Category: Spain

Finding A Home Away From Home

Sophie and I are two public relations college students from California, studying abroad in Segovia, Spain, for three weeks in the middle of the summer. We had previously expressed concerns relating to our host mother to our program coordinator, Marian Rubio, an exuberant blonde-banged Segovian with rich burgundy lipstick that pops just as much as her outwardly bouncy personality. But even with her help, the communication barrier continued to make it impossible to live comfortably. Marian is the Site Director of the GEO Study Abroad center in Segovia, vigilantly working to ensure that each student has a rich and exciting homestay experience. She finds families only through recommendations from colleagues and friends whom she trusts, interviews the prospects, and then visits their homes to make sure the housing situation is a comfortable one for students.

“At the beginning it was very hard to find families, but step-by-step people started to know us and trust us,” says Rubio. She has an intensive process she goes through when matching students with host families that involves evaluating housing situations and identifying compatible personalities. Homestays occasionally don’t always work out as planned.  “The family can be great, the student can be great, but sometimes the chemistry is not there. Maybe there is a misunderstanding or a difference in thinking. But since I have more than 300 families; I can change the family for the student immediately.”

It is very clear to Rubio that when somIMG_1810[2]ething goes wrong with a family, it may not be the fault of the host family or the student. The relationship is always a two-way street. Often the issue is only that of miscommunication or differences in lifestyle.

“Our families are like your families. Some are very rich, and some of them are not. Some of them are very good cooks and some of them are not. Some have swimming pools and some don’t. Just like your families. Different,” says Rubio. This is part of the reason it is so important to keep an open mind when anticipating living with a homestay in another country.

Micah Collamer, a college student studying in Segovia, Spain, is taking three classes in Spanish: art, grammar and history. I met him in the lobby of the globe-shaped Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid. I began to explain to him the unfortunate living situation Sophie and I had stumbled into. After exchanging only a few sentences back and forth, we figured out that other than both being students at the University of Oregon, an awkward living situation was something else we had in common.

To my delight, the process he went through to change homestays was fast and painless. He spoke with Marian, explained the issues he was having and went into more detail about what he wanted in a homestay: specifically, a big, family experience. Within the same day, he packed up his bags and was ready to move. “With this [new] family, it is 100% clear. If there is a problem, they are willing to solve it,” says Collamer.

Homestay issues don’t only exist in Europe, or only with American students. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Marina Olalla, the nineteen-year-old daughter of a Spanish mother who has been housing international students for over five years, had her own homestay mishap in America.

“My family was very traditional and conservative and wouldn’t let me do anything without the daughter. Communication with them was difficult; that was the biggest problem,” says Olalla.  So, just like Micah, Olalla left in search of a new family to spend the rest of her stay with in the United States.

Olalla can also see the mistakes that she made, “I think that everyone has to make their point, and I never expressed myself. I should have expressed how I felt more often. I felt they got used to me not standing up for myself.” Olalla’s experience shows that it isn’t only the host family’s job to make sure communication flows between both parties. It is just as important for students to express their own concerns and doubts as well.

There are multiple reasons why someone would choose to be a host for a student. For many families, it’s a chance to broaden their minds and experience new cultures without traveling.

“There are different motivations for different families, because some have children and they want the contact between the students and the children because it is a rich experience. You can learn about other cultures, which is always great, because we teach students, but we also learn from students all the time. Our students experience our culture, but we can also share the two cultures,” says program coordinator Rubio.  Emi Del Rio, an English professor at a university in Segovia, Spain, who became my new homestay-mother, says, “I guess that hosting students is a way of sharing our lives with other people, just to know how people usually live in Spain. We like being in contact with young people because we can see it in ourselves that we have young minds as well.DSC_7123[2] We enjoy just knowing other cultures and talking to other people from different nations. We love that. We love being surrounded by people,” says Del Rio.

Del Rio’s attitude and open-mind towards new cultures is exactly why Sophie and I now feel so at home in their cherry wood embellished flat. Their little, yet elegant apartment, adorned with photos, trinkets and memories of their travels, is constantly infused with the smell of traditional Spanish cooking, all thanks to her husband Pedro. Their friendliness and willingness to accept people of all cultures and nationalities is just as noticeable in the air as Pedro’s cooking. The two of them have yet to experience any problems with students. “We both have a positive attitude, we are open and ready to help,” says Del Rio. “But students also need to be open minded and understand and accept the house rules. That’s the idea.”

As my two weeks here in the Del Rio household come to an end, I can’t help but stare at my cluttered suitcase, sitting amongst even more souvenirs, clothes and bottles of wine that Emi recommended, with the urge to keep it all unpacked. Thanks to Emi and Pedro, returning to the U.S. will be bittersweet, as we are undoubtedly leaving a second home here in Segovia.

The Del Rio’s have future plans to visit California; Sophie and I have invited them into our own homes without hesitation.

— Alletta Simons, Segovia, Spain

Learning through exploring in Barcelona

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 1.43.16 PMThe program that I attended during my time last summer in Barcelona, Spain was an immersive 7 credit urban design and media course. It was an intense 6 week experience that combined architectural drawing and media with history of urban design, and culminated in a 2 week research project that used the city streets as our laboratory. Drawing and diagramming by hand was the first skill set we practiced. Every day was a physical journey through the city’s history, beginning with medieval old walled city’s winding stone streets and cavernous passageways. We learned to quickly draw the essence of a public space by watching the movement of people, the placement of street furniture such as benches and the layout of streets. For a group of architecture students, mostly used to drawing the ornamentation of buildings and shapes of spaces, this was a whole new way of understanding a place. Some of us experimented with photo collage, and watercolor, while others preferred new media such as 3D modeling programs. By working in teams, we were able to learn from each other across disciplines, and experience levels.

The next phase of the course took us to the expansion of the city beyond the medieval walls, with and organized, rigorous grid of streets and chamfered corner blocks. Spacious open streets and tree lined shopping ‘ramblas,’ or pedestrian avenues, felt grand and regal. Finally, we studied the expansion of the city in preparation for the 1992 olympics, and the subsequent redevelopment of a formerly industrial zone into a high-tech reinvestment area known as the 22@ district. Many of these buildings and public spaces were architectural showpieces for the city, and featured experimental façade systems and program elements.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 1.43.31 PMBy experiencing each of these periods of history firsthand, and recording them via urban design diagrams, we were able to feel the layers of history that make up the many vibrant neighborhoods of Barcelona. When it was time to create an urban design intervention of our own, during the final phase of the program, we had a more thorough understanding of the place, and the values of its people. When we presented our final work to professors of the local architecture school, city officials, and local professional designers, they noted how in tune we were with the needs and aesthetic styles of the place, despite how recently we had arrived.

In conclusion, this immersive program was a great kickstart to my current interest in urban design, and gave me a whole new lens with which I see cities, and a totally unique learning experience that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else!

– Annie Ledbury, Life/City/Adaptation in Barcelona

How to be Okay Abroad

The most significant learning experience for me was traveling alone during el puente, the ten days off before finals exams and departure. I looked towards this as a different kind of final test. I wasn’t being asked to regurgitate numerous facts that somebody else had thought of already or detail my opinion on a certain act that somebody else had already committed. No. I was testing myself against the world. Myself against myself. Individual. Single. Separate. Alone. I was going to the north of Spain and was planning on traveling from Santiago de Compostela to Santander, a stretch of land 947 kilometers across. All I had were two plane tickets (one to fly in an one to fly out), a vague sense of buying bus tickets, an idea of some places to stay and my mochila with a bocadillo from my señora and a change of clothes. I had traveled before with friends and family, but in thePhoto#2 back of your mind there is always that knowledge that there is another person. That you can lean on each other. You can survive together. I wanted to take off the training wheels as it were. What had I learned about myself and how I cope these last five months? I was dropped in a culture where I had limited knowledge and a language that I was learning in a country where I was merely the visitor. Yes I had been here for five months and yes I was much more proficient then the “just get by” attitude that had got me here all those weeks ago, but this is the final test. I would do this alone. That was my thought, being alone. Like taking that final exam at the end of term it’s just you an the paper sitting in front of you on the desk.

First comes the stress and worrying about what you will do and all the logistics. The adrenaline rush. Will you pick the right answer? The test begins with the T/F section. Simple right or wrong questions. “You get on the plane.” “You travel alone.” You stop and think but the answer is clearly True for both. You move on. Now is the multiple choice. Things are starting to get a bit more complex. You have a few more options. You look at your list of potential places to stay that you wrote down for the first night. “Where should you go?” You decide to look at option A. No. B? No. C looks good. You stop. There’s no room. The answer must be D. Perfect. You have lodging. So far so good. You continue through your exam. You come to the short answer. A little more open ended. “What are you going to see today? El museo? La catedral? La playa? Why?” You think about it. Perhaps the cathedral. You’re in a city famous for it’s pilgrims, you explain. It’s important to capture this aspect of the city and the culture to understand what the people are like here. You’ve reasoned yourself into this because of a sense of security in following the paths of the tourists. There will be lots to see. You will learn a lot. Perfect place to start. You continue like this through a few of the short answer. Then finally comes the essay question. “Describe the three most important things you’ve learned from this city. How did they affect you?” You talk about the cathedral and the museum and the beach. How the people are interconnected to it all. You are certain that this is the correct answer. Now, in a real test situation you would turn your test in walk out the door and that would be the end of it, waiting for the results, forgetting about everything, but life doesn’t work that way. The adrenaline rush of fear and anxiety returns. What are you going to do?

Photo#4You wander. You explore. You’ve walked up a hill. Why? Only your feet and subconcious could tell you that. You stop. The view is incredible. It swallows you. There is silence. You have folded your very being into your surroundings and have peace within yourself. Finally the realization comes. There is no test merely life and you will grow and learn with it. There is no clock but your own. You make the decisions. You make the choices. Left or right. Fast or slow. Up or down. You travel the world as you want not as a compromise with another person or animal or what have you. You travel from town to town, hostel to hostel, grocery store to grocery store. You may move from place to place without another being but you are not alone. People are people everywhere you go. Yes you are an individual, but one of the world. You know that you can be taken anywhere in the world but you will not be alone. You have found out how you cope with your surroundings whether you speak the language or not. Exhausted or wide awake. Happy or sad. I learned that I am a traveler. I am an individual of the world and I will be just fine.

– Sarah McCauley, Sevilla, Spain

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