By Holly Jordan
University of Colorado at Boulder
I took my first Spanish class when I was 13, and I remember my teacher telling us about the time she had spent in Spain, about the food, the more relaxed way of life, a completely different eating schedule, everything that I know now to be true. When I got home that day I ran up the stairs and began talking my mom’s ear off about how badly I needed to go to Madrid. She has continued to remind me of that day at least a hundred times since I’ve arrived. I can’t believe that I am nearing the end of my program here, it has been everything that I dreamed of and more. However, I think that the biggest thing I have learned from studying abroad is that you never know what to expect, no matter how long you have thought about and dreamed of this moment.
My biggest surprise has been how perfect my living situation has been. I live with my host mom, Patricia, and her two Chihuahuas, Coco and Sofia, who are basically her children. I’ve honestly never seen someone who loves their dogs as much as she does, they go everywhere with her and she always has at least one in her shirt to keep them warm. My first day in Spain, I was incredibly nervous and exhausted. I was the first one to get off the bus to meet my host mom and I remember looking around Plaza de España trying to see if anyone was coming towards us while a million thoughts ran through my head: am I dressed okay? What if I can’t understand her? What if I’m too shy and she thinks I’m weird? What is she going to think of me? Am I going to get to sleep soon? Where is she?! Finally, this woman comes running towards us smiling and talking a million miles an hour in Spanish to Sonia. Apparently she had thought the bus was dropping us off on the other side. She was the first person to greet me in the typical Spanish fashion of one beso on each cheek. A small older man, her father, came walking up behind Patricia and also greeted me then took one of my suitcases. They spoke in Spanish while we walked back to her apartment and I was growing even more nervous because I didn’t understand a word. Her sister and mom were waiting in her apartment. Her mom had a million questions but I could only answer with “Sí”s and “bien”s. I really needed to sleep. Patricia showed me around her small apartment and I was surprised because my room here is actually a lot bigger than mine at home, with a bed, closet, desk, my own bathroom and floral decorations that I recognized from Ikea. My American-ness really showed when she informed me that they didn’t have a dishwasher or clothes dryer. The whole family laughed at the face I made. When Patricia asked if I wanted to rest for a little bit I said yes way too quickly, I’ve never fallen asleep so fast in my life.
The next day, I woke up to her whole family speaking Spanish loudly in the living room. I walked to my bedroom door and stopped, not knowing if it was okay if I just went out in my pajamas or not. Finally I just opened the door to find all four of them also in their pajamas, drinking coffee and watching a game show. They told me buenos días and gestured for to come over to the couch. They offered me coffee and her dad showed me pictures of the pueblo he grew up in and the church there that he had helped build. Sitting in the living room with them, I not only relaxed since the first time I arrived, but I became completely overwhelmed with happiness and excitement that this is where I would live for the next 4 months.
Patricia’s family returned the next day to their home in Burgos, but about a month later Patricia and I packed up the dogs and went for a weekend trip to visit them for the festival of San Miguel in her father’s pueblo. The whole ride up Patricia taught me about the different towns we were passing, this one has a famous church, this one makes really good wine etc. She told me two things about Burgos: that I am going to experience a very authentic Spanish festival, and that I should prepare myself to eat a lot. We met her parents in their bar and her mom made us the most delicious paella I have had in Spain, and they took me to see the gorgeous Burgos Cathedral. Later we drove up to the pueblo where I met Patricia’s 97 year old grandmother and a plethora of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. There was a stage set up in the middle of the town where a DJ would later be playing. Patricia’s sister, Bea, is 26 and closer to my age and so I hung out with her and her friends who were incredibly nice and patiently explained things to me when I didn’t understand. The pueblo is tiny, and most people only use their house there as a weekend house so not a lot of people were around. But this did not stop them from going all out for their festival. There was music, dancing, games, food, beer and people of every age. And of course this all went on until 5AM when they served cups of melted chocolate and cookies. This was incredibly satisfying since Burgos has one of the highest elevations in Spain and is therefore very, very cold. During the day there was even more food made by Patricia’s grandmother, including gambas, ensalada de verduras, and jamón íberica, just when you thought the meal was over, she would bring out yet another dish. I also got to walk around the town and see a house that Patricia’s father was in the process of building, a well that used to be the only water supply in the town and the church. And of course I went to the next town over with Bea and her friends to get a café con leche and watch the Real Madrid game at a bar. There was also a small parade in which a few men carried their representation of San Miguel and a small band played and followed behind them. They stopped in front of the church where everyone met to dance and celebrate. My favorite part was watching Patricia and her mom dance at the parade, they were laughing so hard that they kept messing up the traditional dance of that region. Patricia’s dad introduced to everyone as his otra hija, which was met by everyone else with confused looks but only put the biggest smile on my face. It was a weekend I will never forget and that I am so grateful for having experienced. It was something I never could’ve done had I not been with a host family.
On a typical day, Patricia is either singing in our kitchen, making mermelada or watching Friends. She helps me a lot with my Spanish by always correcting me or teaching me new words and then asking me later. I write down everything she teaches me so that I am prepared for her pop quizzes. In turn I try to help her with her English pronunciations. She told me the other day that if I ever need anything, or if there’s something I don’t understand I can always come to her even when her door is closed. I really couldn’t have asked to live in a better place with a better person. I have loved my homestay and honestly it has been a large part in what has made my abroad experience so amazing. I will always be grateful for everything Patricia has done for me and hopefully I will get to come back and visit her or see her in the US someday.