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Courtney in Spain

(Another in my series of interviews with people who have participated in homestays)

Courtney is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Iowa seeking a degree in business and an International Business Certificate, along with a Spanish minor. She is writing about here experiences in Spain on her blog.

If you have done a homestay and want to share your experience write me at evergreenexchange@gmail.com.

Where are you studying?

I am currently studying in Valladolid, Spain at the Universidad de Valladolid.  I will be here a total of five weeks of classes, followed by a week of traveling in Spain. The program was actually offered by my school through the Iowa Regent’s Program which partners the three main Iowa universities, however, there are many other students from Pennsylvania and San Diego in my classes as well.

University

What was the family like?

My family is two adults named Rosario and Jesús who are an older couple.  They have two daughters and three grandchildren.  The daughters and grandchildren do not live in our flat, but we see them multiple times a week for meals and Rosario will often babysit. Rosario and Jesús are fantastic host parents, and have been doing this for over twenty years! They are incredibly wise and so thoughtful.

Did you do anything to prepare for the homestay?

Personally, I did not do much to prepare for the visit. For me, I knew it was going to be a completely new experience, so going in with an open mind was my number one goal.  My housing information did not get to me until a few days before my trip.  I found a little gift that I could bring to present when arriving, and that was just perfect.  Also, I prepared a photo album of my family and friends to make the first day or so an easy transition of communication.

What were your first impressions? How have they been changing over time?

When arriving in Valladolid, I was immediately welcomed with open arms! I knew that I was going to have a wonderful host family.  At first, I thought Jesús and Rosario would be a quiet couple. As time passes, we learn more and more about the two and they re hilarious! They tell stories all the time that have us laughing.  The growth of the relationship has been a really positive experience for me.

Lunch..mmm paella!

Food is one of the biggest adapaptations during a homestay. Have you found a new favorite? Is there something you won’t eat?

Ah, Spanish food! For some people, it is definitely a different and difficult thing.  I was in Spain last year for part of my summer, so I was given a preview of what the food would be like.  I personally really, really enjoy most things I try! I absolutely love the tortilla española and garbanzo beans with onion. I have never been a huge fan of eggs, so a couple dishes that have an egg-like texture have not been my favorite, but I aim to give everything a try.

How has the homestay been affecting your language learning?

My home stay has definitely benefitted my language adaptation in many ways! We will watch the news or television on occasion.  We are able to discuss different topics and such.  It has been a way to integrate Spanish conversation into my daily life, and I love that! As I continue to live with my family, I surely see my language growing more and more.

Has the homestay affected how you see your own family? 

In ways, yes.  I have always been close with my family, but it is really interesting to hear how other families in different countries associate.  Jesús and Rosario talk about the importance of eating together as a family and being integrated in each others’ lives. I hope to continue living this out when I am with my family and becoming really involved in every conversation.

If you were to do it again what would you do differently?

Absolutely nothing-  I love the idea of a homestay and the way mine turned out.  I really was blessed with an amazing family.  I know many other students who have incredible host parents and I trust this program greatly!

Anything else to add?

Do not be afraid to get involved in their lives. One of the best things I have done so far is love their entire family.  I absolutely adore the grandchildren and if I chose to be close minded, I wouldn’t have established those relationships.  Additionally, talk as much as you can! Your host parents know the best about their culture and country.  It is a wonderful resource and it is at your fingertips!

Courtney and her roommate made short video of their host family’s apartment.

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Kyle in France

Kyle works for Florida State University’s International Programs office. His short homestay in France during high school set him on the path to work in international education.  You can connect with Kyle on Twitter.

If you have a homestay experience you’d like to share write me at evergreenexchange @ gmail.com  Thanks!

Where did you go?

I traveled to Noirmoutier, France and lived with a host family for 2 weeks.  I then traveled to the Loire Valley and Paris with my high school group.

What organization did you use?

My trip was organized through my high school’s French club.  Our teacher applied for a grant and received some funding that help cut back on the cost for participants.  Noirmoutier is the sister city of the city in which I attended to high school.

What was the family like?

The family owned a bed and breakfast on the small island of Noirmoutier and they were very friendly. They knew little English and I had only taken two years of high school French at that point.  I remember the mom being very sweet and understanding of my initial timidity at first, but she was very patient with me as we worked to get me comfortable with speaking to the best of my abilities.  Somehow we made communication work!  The boy I stayed with was a bit younger than me, so unfortunately, we didn’t connect as well as I would have liked, but he was still nice and made a good attempt to show me their life on the island.

(source: Wikipedia)

Did you do anything to prepare for the homestay?

Yes!  My high school French teacher was awesome so she organized a lot of opportunities for us to get ready for the experience.  We actually had a host student for a year that was from Noirmoutier so we would have monthly French club meetings and plan the trip with her help.  She would tell us about her home and give us advice for preparing for the adventure we were about to have.  We read about the island and learned about its unique culture and important economic products (sea salt and potatoes!) and  of course practiced our French.  I remember one exercise which was to learn the vocabulary we would need from the time we got off the plane until we arrived at the doorstep of our host family.

What were your first impressions? Did they change over time?

My first impressions were that this experience was incredible and that I couldn’t have imagined just how much more of the world there was to experience.  It was a very overwhelming, but exciting feeling.  That first week was incredibly tough mentally, however.  I remember having intense headaches from hearing nothing but French all day and trying to process it all with my limited vocabulary.  It was very exhausting in the beginning, however, after about the first week I found it easier to follow the lilt of the local speakers.  While I certainly could not understand anywhere near everything that was spoken to me, key words began to separate themselves from the previously jumbled up stream of French I was hearing.

Food is one of the biggest adaptations during a homestay. Did you find a new favorite?  Was there something you wouldn’t eat?

I was, and still am, a fairly picky eater, so I knew this was going to be tough for me to adapt to.  However, I knew that it was important to be respectful of my host family and the host culture at large and try to take advantage of the whole experience.  One thing I could not budge on was seafood, however, since the very smell of it makes me queasy.  I knew this was going to be tough going to a small island of the west coast of France so I told my host family I was allergic to it just to not show disrespect.  Other than that, I tried everything they put before me.  My absolute favorite, which is not hard to believe given the French, were the pastries and breads that were abound.  The freshness of the bread every morning with breakfast was something I miss to this day here in the states.

How did the homestay affect your language learning?

Though I felt rather limited since my vocabulary was bare bones at the time I went, as I reflect upon this experience and what it has meant to my linguistic capabilities I am convinced it secured a strong foundation for me in the language.  I also think it helped develop my language-learning skills altogether.  After the experience, I knew what I wanted to do at college, major in French (and later decided to add Russian to the mix!).  Though it might be argued that I could have made deeper cultural connections had I visited after more years of learning the language, I think the benefit was that this trip solidified the important basics for me.

Did the homestay affect how you see your own family?  In what way?

Up until this trip I was a momma’s boy plain & simple.  I was actually very amazed when my mom agreed to let me go all the way to Europe without her!  In participating on this trip, I learned that there are other views and perspectives in the world other than those of my family.  It might sound silly since I was 16 at the time, but I was rather naïve and sheltered.  Even though the views I was exposed to were not radically different since the town I visited was a small community by a coast like my own, the difference was large enough for me to notice.  I also saw that I could grow and thrive apart from my family, so that ubiquitous independence one gains from experiences like these was certainly true for me.

If you were to do it again what would you do differently?

Yes!  I would do much more and push myself outside of my comfort zone even further.  Though it was a wonderful experience, I think I held back a lot of times.  I would have interacted more with my host’s friends and made efforts to engage them in dialogue rather than worrying about not having all the words to communicate or what they would think.  That’s the problem with hindsight though!

What was the most important thing that you took away from the experience?

I would have to say that direction for my life is the most important thing I took away.  Up until this point I had many interests but no clue on what I wanted to do with my life.  Being that this occurred during my junior year of high school, the decision as to where I was going to go to college and what I was going to study was fast-approaching.  This experience introduced me to my love for languages and travel and it’s what set me on this path of international education.

Anything else to add?

If you have the chance to do a home stay—take it!

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