Up on the blog today we are taking a break from our usual posts and welcoming a guest writer—Caroline ZuHone. Caroline is one of the voices behind Sippin’ Sangria, a website dedicated to travel, study abroad, and global experiences. She graduated with a degree in Spanish from Butler University and she met her co-creator, Lexa, while studying abroad in Spain. The two have since shared many adventures in Spain, the US, and around the globe!
We are honored to collaborate with the girls at Sippin’ Sangria and to bring more of Caroline and Lexa‘s voices to our readers at Sincerely, Spain through upcoming posts. Today, Caroline opens up about her experience with living with a host family while volunteer teaching in Valladolid, Spain during the fall of 2017.
Without further ado, we would like to present Caroline:
Let’s be real. When studying abroad, your host family can make or break your experience. While both of my experiences were incredible, I know some people who weren’t quite so lucky. Even though both my experiences were wonderful, they were very different. I lived with a family during my study abroad experience during my junior year of college and I lived with a different family when I taught abroad in Spain after graduation.
Some background on the Process:
Most programs will have you fill out some questions before they place you with a host family. Questions may include whether or not you have allergies, especially to pets, if you mind a house that smokes, if you have preferences on age of host families, etc. For my second host family, I knew I would be placed with a family who had at least one child in grade school since tutoring them was part of the deal. It’s very important that you are 100% honest in answering questions, so you get the best placement possible, but it’s also very important to go into the experience with an open mind.
When I got paired with the family I stayed with while teaching, I went into it with some factors already known. One of their children attended the school I was teaching at, and in exchange for room and board, I would tutor their children for 5 hours a week in English. The difference between my study abroad host family and this one was that they weren’t getting paid in exchange for me staying there, which meant that they were doing it because they really wanted me there. They wanted to learn from me, to teach me and to show me their culture. I found out during my stay that they had actually fought to get me in their home. This real desire to have me in their home made my stay even better because they treated me like a real member of the family – they wanted to take me on family trips with them, they wanted to show me their town and they wanted me to meet with and interact with their friends. It allowed me to really be immersed in the culture, and it helped me form a bond with them that I will always have.
Here are some of my tips to ensure you have the best possible experience:
My ultimate tip is to make sure that you are really upfront about your plans, goals and expectations for what the semester will bring. I let my host family know up front that I planned to travel most weekends, so they wouldn’t be surprised when I was packing my suitcase each weekend. It was also nice because they could plan their weekends ahead of time too. If they wanted to take me on a trip with them, we could plan out the date to make sure it worked for all of us. They could plan when to have family time. Starting off your time with your host family with good communication will only set everyone up for success in the long run.
Be really open to having new experiences. I mean this in a variety of ways. Don’t be afraid to try new foods that your host family wants to expose you to. Make an effort to learn their routines, their culture, their likes and dislikes. This will bond you and help you to feel like a real part of the family. My host family wanted to take me places with their friends and show me cities they thought showcased their beautiful country. Sometimes it was overwhelming to take a trip or have dinner with 15 of their friends, but in the end, it made me feel like a real part of the family, helped me learn so much about Spanish culture, and was a great way to practice the language and showcase my culture to them.
Host families can be great, but they can also be frustrating. I didn’t always have my own space and I couldn’t follow my own schedule, which was a big change from life at home. To be totally honest, that was probably the number one thing I struggled with. If you’re open to making the most of the experience and really letting this group of people become a second family, these small frustrations will be easy to overcome. Some of my favorite memories were conversations had with my host dad. He was so eager to teach me everything he could and to learn from me. He would continuously tell me that he was proud of all the traveling I did. How amazing he thought my independence and willingness to try new things was. My favorite moment was when my host dad referred to me as his daughter to people, and you could hear the happiness and pride in his voice when he said it. Sometimes my host siblings annoyed me like real siblings and my host parents were overprotective like real parents, but moments like those made every petty annoyance worth it.
When I boarded the plane to Spain, I had a lot of expectations and a serious case of nerves, but I never thought I’d leave 3 months later with another family waiting for me to come back. We still talk, and I definitely plan to make a return trip. While living with a host family can be a bit nerve wracking and frustrating at times, the experience, the culture and the second family are without a doubt worth it all.