This week’s post comes from our ACCENT Madrid Study Center, where our staff conducted an interview with University of California student Evan Hertenstein. Evan, who is participating in UCEAP’s Contemporary Spain Program, chose to stay with a local host family in Madrid, hoping to gain a deeper appreciation of his own family’s cultural heritage.
What made you decide to study abroad in Madrid?
My mom’s from Central America, and so Spain’s always been like the homeland, so to speak. I’ve always wanted to go back to my roots, and I also had some knowledge of Spanish. I kind of lost my ability to speak fluently after many years of not visiting my family in Honduras, so I wanted to improve my language skills and also see where the roots of my mom’s side of the family came from.
What were your initial reasons for choosing a homestay?
I chose a homestay because I wanted a real, authentic experience. I didn’t want to just come here and be around other students that I could be around back home. I mean, the best way to actually understand a culture is when you’re immersed in it, when you actually live with people who are from the country. And luckily, my host family has been great.
What is the family dynamic?
I live with three sons and a mom, so it’s five of us in the house. They’re 13, 18, and 21. And I’m 22.
Has there been anything that surprised you or that you didn’t expect about living with a local family?
I really didn’t know what a house was like in Madrid, but I really appreciate how they don’t need a lot of space to be happy. The main thing that I’ve noticed is just about family structure… it doesn’t matter how big the space is that they occupy, the thing that matters most is family, no matter where they live. They’re completely happy. Obviously, they’re like any family that has their ups and downs, but I don’t see any anger or frustration or resentment because of the size of their living quarters. I’m surprised, because my apartment back home is bigger and so that makes me feel like I don’t really need a huge place to live. All I need are people who care about each other and love each other. That’s basically all I need, and that’s what I’ve noticed being here.
What would you say are the most positive aspects about doing a homestay?
Well, in my experience, you have to be open to it. The individual has to be open to what they do and their customs, otherwise you’ll bump heads with the family. I was open completely to whatever they do, and I told my host mom at the beginning, “First of all, I don’t want you to speak to me in English very much and secondly, whatever you guys eat, that’s what I’m eating.” I’m only here for a limited amount of time and I wanted to understand what it was like to eat like a Spaniard, think like a Spaniard, and live like a Spaniard so in my experience, my host mom has been great.
Do you feel like it’s helped you with your Spanish?
Absolutely. I mean, a lot of people here say, “Oh, I haven’t been learning as much Spanish as I wanted to.” I’m like, “Of course, if you’re surrounded by people who speak English all day and then you go home and you speak English to them, you’re not going to learn. I’m glad that I ended up in the Heritage Spanish class. It’s a little hard for me, but that along with my host family, I’ve been learning way faster than I thought because Spaniards speak really fast when they speak to each other. When I first moved in the house, I didn’t know what was going on. I always stayed quiet but now I can actually converse with them and I can follow the conversation better, way better than I could before.
Do you have any advice for future students in regard to housing or in general?
I would say that no matter what kind of living situation you have, if you choose a homestay, be ready to roll with it. Whatever happens, don’t get frustrated if they eat late or if they have certain meals, be able to go with the flow. And also, get to know your host family. Don’t just come home and be like, “Oh hi, when’s dinner?” It’s important to actually form a relationship with these people because you don’t want to treat them like their house is a hotel. You want them to feel that you’re interested in them as much as they’re interested in you, to form a bond, ultimately. That’s the mentality that I had going into it, and it’s helped me. It’s been the best for me.
~ Evan Hertenstein, UCEAP Fall 2017, ACCENT Madrid
Did this post inspire you to study abroad and learn about your own cultural heritage? Use the ACCENT Program Finder to discover your next great adventure: http://accentintl.com/find-a-program/.