A sticky (living) situation

In The Art of Travel Fall 2015, Madrid, Open topic by Daniel McElroy2 Comments

When it came to choosing my living situation in Madrid, months before actually arriving, I gave no thought to my choice. I’m going to Spain to work on my Spanish, I thought, so obviously I’m going to choose a homestay. The possibility of living in an apartment never even crossed my mind. I also made the assumption that the majority of the people in the program would have the same reasoning. Great, even more reason to do it. To be perfectly honest though, I wish I’d have given things a bit more thought.

I have to be upfront and say that, in many ways, living in a homestay is a dream come true. In addition to (usually) delicious home cooked meals every single night, all my laundry and cleaning are done for me, and I get the occasional pleasant surprise of dessert for breakfast after someone’s birthday or even an invitation to a family Saturday lunch-feast… can you tell how my focus is literally on food 80% of the time? Aside from this though, one of the biggest benefits of a homestay is the great insight about how to see as much of this country and city as possible in the best way. ‘Don’t bother going to Murcia’, they told me. ‘It’s not worth it’. But on the other hand, ‘When you go to the Basque Country, you must see the Painted Oma Forest’. It’s like a personalized travel guide, complete with personal photos for proof.

What did I not expect about the realities of living in another family’s home? For one, the complete and utter lack of privacy. The walls of Spanish apartments are known for being paper thin, which is absolutely the root of my problem, not to mention the fact that my door doesn’t close and the window of my room looks onto the common balcony, meant for the use of the entire family. It’s not like I need a whole lot of privacy, and it’s not like my host family understands English, but it still feels weird to talk on the phone when I know they can hear every word. On top of this, my bedroom door has a semi-opaque window in it and let me tell you that—like clockwork—every morning at 5:30am my host father goes into the kitchen (right next to my room) while he’s getting ready for work and the bright, white fluorescent light pulls me violently out of sleep.

Isolation is also a very real issue. Because I had assumed that most of the program would be doing this, I also assumed my homestay would have other students as well. I had no indication that things would be otherwise. However, due to my already high level of Spanish, I was placed alone. To be clear, there are other homestays where students either share a room or where there are various bedrooms rented to students, but mine is not one of them. Though now I have plenty of friends, at the beginning the solitude of being alone with a family I didn’t know certainly made my transition to Spanish life harder.

The aim of this post is absolutely not to complain about my situation, which is mostly great, nor is it to discourage future study abroad students from this option. In fact, it’s a great one and perfect for those who already know Spanish but just need to practice. And I think I can now stick ‘EXTREMELY ADAPTABLE’ prominently on my resume. But given the choice again, I probably would choose an apartment. Most other people in my program have. Basically, at this point it feels like I’ve moved back in with my parents (sorry, Mom and Dad) and that’s just something that frustrates me to no end after nearly a year of living abroad all by my lonesome. Alas, only a month to go before I’m back in New York living in my very own apartment!


  1. It is interesting to read about living in a home-stay because while I am in Florence, I am staying in NYU housing which is off campus in the city center of Florence. Authentic home cooked meals do sound delicious and I wish I had that experience! The lack of privacy sounds like a problem though. I always rely on my times in my bedroom where I can relax, freely talk to my friends and family, and just enjoy some alone time without hearing or talking to others. Plus always waking up at 5:30am to bright lights is no fun! I hope the situation gets better and the semester is almost over!

  2. It’s funny how you can have so many issues with a situation and find yourself bettered for having lived through it, especially something as seemingly menial as thin walls. I think it adds depth to the experience, whether you like it or not. Sometimes I regret not living in a home stay, but I have the same privacy issue, though I share a room with my three best friends from New York. From someone who has not stayed in a home stay, I would suggest that you are in fact getting the full experience.

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