by Deniece, Greenheart Travel Language Exchange Homestay Participant in Spain
“Home is where I want to be. Pick me up and turn me ‘round. I feel numb – born with a weak heart. So I guess I must be having fun.” – This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody), Talking Heads
My “home” for the next 4 weeks is Cenes de la Vega, just outside the city of Granada in the Andalucía region of Spain. Andalucía’s got it all, dare I say: mountains for skiing, hiking and more; beaches for sunning and swimming; ancient world history immediately within your reach in both cities and villages; and some of the best food you’ll taste in Europe.
One of the main purposes of a foreign exchange is to pull one out of his or her comfort zone. You interact with people from another country while living among them, attempting to speak their language and learn their customs. Perhaps, you can share some of your own culture in the process. I can honestly say that I have been yanked out of my comfort zone. Background: I’m single, have lived on my own since I was 16, have not had a roommate in 13 years, come from a single – parent home with one sibling who is 10 years my junior, and I see my family, that is, blood relatives, once a year. Maybe.
So where am I?
I stay with a family of four: mom, dad, and two teens, a 12 – year old girl and a 14 – year old boy; all they need is a pet to complete their nuclear family. This is one of the most loving families I’ve ever seen, not on TV. It occurred to me recently that I must really be jaded, cynical, and desensitized to no small extent because I was struck by how much Mom and Dad seemed to actually like each other. They enjoy each other’s company and laugh at each other. They’re a really lovely couple, sharing a love for the great outdoors and passing it on to their kids. Yet, within a cultural context, they’re not particularly unique; millions of American families do what they do: work, get the kids ready for school, make sure homework is done, make sure food’s on the table, watch TV, go on family excursions, etc. But I’m not used to it. Most, if not all, of my friends have non – traditional families and/or come from such.
Not good or bad, no judgment; it’s just a fact of life. And the kids. What can you say about teenagers? A lot actually, but these two kids would not likely fit that bill. They seem to be so young, still. It’s like they haven’t yet lost their innocence, and I’m sure that’s a nice feeling for a parent to be able to hold on to a child just a little longer before he or she starts to shun hugs and kisses from Mom or Dad, and grow up. The kids are funny: he pulls her hair, she yells for him to stop; they chase each other around the house because he stole a colored marker off of her desk; they play that game where he puts her in a leg – lock or a head – lock, and while she’s screaming and writhing about, he looks surprised and bewildered, saying, “why don’t you get off of me?” They simply play together, whether it’s games or puzzles, and they build things together as well.
Everyone shares each other’s space, physical and personal space, so easily. I thought I was in the Twilight Zone for second. However, I recognized that my perception is influenced by the family photo and family video that I carry around in my head. Now, I certainly don’t mean to paint a picture of a perfect family; the kids don’t always do what they’re told, and Mom and Dad don’t always agree, etc. Kids whine, sometimes they play too rough, and they don’t always want to eat their vegetables. Sometimes, there’s yelling. It is a family after all, but a few good apples make up this bunch.
So what do I do?
I speak Spanglish. I make jokes. I call Dad “smarty-pants” because he is one, and they all know it, but just didn’t have the word for it, neither in Spanish nor in English. (I knew useless facts and vocabulary would come in handy sometime.) I work with the kids on their English, and sometimes Mom and Dad, too. I tour the city. I take walks along the river that’s nearby. I watch American shows in Spanish, since I don’t really have a choice, but I haven’t watched much TV. I take photos of the landscape, the cityscape, and of family during big family meals. I sit in my room to recharge. I peruse HuffPo and ESPN.com to keep up with things at home. I write in my travel journal and download all my photos from the day. I develop lessons for the kids when it’s finally quiet. I sleep at weird hours because I never really got use to the time difference. I text with friends and family, and make calls only to my mom since she doesn’t text.
I try my best to stay in the moment and enjoy them so that I don’t miss the really good ones when they come along.