Living With My Host Family
Meet my parents: Roberto and Laura
I’ve been in Spain for exactly one month today, and my restricted time here is both a blessing and curse. In moments of despair, I remind myself that I don’t have much left here; in moments of happiness, I wish I could be sixteen in Spain forever. Without a doubt, the people who have helped me the most here since I arrived have been Roberto and Laura, my beautiful host parents. Before arriving in Spain, I video-called them twice over the phone, and we had a brief introduction. I was so incredibly curious as to how my adjustment here would play out, and there certainly was no awkwardness as I had imagined.
Catalina takes the most beautiful polaroids of me and my parents. I was with Laura in the kitchen as she taught me how to make a “tortilla española”, and the photo with Roberto was taken in our salon where we watch the news and have many conversations about politics, history, and cultural comparisons.
Laura, my mom, is a professor of European history and art history at a local institute while Roberto is a sergeant in the military. One of the first things Roberto told me even before I arrived in Spain was that he wanted to show me many places in Spain, some of which are more obscure to foreigners (I had never heard of cities like Mérida or u) while others are very well-known (Seville). We watch the news every morning as a family before school, and Roberto always stresses the importance of learning history because history always repeats itself. When we travel to different places, Roberto and Laura always make sure we visit at least one museum in the city; Laura is one of the most patient people I have ever met (which is probably why she is such a good teacher!), and she always makes sure she gives me thorough explanations of the things I observe.
This is a compilation of many photos I’ve taken with my family this past month alone. Most of these were taken when we visited other places, although the picture of the bottom left was taken in our kitchen my first night in Badajoz.
One of the most endearing things my parents say is that I am their third daughter. Anytime I meet someone new, Laura always introduces me to them saying, “te presento a nuestra tercera hija” (“I present to your our third daughter”). I certainly felt more like a guest when I first arrived, but now I do chores around the house, and my sisters and I are treated the same way. Before I arrived, Roberto and Laura had an established system for Catalina and Carmen as to what shows they could watch each night to avoid fighting: on even-numbered days, Carmen would pick the show, and on odd-numbered days, Catalina would pick the show. Now, I am a part of that system, so we each take turns picking out shows, and I get to pick the show every third day. I take out the trash for my parents, and I also take my little sisters to the park every weekend in the evening.
Every weekday evening, Roberto and I spend an hour or two “exchanging” our languages. He spends time with me reading in Spanish, correcting all of my pronunciation mistakes, while I read with him in English, helping him understand certain texts. We usually read the newspaper, although he has read my blog once to practice his English! Roberto always tells me that his goal is to improve my Spanish so I get to a level where I can speak with complete fluency, such that no one can tell I am not a native speaker. Whenever my little sisters have English exams, I sit with them and read a few pages in English. They absolutely love watching shows in English, so I introduced them to a few of my favorite childhood Disney Channel shows: Jessie and Liv and Maddie.
One of the things I love most about Roberto and Laura is how open they are with me. They taught me the most common curse words in Spanish my first week here to prepare me for profanity in the Spanish classroom, and they love telling me stories about their family, especially stories about their relationship and how they met. Funny enough, Laura met Roberto on the same bus route that I took to arrive in Badajoz (Madrid-to-Badajoz), and they always tell me it’s cool that I arrived to them along the same route. Laura is older than Roberto, and they always lovingly joke about their small age difference. I remember a moment my first week here when I was speaking to Laura and I addressed her with the usted form (the formal “you”) instead of tú (the informal “you”). Roberto told me that in Spain it was very rare to use usted with people you knew (unless they were much older) and asked me why I didn’t address Laura with tú. I meant to tell him that Laura was older than me which is why I did so, but instead I told him that Laura was old. He had a good laugh in front of Laura, referencing the joke in their marriage that she was older than him. I remember thinking in that moment what an adorable couple they were.
My first week in Spain, I was terribly homesick, and I would stay in my room, reading the many cards and well-wishes my friends had given me. I remember Laura coming into my room following my first day of school telling me that Roberto had noticed I was sad. She took me to the kitchen and gave me an ice cream cone, talking to me and distracting me in the moment. The evening following my first day of school, I went with my family to the supermarket (Carrefour in Spain), as they stocked their pantry with a month’s supply of most important foods. One of the sweetest things I remember about that trip was how Roberto and Laura went out of their way to buy things especially for me (since being vegetarian in Spain is not a common concept) like quinoa, tofu, oatmeal, and other not-so-typical ingredients in the Spanish kitchen.
Both my parents have been so incredibly understanding of my dietary restrictions, and Laura always prepares something special for me to eat. A very typical food in Carnaval is pinchitos, grilled meat, and this year for Carnaval, Laura made me grilled veggies and tofu while the rest of the family ate chicken. One of her best vegetarian recipes has been her tarta de acelgas (chard tart), and when she prepares typical Spanish food for me like empanadas, she prepares meatless versions for me by substituting the meat with tofu or eggs.
These are some of the special meals prepared for me by Laura. The picture on the top left was the grilled tofu she made for me to enjoy during Carnaval while the picture on the bottom left is her “tarta de acelgas”. I love her ‘empanadas’ (top right), while her desserts are absolutely delicious. The ‘biscocho’ she prepares (middle right) and her ‘flan’ (bottom right) are among my most favorite Spanish desserts. I plan to dedicate full posts just to the wonderful pastries and gastronomy of Spain.
When it comes to school, Roberto and Laura have been so understanding and helpful. I remember complaining to Laura about my physics class, and when I returned home from my walk, Roberto had reviewed the physics concept himself so he could explain it to me! Roberto also spoke to my tutor at the school my first week here when I was really struggling to adapt to the Spanish classroom. One of the first things he told me when I came here was to tell him if I had any problems with my classmates; I really appreciate how he and Laura look after me so well.
In Zafra, when we visited Roberto’s family, I took a small walk with Laura following our merienda (late afternoon snack), and we ran into one of Roberto’s cousins. Laura introduced me to them (as her third daughter, of course), and I chatted with my “uncle” and “aunt” for a while, both of whom were incredibly sweet. The topic of conversation naturally moved to how long I would be staying in Spain, and I told them I would be leaving in Spain. In that moment, I remember Laura telling them that she and Roberto had been speaking a few nights before about how hard it would be for Catalina and Carmen when I leave. I stopped paying attention to the rest of the conversation for a few moments; I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t the only one dreading my return date. I was suddenly overcome with a sense of sadness; I really love my family here. Roberto and Laura are two of the most loving people I have ever met, and I love my little sisters here. I often imagine the scene when I say goodbye to Carmen and Catalina, and I regret making myself sad in the moment. It’s important to stay in the moment and enjoy it before it passes, yet I can’t help but wonder if I could stop time for a few moments. Being sixteen in Spain has been such a whirlwind, and I am so grateful for my family here. I cannot believe my one month here has allowed me to build a network far bigger and brighter than I could have ever imagined.
Roberto y Laura — Espero que sepais que estoy muy agredecida por vosotros. Gracias por enseñarme vuestra cultura y tradiciones. Sois como mis padres y amo a Catalina y Carmen. Estoy tan feliz de poder pasar tiempo con una familia tan hermosa. Os quiero :)