My Second Family
One of my favorite nights in Barcelona happened towards the end of the program, when my host mom, Mireia, invited my roommate and me to cook dinner with her. We had quickly fallen in love with the traditional Catalan meal of pan con tomate and tortilla de patata, so Mireia decided we should learn how to make it so we could replicate it for ourselves and our families when we returned home. We spent the night laughing with our host mom about our inadequacies in cooking, sharing stories about school, our travels, family and friends, and toasting to a future of happiness and adventure. I realized how natural it felt to be in her kitchen, talking with her as I would with my own mother—at that moment I felt as though we were truly connected, despite the differences in our native languages and cultures. Nearly all the food she prepared for us each night was based on recipes that her mother had passed down to her, so it felt as though she was welcoming us into her family as she offered to share them with us. That night was also one of the many times that I was thankful for my grasp on the Spanish language, as we were able to hold real, valuable conversations that not only strengthened our relationship, but created a cultural environment that no textbook could ever simulate. Over dinner we often covered a wide variety of topics such as Catalan pride, American politics, education in Spain, family life, and travel experiences. I learned that my host family was fiercely proud of their Catalan identity, which took precedent over their identity as Spaniards, and that they preferred to speak Catalan in the house; they had been speaking Spanish only for our benefit. I learned about my host sister’s specialized secondary education, which focused primarily on studies of music and the arts, and was invited to a concert where I watched her sing original songs in both Catalan and Spanish. My roommate and I exchanged our favorite music with our host mom, as it turned out that she enjoyed learning English from the lyrics of American songs. The wealth of knowledge that was opened up to us by living in constant cultural immersion was an incomparable addition to my study abroad experience. But most importantly, my host mom became a built-in ally, the person we could always count on to support us, and to help us navigate and understand the different world we were living in.