During one of my first weekends in Spain, my host family took me to the “pueblo” where my host dad grew up. It was a picturesque, medieval town nestled in the Valle de Cinco Pueblos about 2 hours west of Madrid. Throughout the weekend, I marveled at the natural beauty around me, ate my weight in freshly picked figs, and relaxed. Since I had already gotten to visit the pueblo where my host dad is from and meet some of his family, my host mom has been eager to show off her town to me. Though she was born in Venezuela (and considers Caracas her home), she grew up in Alcalá. When they heard that I was planning to run a race in Alcalá, they decided it was the perfect excuse to show me around, and to show me off to the extended family.
We left Madrid in the family’s furgoneta (a vocab word from out recent quiz that means large van) and were soon in suburban Alcalá where we started the tour at my host mom’s older brother’s home. After drinks and some cheese in the garden, I was served a delicious lunch of salad, lasagna, bread, melon, and carrot cake accompanied, of course, by wine and lively discussion. Some of the family members wanted to practice their English with me (which was met with unhappy cries from my host dad) while others were curious about the US; so our conversations ranged from American politics and the upcoming election to Spanish politics and the recent (re)formation of the government to the weather in Missouri to my running habits. The conversation bounced from person to person rapidly with many people shouting at once and multiple conversations going on at any time. I was informed multiple times that this was a truly Spanish conversation.
After the nearly four-hour lunch, we went for a walk around the nearby park before loading back into the cars to tour the historical center of Alcalá. We meandered around the city for nearly three hours entering churches, buying sweets, and strolling into picturesque plazas. My host dad is an art professor and my host mom’s family is full of artists, so we frequently had to stop to allow someone to point out a Roman-era column, architecturally important building, or church full of beautiful paintings. Interestingly, the streets were packed with people who had the same idea as us. It seemed that everyone in town was out taking a leisurely stroll around the beautiful squares before dinner. No one was in a rush to get home for dinner or do work or go to bed.
Eventually, we headed back to the cars and up the small mountain to grandma and grandpa’s house where my host mom grew up. At one point, this octagonal home housed 5 children. Though all the children are now fully-grown adults, the house retains an atmosphere of warmth and kindness as the rose colored walls are lined with art and knick-knacks. Literally, family and friend’s paintings cover almost every inch of wall space. We were served a family-style meal of fresh bread, soup, and quince paste with cheese after which I was ushered to bed to rest before my race the next morning.
This weekend, I was overwhelmed by the genuine kindness I was shown as an outsider to both the family and country. I’ll admit that I was pretty picky in stating what I wanted in a host family: a full family with both kids and pets who were health-conscious but genuinely Spanish all wrapped up in a good location. Despite these demands, there happened to be a family in the program who fit this almost perfectly. Though it’s strange and nerve wracking to live in another family’s home (Can I have a snack when I want? Am I supposed to answer the door or phone?), my host family has definitely been a defining factor in, and highlight of my time in Spain.
Whether it’s my 20 and 15 year old host brothers accommodating my vegetarianism, my host dad drawing me maps of the cities I am travelling to, or the whole family genuinely being interested in my enjoyment of Spain, they have gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable and happy here. This weekend solidified my impression that my host family and I are as perfect a match as there could be. I just can’t wait to, someday, show them around the United States.