Home Away from Home: Living Abroad

January 5, 2004. I sit back in my chair, exhausted. Lunch has been a veritable tennis match. My new host family is crowding around the table, peeling apples and gesturing with their hands, speaking at top volume. They’re speaking Spanish. Thickly accented, rapid fire, Andalucian Spanish. I can’t translate fast enough. I thought I spoke this language?

March 5, 2004. I sit back in my chair, laughing. After telling a story about my day at school, my señora has called me out. “Do you remember the day you arrived?” she asks. “When I asked you if you spoke Spanish, you said si, un poquito. You were lying!” And there I am, with my own thick accent and rapid fire Spanish, gesturing to emphasize my every word. I’ve stopped translating; I speak this language.

May 31, 2004. I sit back in the cab, exhausted. The cab driver keeps an eye on me in the rearview mirror as we circle the block. I can hardly see, my eyes are nearly swollen shut from crying so hard. My breath is hitching and I am apologizing, stumbling over the words. As I take a deep breath and try to steady myself to unfold myself from the car, he turns to me and says, “Don’t worry, hija, you’ll come back. They always do.”

And he’s right.

Where will I live? This is one of the most popular questions from students when deciding where to study abroad. The answer: It depends. Many programs offer both on and off-campus housing: residence halls, shared apartments or host family placement, while other traveling programs may include lodging in hotels or hostels.

While in the US, students often choose to live off-campus for the freedom it provides, bypassing on-campus living for an apartment with friends. Some may skip the host family option out of concern for that same freedom. You moved out of your parent’s house on purpose, after all.

In my position, I have yet to see the “end result” of my choice to live with a host family. The relationship that started at that table in 2004 continues today, through Facebook and emails, right up to my host sister’s wedding this past June. When I left the U.S. as a 20-year old, I was hoping for a chance to practice my Spanish, a comfortable place to rest my head and maybe a recipe or two from my señora. What I received far exceeded those expectations, and shaped my interactions with Spain in an immeasurable way.

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