My Experience Living with a Host Family in Barcelona

By: Meah Matherne

You have probably often heard from study abroad alumni that staying with a host family was “the best experience ever!” However, knowing what “best ever” means and why so many students swear by staying with a host family while abroad can be hard. In fact, staying with strangers in a foreign country could honestly be someone’s worst nightmare.

I was personally stressed about staying with a host family: What if my language skills weren’t good enough? Would they be able to see me as part of their family? Would I make friends with anyone my own age? What if I don’t like the food they have?

Two months into my abroad experience, I am ridiculously thankful that I chose a host family because, at the end of the day, I have a home to go back to, a place to rest and recuperate for the coming day, week, or month. Even though it's not my own family that I sit around the dinner table with or watch TV with on the weekends, it is family and I know every day that there is a space and relationships that are wholly my own while abroad. Knowing that my experience abroad doesn’t finish when I go home each day makes the whole deal so much richer.

My Spanish skills have also improved immensely while staying with my family. I have learned so many more words that are applicable to everyday conversations and everyday life. While I appreciate having learned the Spanish words for natural disasters in school, I really am glad to observe and interact with my second language in a way that helps me achieve fluency. I wake up nearly every morning and find that it is easier and easier to switch my brain between languages, but don’t get me wrong, there are definitely days I wake up not being able to speak Spanish or even English in a coherent manner. 

A huge benefit of staying with a host family also is that I get two meals a day from my host family, allowing me to save money for travel and allowing me to experience typical Spanish cuisine. I’m fortunate enough that both of my host parents are amazing cooks, so I’ve had delicious paella, tortilla de patata, and Spanish tapas. I also feel better able to enjoy my time abroad because I don’t have to meal plan or grocery shop, and I can use this mental space for focusing on school or planning my travel. I eat a lot healthier too than I would if I was in charge of my meal plans.

Finally, a benefit that I have yet to experience is having a space to return to when I visit Spain again. I will always know that there is a home for me in Barcelona, one where I can access and revisit a whole chapter of my life that contributed heavily to who I am today.

Overall, I cannot recommend staying in a homestay with CIEE more. It’s simply the best part of my abroad experience and I actually miss my home stay when I travel on the weekends. Staying with a host family has not made me miss out on anything while abroad; I have made great friends, I go out, and I’ve traveled to half a dozen countries. It’s only added a richness to my experience I cannot imagine not having.