1. What is the best way to act with my Spanish family? How should I say I don’t like something or that I need something, politely?

Here are some helpful tips for a successful homestay:

All students should carefully read the program’s “Pre-departure Bulletin” before they leave and its “Guía Practica para estudiantes” upon their arrival in Madrid. These two documents will be very helpful to make your study abroad experience a safe and happy one.

You should try all of the food. If you REALLY don’t like it, tell your host mother politely.  It’s best to tell them these kinds of things in the beginning because then they will know not to make certain things again. It is also very important to tell them when you like something and when you have had enough. You can say something like “muchas gracias,  estoy llena(o) o estaba muy buena la comida pero ya he comido suficiente.”

Try to be patient, considerate and flexible. Daily communication with your family should be a must, and you will learn a lot.  Be sure to ask questions and initiate conversation. Try to form positive relationships with your Spanish hosts. Be courteous, respectful and aware of cultural differences. Students should stay in very close touch with the housing coordinator.

It is considered very bad manners to walk around the house barefoot so be sure to wear slippers, flip-flops or at least socks.  It is also considered bad manners to eat with one hand on your lap; you should rest both wrists on the edge of the table.

Try to treat your host family and your apartment as you would like a study-abroad student to treat your family and your house.

Above all, have fun!  This semester/year in Spain should be the experience of your lifetime.

2. How are the Spanish families chosen?

The program housing coordinator carefully interviews and approves all the Spanish families that host our students to ensure acceptable standards of living comfort. All the students who have been accepted fill out a housing questionnaire where they can list their preferences and any special needs or requests they may have. That way we can place students with the family and or roommate that best fit their needs. Spanish families give students a lot of independence: There is no curfew.

We try to keep many factors in mind when we choose our Spanish families:

  •   The host families’ or “señoras”’ personalities
  •   Recommendations based on evaluations from past students and other Spanish families
  •   Proximity to the program headquarters
  •   Building conditions   
3. What if I don't like my family?

Requests for family changes are very rare.  However, if you are placed in a household and are not happy with your situation, you may ask to be changed. Keep in mind that you should give yourself some time to adapt and adjust to your new living situation before making any decisions. Communication is key!

4. What is the food like?

You will find that the food will vary. However, we encourage our families to prepare typical meals while always considering any dietary or special needs you may have. Be sure to always politely let your Spanish family know when you like or dislike something but you should also always try to be willing to try some new things.

5. How strict are the program rules?

You – and all students and parents – are required to read and sign the program’s honor code and standards of conduct before participating. The honor code provides clear guidelines as to what is expected of you while you are studying abroad.  Reading the section titled “Standards of Conduct & Honor Code” in your “Pre-departure Bulletin” will help you understand the rules more clearly.

6. What about health insurance?

All participants receive complete medical and accident insurance coverage from MAPFRE for the duration of the program.  The cost of this coverage is covered by the program tuition fee. You will receive more information and details about health insurance coverage from MAPFRE during the orientation meeting in Madrid.

7. What about culture shock?

You may experience some sort of culture shock when you arrive in Madrid. Normally this feeling disappears after several weeks. You should give yourself time and have patience to adjust to your new living and cultural experiences. It is important for you to know that you will encounter different schedules, foods and customs in Spain.

  • Understand symptoms and recognize signs of “culture fatigue.”
  • Realize that some degree of discomfort and stress is natural in a cross-cultural experience.
  • Recognize that your reactions are largely emotional and not easily subject to rational management.
  • Gather information before you go so at least the difference will seem familiar if not natural. Knowledge is power.
  • Look for the logical reasons behind host culture patterns. It “fits” the culture, discover why.
  • Relax your grip on your normal culture and try to cheerfully adapt to new rules and roles.
  • Don’t give in to the temptation to disparage what you do not like or understand. It probably won’t change.
  • Identify a support network among host nationals, expatriates, work group or within school setting. Use it, but don't rely on it exclusively.
  • Understand that it is a passing phase of what will be, in retrospect, a time of great learning and personal growth.
  • Give yourself quiet time, some private space and don’t be too hard on yourself.

Source: Survival Kit for Overseas Living by L. Robert Kohls (p. 92)

8. What if I have any allergies or dietary restrictions?

To have dietary restrictions is less common in Spain. Please make sure that you include this very important information on your housing questionnaire and contact Christine Jensen, the Housing Coordinator (cjensen@hamilton.edu) if you have any questions or doubts. Try to be patient with people who might not understand what it means that you are vegan, vegetarian or that you have any other dietary restrictions. Nevertheless, everyone will do their best to make sure to adjust your needs. As soon as you arrive, it is essential for you to remind your Spanish host family about any allergies or dietary restriction you have.


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Hamilton College Academic Year in Spain

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