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

Some Downsides…


Leaving for abroad, you hear about a lot of things that may happen to you. Administrators warn you about things such as homesickness, theft, and culture shock. Being the ignorant kid that I am, I thought none of this would possible happen to me. I thought DU and my study abroad program were only telling me these things out of obligation. However, after only a month and a half abroad, all three of these things have happened to me. So, if you’re ready, let’s jump on into some of the unforeseen (although definitely should have been) misfortunes of Kerry Nelson’s life abroad.

The first thing I thought would be less of an issue is homesickness. I am 20 years old and I am an out of state student. I have been a full day of traveling away from my parents and home for two full years now. Actually the plane ride home from Spain is only three hours longer now than it would be in Colorado. But what I forgot is I have a home at DU now too. So not only do I occasionally miss my parents and siblings, I also miss my friends at school, the mountains, the campus, and of course, Illegal Pete’s. This is not to say I’m counting down the days till home, but I just really thought homesickness would not be a problem for me. Love being completely wrong.

The next misfortune that has befallen me is a pick-pocket incident in Rome. I’m studying in Spain but during my travels, I found myself in a crowded subway near the edge of the doors. This woman then approaches the door and starts yelling in Italian asking if the subway stops at some stop name that I forget. I, perhaps stupidly, react and say, in Spanish, i don’t know. Then she gets in my face and asks if I speak French (in French). I tell her “no.” I look away for a hot second and then she’s gone. While on the subway back to the hostel my friend and I thought it was so weird what had just happened and we are not too worried. Leaving the
girl-pick-pocket1 subway I decide to check my purse just in case and my wallet is gone. Dope. Shock turns to annoyance turns to a small moment of panic when I can’t pay to get to the airport to meet up with my program, which turns to complete inconvenience in numerous ways once arrived in Sevilla. Like, I can’t buy roller-blades online and a gal just wants to blade. (I also can’t buy plane tickets and bike passes online but this should very soon be rectified. Worry not.) All I’m saying is theft esses a dee in many ways and a lot of times there is nothing that can be done. But one thing would be don’t engage with crazy, yelling people on packed subways. ~the more you know~

The last thing which has happened here is I have learned the definition of culture shock. Culture shock doesn’t have to be completely debilitating or entirely obvious. Culture shock can be going into a café and genuinely not knowing how to order a coffee, like an infant. It can be getting served a full fish, eyes and all, at your home-stay and not knowing how to say in Spanish that’s the sight of this dish, no matter how delicious tasting it may be, makes you want to find the nearest bathroom and hurl. It’s being confused and not knowing how to function as a human person within the culture. The little things become difficult and thus life becomes a whole lot less comfortable. I didn’t quite fully understand the concept of culture shock until recently when people where taking pictures of my friends and I at a café for apparently doing something against the norm and I honestly still have no idea what it was.

Homesickness, theft, and culture shock are three not ideal concept that exist abroad. But do you know what is ideal? Spain. Spain is ideal. When I start to get down about one of these things that haven’t gone exactly my way, I just remember where I am and how lucky I am to get to this experience. Homesickness can be solved with a phone call or a funny conversation with my friends. Theft is not the end of the world by any means. And culture shock just means I am learning by trial and error and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not abroad to have the same experiences I would in the states. I’m so happy to be here and am ready for the next misfortune to come my way.