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Academic Year (or Semester) in Spain

Gena Hasburgh
315-859-4201
315-859-4222 (fax)

Frequently Asked Questions

Spanish Family Homestays

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 experience:

All students should carefully read their HCAYS Pre-departure Bulletin before they leave and the HCAYS "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 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 also try to 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!  HCAYS should be the experience of your lifetime.

2. How are the Spanish families chosen?

All the Spanish families chosen by HCAYS have been carefully interviewed and approved by the HCAYS Housing Coordinator to ensure acceptable standards of living comfort. All the students who have been accepted are previously sent a housing questionnaire where they can list their preferences and or any special needs or requests they may have. That way we can place the student with the family and or roommate that will 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 students in the past and other Spanish families
  •   Proximity to and from the HCAYS 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. Even though you should keep in mind that upon arrival in Madrid 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?

The food you will find will vary. However, we encourage our families to prepare typical meals while at the same time always taking into consideration any dietary or special needs the student 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 HCAYS rules?

All students and parents are required to read and sign an HCAYS Honor Code and Standards of Conduct before participating in the Program. This honor code has been designed to give clear guidelines as to what is expected of them while they 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 HCAYS participants receive complete medical and accident insurance coverage from Sanitas for the duration of the program.  The cost of this coverage is covered by the program tuition fee. Students will receive more information and details about health insurance coverage from Sanitas during the orientation meeting in Madrid.

7. What about culture shock?

Students may experience some sort of culture shock upon their arrival in Madrid. Normally this feeling disappears after several weeks. Students should give themselves time and have patience to adjust to their new living and cultural experience abroad. Spain is different, so it is important for to students to know they will find: different schedules, different foods, and different customs.

Prescriptions for Culture SOC:
  • 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)

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