When you are moving abroad it can be really difficult to integrate into a new community and find your feet, especially if you are moving somewhere with an unfamiliar language and culture. To be welcomed into a family, I think, really enhances your experience and it can be very comforting to have a group of people giving you a little bit of love when you are starting out in a completely new environment.
I found my host family by chance. I didn’t realise at the time that it was such a popular option, and how valuable it would be for a family to have a native English speaker live with them. One day at school a fellow teacher asked me if I had thought of living with a local family as he knew many who would be interested in having me stay. He phoned around and I met one of the families after school. They seemed to like me so the next day I moved into my own room in a flat with the family, really close to my school. On the day I moved in I was given a key, presented with my own unique napkin ring and welcomed into the family feeling very blessed to receive such a welcome. They gave me a tour of the house and one of the sons showed me around the town and helped me settle in.
After four and a half years of living with friends at university I had become quite happy living independently and enjoying the freedom that comes from living in your own house so at first it was a bit strange integrating back into family life. I expected this but it was an odd transition. Remembering to be back for dinner, contributing my dirty socks to the family wash at regular intervals and getting my place in the bathroom queue most mornings certainly took some getting used to. Honestly, by living with a host family you have to be prepared to give up some of your freedom. This becomes particularly hard when you start making friends but I still think it is a great thing to do as the benefits more than make up for any freedom you may loose.
So why is it a good thing to do? Firstly, if you are hoping to learn the local language and improve your language skills, living with a family is great. The parents I lived with spoke no English and they enjoyed talking to me in Spanish a lot. I learnt loads just listening to them talking and explaining things to me and after a few weeks we developed a relaxed relationship where I felt comfortable practicing my speaking skills, asking questions, and developing my language with daily practice.
During my time at University I had mastered pretty great pesto pasta however, for the time living with my host family, this skill was not necessary. On my first night staying with the family, I was taught how to make the infamous Spanish omelette, and during my time I have been really lucky to taste traditional Spanish culinary delights daily. Spanish cuisine is quite distinctive and it has been a real treat to learn some Spanish dishes and enjoy them with the family, something I certainly wouldn’t have experienced living on my own in a flat.
One of the best things about living with this family were all the random experiences I had with them. For them it was just normal life, but when you move abroad all your senses are heightened to the differences of your new life and the new place you are living in. What may be normal life for your family, can be a great experience for you. Having lunch with the grandparents, helping prune the olive trees and visiting aunty in the mountains are not only all great ways to see what it is like to live here but they are also experiences that I wouldn’t have had without the family.
Living with a family is not all about you and what you can gain from the experience. It is also about what you can give back, like any family. The obvious appeal to having me living with them is the help the family can get with their English skills. The two boys in the family are learning English at school and they got to practice their English daily with me and I gave them a few relaxed lessons a week to help them improve. Furthermore, as much as I enjoyed learning from my family about the Spanish culture, they too enjoyed asking me questions and getting insights in to what it is like to live in England and the cultural differences between the two countries. I even taught the parents a few English words and treated them to a deluxe version of my pesto pasta!
Finally by living with a family you can make a real attachment to the place you are living in and feel like you have integrated into the community a bit. It gives you a chance to meet great people and create a friendship that will last. I will certainly be back to Pamplona in the future!