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16 posts categorized "Homestays"


Vegetarian in the land of ham

HannaName: Hanna
CIEE Barcelona Program:
Language & Culture
Spring 2012
Home School
: St. Catherine University

Two of my biggest fears prior to my study abroad experience had to do with (believe it or not) food. Since I have been a vegetarian for 9 years, I was worried that:

  1. I wouldn’t be able to eat anything in Barcelona because it is a city that is well known for meat products.
  2. My host family would be insulted if I didn’t eat meat if they prepared it for me.

Since my stay in Barcelona, I have found out that my initial fears regarding food were wrong. I live in Gràcia with my host father, Ramon, and my host sister, Roso. Ramon is an artist who in his 50’s and Roso is a senior in college and is 23. From day one, they have been incredibly hospitable and do everything they can to make me feel comfortable in their home -when I first arrived to my homestay, one of the very first things that they asked me was what I wanted for breakfast the next day!

Ramon and Roso are vegetarians (although they do occasionally eat some meats and fish), which was a relief for me. My host family is also very ecofriendly and prepares meals similar to what I would eat at home with a Catalan twist. I haven’t had a meal with them that I did not like! I have even been given the opportunity to help my family prepare traditional Catalan foods like “pan con tomate” (bread with tomatoes, olive oil, and salt) that I would never have tried if I hadn’t choosen to live with a host family.

Hanna1Today for lunch we had a mixture of cooked and spiced vegetables with “avena” (a type of oats, but they look and taste similar to brown rice) and lentils.

Hanna2 Hanna4
Although I eat the majority of meals with my host family, I have also had the chance to explore some of the many restaurants and markets in the city.  In addition to regular supermarkets, Gràcia is the home to many ecomarkets that sell organic, fair trade, and vegetarian/vegan foods (similar to Whole Foods in the states but much smaller and independent stores). I love shopping for groceries and snacks at these locations. My favorite ecomarket is called Boca Bio, which is located off of Carrer d'Astúries in Gràcia.

Through this experience I have learned not to set expectations for something without experiencing it first.  Initially, I had expected to have a difficult time finding foods to satisfy my vegetarian diet in Barcelona, however now that I am here that is not the case at all. I am excited to bring a little of Catalunya back home with me to the United States by preparing foods like pan con tomate for my family!


New places, new friends, new family

Name: Natalie
CIEE Barcelona Program:
Language & Culture
Spring 2012
Home School
: University of Colorado, Boulder

 “Take risks. If you win, you will be happier. If you lose, you will be wiser.”

Natalie1The view of the beach I encountered on my first walk from the UPF campus.

 People go abroad to “study” of course, but some of the more prominent questions that pop into all of our heads are: Where am I going to travel while I’m abroad? How am I going to meet friends? Where will I go out at night? Where can I find the best food? And of course, where am I going to live?!

Natalie3With my host family—they drove me up the mountains to
enjoy the beautiful view of Barcelona

 Deciding between the homestay and residencia option was a challenge for me. I was torn because I wanted to have the freedom to do whatever I wanted, but I also wanted to immerse myself more into the culture of Barcelona. After about a month of debating back and forth between which option I wanted to do, I decided to live with a host family. The night before I met my host family, I was so nervous that I think I got about 30 minutes of sleep, if that. Then the moment came at 5 PM the following day when my host mother, Rosa, came to pick me up and take me to my new home. My first impression of her was that she was one of the nicest, most genuine women I have ever met. Our first bonding moment was lugging my two enormous suitcases up two flights of narrow stone stairs up into her apartment. She kept saying expressions in Spanish, and I in English, until we got to the top of the stairs, completely out of breath, laughing hysterically.

 What I like the most about living in the homestay is that I feel like I have a home away from home. Rosa, her fifteen-year-old daughter Carla, and I eat dinner together every night and then spend an hour or so afterward just talking, watching the news, laughing, and telling stories. I have met other members of their family as well as their friends. Everyone is so welcoming and excited to meet me.

Natalie4Celebrating Rosa’s birthday together. Carla made a delicious apple tart and we sang happy birthday (they sang it in English for me) and watched a movie together.

My Spanish has also greatly improved since I first came to Barcelona at the end of December. Carla and Rosa correct my grammatical mistakes, edit my Spanish papers, and teach me fun phrases. My favorite moments I share with them are when we try to tell each other stories and the language barrier gets in the way. One example is last week when I asked my host mother to correct my composition for Spanish class. I asked her: “Puedes corregir mi composición?” She thought that I meant my composition, as in my outfit and went on to tell me I looked fine and that she liked my red pants. I tilted my head and looked at her very confused, wondering how my red pants related to my Spanish homework. After we both stood confused for about 30 seconds, we burst out laughing and figured out what each other meant.

Natalie2A group of friends and I spent a day at Park Guell where we
casually walked around and talked and enjoyed how beautiful it was.

I was worried before that being in the homestay meant that I wouldn’t be able to go out and meet people and that I would feel isolated away from everyone. It is actually the exact opposite. I have also made some very important friends that I know I will keep in contact with when I return to the states. I have made friends with people in my classes, other students in CIEE, and even Spanish natives that we met through our intercambios. Last night, I went to an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant with two Spanish girls and two of my friends in CIEE. Not only was the food delicious and I was so full that I couldn’t move after, but I got to think of how nice it was to be here experiencing life with the local Spanish students my age. I have made friends here that I eat lunch with, travel with, hang out on the weekends, go out and have drinks with and also just sit around and do absolutely nothing with-just like as if I were home in the States!

On the hike with CIEE—Amazing day trip!

Natalie6At Ovella Negra for the Barca-Madrid game (Barcelona won! )

 Adjusting to change can be a difficult process, and often it is our first instinct to follow what is more comfortable. It was a challenge for me to reach outside of my comfort bubble and try new things, and I couldn’t be happier that I made that choice.

For more stories about living with a home stay, click here.



MackenzieName: Mackenzie
CIEE Barcelona Program: Business & Culture
Semester: Spring 2012
Home School: Drake University

I had debated for a while whether or not it would be wise to do a home stay over a residencia while I was in Barcelona.  For those of you who are unsure what is what a home stay is when you live with a local Spanish family and a residencia is when you live on your own in a dorm-like building with other students in the program and some local students as well.  I ended up deciding to do the home stay for a multitude of reasons.  One it was a little bit cheaper because I wouldn’t have to provide all my own meals like I would in a residencia.  Secondly I would get to interact with someone who lives here in Spain and learn more about the culture and the language.  I’ve only been here a week, but I can already tell you I made the right decision.

I live with an older Spanish woman named Luisa, another student from CIEE named Lauren, and another exchange student from Brazil who is here until February.  Luisa is absolutely adorable!  Every day she makes the three of us staying here two meals a day: breakfast and dinner.  And let me just say she is a fabulous cook.  She makes us authentic Spanish food, which is a lot different then in the US, but it is absolutely delicious! 

Breakfast is usually some sort of bread.  It’s a very small meal here, which is a change for me as breakfast is one of my favorite meals.  My favorite breakfast we had so far was a couple small muffins, or molletes as they are called in Spanish.  Another one we had was croissant that we dipped in chocolate.  Many breakfast dishes are served with chocolate which is quite unusual for me.  However, the dinners that Luisa makes are my favorite.  Everything is homemade and always fresh.  The first night here we had tortilla patata, which is basically a potato omelet.  It was delicious!  Another night we had some sort of black bean dish.  I can’t recall the name of it right now, but since I normally don’t like beans, I didn’t think I would like it, but it turned out to be one of my favorite meals I’ve had here so far.  Luisa always serves the three of us staying here first and washes dishes while we eat.  I believe she eats after us, but I am not quite sure to be honest.  Even though she doesn’t sit at the table with us, she still talks to us and asks us questions about the day. 

I’ve only been here a week, but already my Spanish has improved with Luisa’s help.  Every time I make a mistake, she corrects me so that I learn.  And if there are misunderstandings, which there are occasionally, she pulls out her Spanish to English dictionary and shows us what word she was saying and vice versa so that we learn new vocabulary every day.  Felipe who is here from Brazil also speaks Spanish with us.  However, he is also fluent in English.  So when we don’t understand what Luisa has said, he will translate for us which has been really helpful.  My goal is to not have him translating for us anymore before he leaves in February… I think I can do it.

I think the home stay option will be a great thing for me.  It’s hard at first because all the people in the residencias have instant friends because they all live together.   You feel a little isolated.  However, in the end I am going to be able to gain a better understanding of the culture and learn the language a lot better.  I’m excited to see how much my Spanish will improve while I am here. :)

Mackenzie1This is my family I am living with in Spain. From left to right is me, then Lauren who is in CIEE as well, then Felipe who is from Brazil, and finally my Senora Luisa.

You can follow Mackenzie's blog here!


For further reading, we've had lots of great blogs submitted about homestays, here are some links to past posts:




KeaganName: Keagan
CIEE Barcelona Program: Language and Culture
Semester: Fall 2011
Home School: Elon University

During my semester abroad I am getting a once in a lifetime experience of living with a host mother.  My señora's name is Rocio and she has been hosting students for many years.  We have one main interest in common which is that we love to dance! 

I have taken dance classes for my entire life but these have only consisted of typical styles found in the US including ballet, tap, jazz, modern, and hip-hop.  Rocio Osuna introduced me to a new style of dance typical to Spain called “Sevillanas”.  Sevillanas is danced to traditional “flamenco style” music and done in pairs.  In my first month in Barcelona, my señora took me to a fiesta with her friends.  Here, I got to experience the true art and fun of Sevillanas not only through watching others but also by getting up and dancing myself. 

21.Keagan y Rocio- Fall 2011Aside from this memorable experience on a day-to-day basis my señora and I share conversations, which not only help improve my Spanish but also allow me learn more about the culture I am living in.  Everyday, I get to experience authentic meals, TV shows, and music.  I really am starting to feel like a true member of my community and not just a tourist passing through. Things that I found difficult or challenging in the beginning such as the metro system, navigating city streets, or everything being at later times are things I have grown accustomed to and have become apart of my daily routine.Keagan2

Living in a homestay has given me a real look into the lives of Spaniards and not just the romanticized Spain/Europe portrayed in movies.  I have had two Spanish exchange students live with my family for a year in the US so I have loved being on the opposite end of the exchange this semester.    Keagan bailando blog*For Keagan's last post, click here!


Walking in Barcelona

KatiecropName: Katie
CIEE Barcelona Program: Economics and Culture
Semester: Fall 2011
Home School: Fordham University

When you look at a map of Barcelona, it is easy to be overwhelmed by what appears to be a rather expansive city. Conveniently, there is a metro system that can drop you off practically anywhere that you desire. Initially, I found this to be a major advantage to living here, and as a college student of a University in New York City, it honestly offered a bit of comfort in an unfamiliar atmosphere. I was content in taking the metro everywhere I needed to go, but I wasn’t too fond of the stuffy hallways during the seemingly never-ending Barcelona summer (not that I’m complaining). After a certain point, I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and try travelling by foot.

Blog6Casa Batlló

Because my homestay is only about a 20 minute walk from CIEE, I have always walked there to avoid paying for only one stop on the metro. On this walk down Passeig de Gracia, I am able to see two of Gaudí’s masterpieces: Casa Battló and La Pedrera. Seeing these works of art every morning gives me an instant, daily reminder that I am experiencing a potentially once in a lifetime opportunity living in Barcelona.

Blog4Carrer del Porto Nou, La Ribera/El Born

Carrer de la Princesa, La Ribera/El Born

From CIEE I have to commute to classes at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra which is located by the beach, a decent (but reasonable) distance from “La Casa”, the CIEE study center. Because I have enough time in between classes, I decided to take a leisurely walk from La Casa to UPF. This walk takes me through the barrio La Ribera/El Born which is a maze of tiny streets with charming little café’s and stores that I try to stop in when I have the time.

After I pass through El Born, I walk by el parque de la Ciutadella and Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf, both of which are beautiful sights, and great places to sit, relax, and enjoy the scenery.  By the time I am out of class, I can walk home just as the sun is going down.

Blog3Arc de Triomf

After dinner, my friends and I sometimes meet up near my homestay, in el barrio Gracia, where a lot of young people in Barcelona hang out in the evenings. The neighborhood exudes a youthful energy that I can feel as I walk to Placa Del Sol, a common meeting place.

Blog2Barrio Gracia

Placa Del Sol, Barrio Gracia

Something about Barcelona makes it enjoyable to simply be here. I find myself walking all over the city, which has gotten smaller and smaller as I’ve explored more and more. I am able to get enough exercise to allow me to indulge in all the Catalan cuisine my heart desires, while at the same time experiencing the city of Barcelona first hand. As for my use of the metro, it is continuing to decrease, because I just can’t imagine missing everything above ground.


families come in all shapes and sizes

Amy Name: Amy
CIEE Barcelona Program: Architecture & Design
Semester: Spring 2011
Home School: Whitman College

Before arriving in Barcelona, I was more than a little apprehensive about meeting my host family. Friends who spent the fall semester abroad with other programs told horror stories about cramped conditions and cranky grandmothers. To make matters worse, I wasn't entirely sure if I would be living with a family or in a residencia. I shouldn't have worried. As usual, the folks at La Casa worked a little magic and I can happily say that my homestay is quickly becoming a highlight of my semester in Barcelona.

I met my family the second day I was in the city. The CIEE staff gathered us together and distributed info sheets that included a single name and an address. At first I thought everybody would be living with a single host, but it turns out our families come in all shapes and sizes. While I live with an older woman, another friend lives in a swanky apartment owned by a family with young children. A second buddy lives in Gracia with a groovy bachelor type who runs a food Amy2co-op.

  I met my hostess, Margarita, moments after receiving her name and address. We swapped besos and hopped in her son-in-law's van to schlep my luggage back to her beautiful apartment on Via Agusta. On the way there, I found out that my hostess is a painter who lives with a chihuahua named Frida. Over the next few days, I learned that Margrita has six adult children, ten grandchildren and strong opinions about everything from art to healthcare. Each night over dinner, which is always delicious, I tell Margarita about my day which usually leads to a lively discussion of a related topic, drawing of maps, and spelling of words, both English and Spanish. So far we've covered public education, immigration, fashion, and most recently her globetrotting days as a young woman.

Amy3 Margarita is a great resource for all things Barcelona. She recommends adventures Amy4 in the city and the surrounding area that I could never find in a guide book. A few days after arriving in Barcelona, she invited me to celebrate dia de los reyes with her family. We ate a special cake, tortell de los reyes in honor of the three magi who hustled over from the Orient for the birth of Jesus. If you find the hidden figure of the king in your slice of tortell, you wear the king's crown for the day and enjoy good luck all year. If you find the bean, like Margarita, you pay for the tortell. I didn't find the figure of the king, but I still consider myself pretty lucky. I look forward to a wonderful semester filled with good food and conversation.

Amy5 Margarita with her grandaughter Berta on Dia de Los Reyes.

*For more updates on Amy's study abroad experience, check out her blog!