, the old town of Bilbao
Pinxtos hopping in Casco Viejo, the old town of Bilbao

I know my experience is barely starting, but I’m already excited to bring photos, souvenirs, and a “better me” back to The States.  However, what I’m most eager to take home?  The study abroad mentality.  It’s easy to put off seeing things and doing things when you’re comfortable.  Whether that comfort comes from your go-to Chipotle order, your daily routine, or your best friend: do what you can to be uncomfortable.

I cannot wait to go take the Light Rail and see what exists at the end of every stop (pro tip: Santa Fe Drive off of the 10th and Osage station is a pretty cool area).  I can’t wait to take the long walk home instead of the easy walk home after class. I will turn my phone data off (sometimes) in order to tune into the world.  And as corny as it seems, I vow to not be so worried about getting lost because that’s the best way to figure out where you’re going (or at least the best way to find a new coffee shop).  I have until December in Spain, but I promise I will never stop “studying abroad.”

How I Chose Bilbao, Spain

I am kind of the average joe. I mean, my name, Amanda, is one of the top ten girl’s names from 1995.  I’m a marketing major. I use French Vanilla Coffeemate. I have a Pinterest board full of sweets I will never make. Totally average over here. However, in the midst of all of that, I have some unique qualities, too. For example, I make toast on my stovetop because I am too stubborn (or maybe too cheap) to buy a toaster. I have a weird vendetta against finishing books. And perhaps most important to this blog, I am about to embark on a study abroad journey to Bilbao, Spain with the organization International Studies Abroad (ISA).

I wasn’t ever sure I wanted to study abroad; I’m still not really sure. But DU gave me that little push to apply. Being unsure, I created a mental list of criteria for my study abroad destination:

  1. Spanish-speaking. This was important to me because I am debating adding a Spanish minor and I thought living in a Spanish-speaking culture could help me determine if I would want to use the language in my career.
  2. City life. Living in a larger city would give more opportunity to sightsee while also providing access to better developed public transport.
  3. A school with “limited” DU students attending. I didn’t move far for college (3 miles away, to be exact), so this would be my opportunity to start fresh and be on my own.
  4. Apartment or dormitory living accommodations. Homestays seem like they would limit my independence because I would be on my host family’s time. I had already moved out on my own, I didn’t want to have parents again!
  5. Service-learning opportunity. I took a service-learning class my freshman year and I think that it gave me a tie to the community that we often take for granted.

Photo by Kadir Cinoglu

In the end, I chose the Universidad de Deusto in Bilbao, Spain. Specifically, I am enrolled in the program for Business, International Relations, and Spanish Language. I can take classes for my marketing major, as well as classes accredited to the Spanish minor at DU. There is also a service-learning course, a tandem program (for partnering with local students to teach each other Spanish and English), and a Spanish cuisine class! Additionally, the city of Bilbao has so much to offer. I look forward to exploring the Bay of Biscay, Mount Artxanda, the art of traditional dance, and the famous Guggenheim Museum.

After reviewing my criteria, I realized that none of the schools met my five requirements. I shouldn’t have set too many expectations before going abroad. And I think recognizing this was one of the best ways to prepare for studying abroad (along with buying a new digital camera, of course). Since it’s a different country and culture, I need to remember that not everything will meet some mental checklist of mine. Learning to “go with the flow” will suit me well on my journey in the fall, especially because I tend to be type A to a fault.

The only criteria the Universidad de Deusto did not meet: residencia living accommodations. Last week, I tried something new and went to a tarot card reader. The tarot reader said that I am too serious and have too much of an old mind to be 20. She said the only way to change this mindset is to let go of the past. I think Bilbao is my opportunity to take this advice. And so, although I’m terrified of living with a host family, I’m going in with a youthful mind. I’m finally ready to immerse myself in a new life this fall.

Hasta luego,


Audriana’s blog: Bilbao, Spain


Audriana studied at the Universidad de Deusto through ISA this semester, and as she is wrapping up her time in Bilbao, she is reflecting on what the experience has meant for her:

“For me, study abroad became a time to find myself and be the person that I always have been, but was limited by her surroundings.  I know I will leave Spain as a different woman than the one who arrived here four months early, and I can’t wait to face my life straight on when I return.  I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to study abroad, travel to many amazing places, and meet such incredible people.”



Explore Bilbao on a Stationary Bike

This morning, I turned on the TV in my host mum’s kitchen to watch the news while I ate breakfast, like I do for most meals. However, this morning, I was greeted by a very happy surprise!

Euskal Irrati Telebista (Eitb), the Basque Country‘s public broadcasting service, has created a program called “In English, Please”, to entertain and educate the people of the Basque country in English, of course.

The show is hosted by Alan Griffin, an Australian politician, who has apparently taken a break from his day job to ramble around Euskadi on his bicycle, attempting to speak with locals in English along the way.

Not only is this program highly entertaining (just get an eye full of the title sequence, which shows Griffin pedaling away on his stationary bike at various locales to the tune of Queen’s “Bicycle Race“), but you actually learn a lot about Bilbao about the Basque Country along the way.

For instance, you can explore the Guggenheim Museum

You can learn how the Bilbao Fútbol Club was founded by the English

“In English, Please” 5th Lesson: Bilbao Fútbol Club

Hear from locals about how Bilbao has changed from an industrial backwater to a modern metropolis

“In English, Please” 6th Lesson: Bilbao

Explore the city’s lovely parks and plazas

Or, you can just enjoy this video of Basque children singing The Beatle’s “Hello Goodbye”

So, if you are at all curious about Bilbao, why not explore the city with a funny man on a bicycle?

– Emily Bowman, DUSA Student Blogger, Bilbao Fall 2012

Decisions, Decisions, and Premonitions on your Destination for Study Abroad

You know when you have that feeling in your gut that something important is just about to happen? When I was little, I used to think these feelings were special indicators of future events – I called it reverse déjà vu. As I’ve grown, I’ve come to the less supernatural conclusion that I must just have particularly strong intuition.

But someties, these feelings catch you by the wayside, and it’s only after the realization’s come to surface that you can see how it’s been stuck to you for awhile and you’ve just been blind to its meaning.

One of the most significant moments of my life happened this way. As a kid I’d lie awake at night sometimes and wonder what it would be like if I lived in another country – what if I wasn’t born as an American? If I were a Britishschoolgirl instead, what would I be doing right now? Or if I were from Zimbabwe? China? Argentina? The thought of it would make me breathless.

Then, when I turned fifteen, my family and I moved to Melbourne, Australia. During the first few months of the five years I lived there, I would wake up astonished with my situation. I – am living in Australia? Then I’d remember those night I spent wondering about life in far away places…it made sense. Of course, I was always meant to be this person, an expat, a traveler. It’s what led me to my current path as an International Studies major at the University of Denver.

The same thing happened with Study Abroad. As soon as the start of my first year at DU I was looking at my options. I considered everywhere – and I’m not kidding; destinations as diverse as The Hague and Hong Kong. I even considered returning to Australia. For a spell, I was dead set on going to the Dominican Republic. Then there was Bilbao.

After mulling over my options, I was drawn to Spain. Somewhat reluctantly to tell you the truth, but I had a feeling. Soon enough, I was swept up with the idea of living in Madrid, the pulsing cosmopolitan heart of the country. Having worked with texts by Frederico García Llorca in high school, I was charmed by visions of life in Andalucía. The whimsical paintings of Salvador Dalí made me curious to see the landscape of Catalonia. I could practically see myself surrounded by the Moorish architecture of Granada. But Bilbao? No. Who goes to the north of Spain, when you can revel in the fiery south?

But something would say to me, “I bet that’s where you’ll be going, Emily,” and inside I would sigh at the thought. My intuition was speaking to me, but I didn’t want to listen.

You see we get so caught up in what we think we should do, where we should go, how our future should look, the kind of person we should be. That takes a lot of planning and organizing and lists. Lots of lists, with pros and cons and comparisons all for making decisions on our lives. I made lots of lists for study abroad, in my head and on paper. I know a lot of my friends did too. But travel shouldn’t be that way at all. Travel’s meant to break routine and throw us out on a limb. We leave what we know and what’s familiar in order to be confronted with what we didn’t plan for, don’t we?

So, I brought my list of what I wanted in a Study Abroad locale with me to my meeting with the Study Abroad advisor last Fall. Lo and behold, after looking over my list, the advisor looked and me and said, “It looks like Bilbao would be a perfect fit for you,” more or less.

“Well, of course it does,” I said to myself.

But you know, she talked me into it.

“Go to northern Spain,” she said.

“Why?” I countered.

“Because it is entirely unlike the rest of the country. It’s lush and green. There are mountains all around. The coast is beautiful. I know you hear all about la Costa del Sol, but all the Spaniards run to the northern coast for their holidays.”

I was listening.

“The culture up to the north is entirely unique to the region. There’s a very strong Celtic presence, they even play bagpipes, which you wouldn’t expect in Spain would you?”

“No, not at all.”

“Exactly. Most people don’t know much about the north of Spain because, well, most people don’t go there. And that’s one of the best parts, you’ll be one of few foreigners studying abroad in the region.”

That piqued my interest.

Then she winced and added, “It’s true that people can be a bit – apprehensive – to travel to the Basque country, and if you ask a Spaniard what they think of the idea they’ll probably advise you against it because of the ETA, but, really, it’s not dangerous. In fact, the ETA declared a ceasefire last month and, anyways, they never plant bombs inside the Basque country, so you’d actually be much safer, in theory, from terrorist threats in Bilbao than if you were anywhere else in the country.”

For some twisted reason, it was the idea of studying abroad in a place with an active national resistance movement that got me hooked.

So, I gave in to fate. I will be studying abroad en la otra costa, with ISA in Bilbao, Spain come September. And I couldn’t be happier. In my experience, the best journeys don’t fit within our carefully considered expectations. The destination draws you in, without any preparation on your part, sometimes against reason. Get rid of expectations when you travel, you’re better without them. Instead, follow your premonitions, because they know where you are going, and I’ll bet you can’t wait to find out.

Emily Bowman, DUSA Blogger