Ashley Espraza - Segovia, Spain
As I was about to leave for my study abroad trip to Segovia, Spain, I felt that I was very prepared for what was to come; I had done my research on Segovia, packed accordingly, triple-checked my flight plans, and readied myself for two months of speaking Spanish. The only uncertainty I had was living in a Spanish household for my stay- would it be awkward? Would I get along with my host family? I soon found out that the host family 'home was perhaps the most rewarding aspect of my study abroad experience.
When I got off the bus at the Segovia station, my classmates and I huddled into a pack, waiting to be paired with our new host families. I nervously stared into the group of expectant host parents, wondering which one was mine, until a short, but very strong woman grabbed my arm, declared she was my host mom, and whisked me away, babbling away in Spanish. Taken aback by the audacity of my new mom, I could barely string together a coherent sentence. As the days passed, however, my intimidation wore off and I learned how wonderful a woman my host mom was.Mealtimes soon became the most valuable language lessons.
My host mom, Fuencisla, was a master at cooking traditional Spanish cuisine, which kept the family around the table and the conversation flowing. My host dad, Manuel, would banter and poke fun at my host sisters, while Fuencisla would constantly ask me, "es buena la comida?" (Is't good, the food?) Which would spark a play by play of how each piece of the meal was cooked, followed by my mother insisting that I eat more (come, come más!) And I would always eat more. From the traditional tortilla espanola, an omelets-like dish made of egg and potato, to calabacines rellenos (stuffed zucchini) or the famous paella, I was sure to try every new dish, and nearly every one that I tried was delicious. As each meal progressed, my Spanish flowed more easily with the help of la comida espanola, and soon conversation transcended my original forced dialogue about the quality of each meal to making jokes about my host dad's insatiable sweet tooth (we could never keep ice cream in the house for long!) and learning about my sisters' summer travel plans; discussing politics around the table even felt comfortable. Before long, it was easy to call myself one of the family rather than just a temporary boarder.
Food seemed to be my host mother's solution to every problem- even when I fell ill for a few days. I know that chicken noodle soup is standard protocol for combatting a cold or flu, but my host mom's arsenal of "sick foods" made a can of Campbell's pale in comparison to her homemade soups and other dishes. The aroma of Fuencisla's chicken soup would drag me out of bed to the table no matter how horrible I felt, and her prowess in the kitchen could spark hunger in even the most upset of stomachs. I suppose I wasn't accustomed to being cared for to such an extent when sick after living on my own at college, but just witnessing the care she put into each one of my meals while I was sick made me realize how lucky I was to receive a homestay family that embraced the family values that are so important in Spain and treated me as one of their own.
For me, the food I ate in Spain didn't just represent the rich and varied culture I had the opportunity to experience; it represents a value lost upon modern American life: the family dinner. Today, as I recall the tortilla, paella, and other dishes that I have come to love, I cannot help but remember my Fuencisla, Manuel, and the rest of my host family, and the sense of belonging I felt while sharing a home and dinner table with them.