Reflections on First Two Weeks of Homestays

Sept. 21, 2013

We have been very busy since our last blog post from Spain. Since Barcelona we have spent the last two weeks settling into our new host families and school routines in Granada. Before lunch every weekday we spend 4 hours in intensive Spanish language classes and 1 hour in a Spanish Civilation and Culture class. Hungry and mentally fried we head home around 2:30 for lunch. After a rejuvenating “siesta” we spend our evenings doing homework in one of the many parks or plazas, taking advantage of the shopping, or getting together for an excursion to one of the many culturally significant sites in Granada. Weekends are filled with more sight-seeing throughout Andalucia (a province in southern Spain) and experiencing some of Granada’s vibrant night life. So far excursions have included the historic Albaicin district of Granada, the Alhambra, the Alpujarras region, and La Mezquita in Cordoba.

Here are some reflections on the difficult but rewarding task of getting to know our new Spanish families and the coinciding experiences of culture shock. Bruselas 38 is a humble apartment complex not found on Google Maps and not directly accessible by car. On the sixth floor lives a classy yet fiery elderly woman named Purificacion or “Puri for short. Amanda Vega and I have been blessed to call her “host mom” during our stay in Granada. Our first night in Granada she made certain to introduce us to the entire immediate family, including three adult daughters, their husbands, and three grandsons. She showed us her favorite Tapas restaurant and the best cafes and produce shops. She even had key chains made with our initials on them! She wasted no time in being completely accommodating and welcoming to us.

Every morning Puri makes my coffee and watches us safely walk to the elevator as we leave for school. Lunch always awaits our return and she makes sure our bellies are full to the brim until she sits and eats her own lunch. She never fusses at our pickiness or complete unawareness of social norms, such as wearing shoes 24/7 in the house. With level 1 and 2 Spanish speakers to socialize with, she has the most patience I could have ever hoped for as a beginner. We bond over the most unexpected things, such as American television with Spanish voice-overs, and our social lives between friends and family. Puri is a very hospitable and spunky woman. I know I’m going to love it here in Granada thanks to her!

-Melinda Norris

Melinda’s and my host mom is a social butterfly and night owl. She is probably my grandmother’s age but moves around like a college student. When we get home after an afternoon of shopping or homework, she is either entertaining someone or on the phone. When she is off the phone she is talking to us. She tells us all of her stories and we try to keep up with her. She doesn’t go to bed until after us most nights which could be 1 a.m. some nights. She is very fun and easy to be with! I love my host mom.

-Amanda Vega

The way I learn the rules is by breaking them, unintentionally of course. I have now learned to eat facing the table, to not eat French fries with my hands, and to not enter a part of the house if the door is closed. I would never have considered myself to be someone without manners, as I always say please and thank you and try to be as polite as possible. But I think my host mom would describe me differently.

Within the first week my mom had corrected how I sit at the table. Our mom sits at the head of the table and I am on the right side so I turn in my seat so that I can face her and show that I am interested (I mostly do this because it is more comfortable). I guess by the third night she had had it and so she gave me a long explanation as to why I need to sit facing the table and I should never turn in a restaurant. That was the first lesson I learned and I haven’t done it since.

The next night I helped myself to some French fries. I used my hands to get them and my host mom immediately jumped on correcting me and showed me how to properly take French fries with a fork. When that happened I just had to laugh because in America French fries are eaten with our hands, now I know to always use a fork for even the simplest foods. Over the weekend, Annika and I came home and no one else was home. I wanted to do my homework out on the porch because I like natural light. To get out to the porch you have to walk through the family room. This particular day the door to the family room was closed. I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal so I let myself in and went to the balcony while Annika stayed in the room to study. When our mom came home she went off on Annika saying that this was her apartment, and if the door is closed we don’t go there. Our mom never came to me to tell me, so I found out through Annika that I had upset her. I felt awful about it and was a little angry as well, because I don’t like being restricted to just one room. But during dinner I decided to just break the awkwardness and apologize for the mistake (in very bad Spanish). She immediately said it was okay because she hadn’t told us that before and recognized that we didn’t know. We agreed that we just needed to communicate on what is allowed. We are supposed to tell her when we don’t like the food or something. After that I felt much better and I think she did too.

It’s kind of funny for me now. Every day I wonder what new lesson I will learn. I am thankful for the little things she is teaching me and am glad that she cares enough that she wants me to act properly. She has been very generous with her home and all my needs have been met. It looks like I will be coming home with more polite mannerisms.

-Angelina Pardini

From the moment my host mother Mari (short for Maribel) gave me a love tap on the rump I knew we had a special connection beyond hand to cheek. Off of Camino de Ronda, the main road that winds through the buildings of Granada, Spain; Alex and I share an apartment with our host mother and her two children Paco and María. It has only been one week since our arrival and the apartment already feels like home. It did not take us long to break in the apartment, quite literally. The other day Alex ripped out a window handle from the interior of the house leaving a very large hole in the wall. Unfortunately, the damage was fatal and the only remedy was a new window handle. Alex and I were terrified to deliver the news to our host family. Once we mustered up the courage to unveil our new addition to the home’s décor we guided Mari to the room. Through both fragmented clay and Spanish our host mom calmly interrupted our confession and said “No pasa nada hijos, está bien. Los cosas están hechas para ser rotas. Como es mi trabajo cuidar de vosotros, es el trabajo de otro arreglar este problema. Si las cosas están hechas para ser rotas esa persona no tendría un trabajo.”

It is nothing sons, everything is okay. Things are meant to be broken. As it is my job to take care of you, it is the job of someone else to fix this. If things were not meant to be broken that person would be without a job.

We were surprised and incredibly relieved by her forgiveness. I think this short story perfectly portrays the relationship we share with our host family. Alex and I have felt nothing but patience and acceptance in our new home. We are foreigners acclimating to an exotic culture and despite the fact that we often show our cultural ignorance our family always responds with compassion. Mari frequently tells us that we are “parte de la familia” and even though that typically leads to two hour dinner conversations we feel blessed to be with such an inviting family.

-Roberto Wingfield