Last summer in Spain though Indiana University’s foreign exchange student program, I discovered how much home meant to me. I realize now how naive I was as my plane left Chicago’s airspace headed for Europe. I thought a summer abroad would be a pleasant break from the hum-drum tedium of daily hometown life: a chance to finally get away from the ubiquitous presence of my family. (I love my family, but seventeen years of my father’s gags can drain anyone.) When I arrived, I received a different family, culture, and group of friends as well as a headache (who knew that the Spaniards have a different word for everything?)
During the first week of my stay, I felt incredibly isolated. At school I felt alone because I neither knew nor could talk to anybody. Then, I went home where I neither know nor could I talk to anybody. Through the following weeks, I began to recognize how much I rely on my family’s presence – which up to this point in my life has been unerring yet unappreciated. Needless to say, I missed my mom and the comforts of the familiar. However, as I confused the words for “naked” and “thin” (an embarrassing scenario wherein I told five women that they were all very naked) I realized that the people in that strange environment had more to give me than the strain of thinking cost.
My host family opened their home to me, and, also, their hearts. My mama often referred to me as her “spoiled child” as she insisted I eat more of her delectable Spanish cuisine (a task with which I was happy to oblige her). My host sisters laughed, comforted, and shared the night life with me. We traveled to the scenic lagoons and the local dance clubs on weekends, gossiped about attractive Spanish soccer players at night, and walked daily to the pool to soak in the glorious Spanish sun. My papa shared his vast store of knowledge about Spanish history and the workings of a different government. As I learned the language and communication became less of a barrier and more of a subconscious understanding, I became fonder of that house at the very end of Lavender Street along with its residents. I still missed my native land, but the love showered on me by this family who took me blindly into their homes and lives means more to me than any summer job might have.
When I arrived in Spain, I had two families – one new and one old. Now I know that I only have one family, and what luck: two mothers, two fathers, five sisters, five dogs, and countless cousins. My foreign experience of fiestas, food, and love was the best of my life. It took a trip to Spain for me to truly appreciate my home. It took coming back to make me realize that home is not necessarily 951 Ransom Road or 7 Lavender Street, but where there are people who love me.
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