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Shattered Expectations: From Culture Shock to Having a "Madre Española"

Eating paella with Esther, Maria, and her friend Christina
Before my trip to Spain, whenever I heard about culture shock I always thought that it was definitely something people experience—just not me. So when I found myself during my first night in Madrid tossing and turning in bed at 2 a.m., on the fourth story of an apartment with no air conditioning on a 90-degree day, translating every thought I had in English to Spanish, and wondering how I was going to get through three weeks of this, I think it's pretty safe to say that was culture shock.
By the end of my time in Spain, I'm not even sure I would recognize that girl tossing and turning in the middle of the night. Spain was not what I thought it was going to be: it was more. I thought that I didn't have a lot of expectations for my trip, but it became obvious that I did after the first couple of days when those expectations were shattered. Once I let go of those expectations, my trip became more than I could have hoped for.
The biggest thing that I came to realize was hard to communicate to my family and friends back home. I realized that while I did get to see most of Madrid, I wasn't there to be your typical American tourist. I was there to experience what it was like to actually live in Spain. I wasn't staying in hotels, living out of a suitcase, eating out at restaurants constantly and setting my own agenda for my day. I was living with a single mom, her daughter, and their three cats. Most days, we wouldn't see Esther, my host mom, until 10 p.m. when she got home from work. Sometimes Maria and I would go out, sometimes we wouldn't. We had to run errands, do chores, and help family members.
Exploring a river in the countryside outside Madrid with a group of Maria's friends
Most of my fondest memories are things that I would never have had as a tourist: making my host mom and sister pancakes; cuddling with Sishuka, our cat, while reading a book in the middle of a rainstorm; traveling by train and metro, laughing with Maria's friends as we sped out into the countryside for the day; late night dinners and talks with Esther after she came home; all of us singing along to Mamma Mia! as we watched it late at night; and countless other invaluable memories that I could never have gotten by touring on my own.
The trip wasn't easy. I was definitely ready to come home by the end, and I'm able to look back on it now with a lot more fondness and love than I had while I was there. For me, the part of the whole experience that made every hard moment worth it and something I wouldn't trade for any easier touring experience is my host mom and sister. I really feel like I have a family in Spain (I like to refer to Esther as "mi madre española"). I'm hoping they'll come visit me next year, but if not, I know that I will see them again and we'll laugh and remember all the moments we shared during the three weeks I was able to live with them.
​The city of Madrid from the top of a hill
-By Emily McLean


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Summer 2020 Spanish Language Programs - Info Meeting November 20th! Come learn about the different Spanish-language programs for Summer 2020! These immersion-based trips are your chance to stay with a host family, practice Spanish with native speakers, and learn about the local culture.

At the informational meeting we'll share more details about the different program options and the application process, hear from former participants for a student's perspective, and end with a Q&A session.
Can't wait until the then to learn more? Check out Spanish Programs on our website or Email!
See you there!