I had quite the unique host family experience during my time in Bilbao. While my best friend was eating lobster for dinner and going on little trips with her family, I was left daily with “mystery” meals and short passive aggressive notes.
The Mystery Meals
Coming home every day to find out what I was having for lunch or dinner was always an adventure in itself. My host family was never home so I always ate alone, having to guess what it was that they “made” me. We had a group text with about 10 of my friends from the program, and almost every day we would play the “what is Bridget having for lunch” game.
Since it did not take me long to figure out all of my food was frozen, I often would search the garbage can for remains of the box or bag it might have originally been in. By doing this, I would usually be able to discover what my mystery meal actually was. I remember one day I physically could not finish my meal because it was truly disgusting. I didn’t know what to do because every time I didn’t finish a meal I would be either left a passive aggressive note or ruthlessly questioned by my host mom. I had already gone through both of those situations and did not want to again, so I threw the remains out the window. Yes. Out the window. It was a moment of panic that I am not proud of.
So, now it’s your turn to play the game.
These were my form of daily entertainment. To put it lightly, my host mom was not the nicest person on Earth. She never talked to me and was extremely passive aggressive. If I Skyped my parents at 9pm I was too loud. If I showered at 9am that was too early. If I left food on my plate I was questioned about it the next day.
All of these little “rules” were conveniently left on little pieces of paper she would leave for me in my room. Ironically, a girl in my sorority had the same host family I had but a year earlier. She had it a lot worse. Vero (the host mom) used to make her take a shower with a flashlight because the light from the bathroom was “too bright” and she “couldn’t sleep” with it on. So there’s that.
The week before our program ended, my two friends and I decided we were going to ask our host families if we could stay an extra night because we all had an early morning flight the day after our program finished. Both of their host families said “of course” with no questions asked. I knew that my response would probably not be as easy. When I finally built up the courage to ask Vero, she sighed and said she would “think about it”. I hadn’t gotten a response from her all week, and on the last day I walked into my room and saw a note that said: “An extra night will be 31 euros”. So with that, I packed my bags and said hasta nunca.
So. The survival tip. Make the most of it! If you are in a situation like mine, you have to accept that it is not going to be a “family” experience. Let go of past perceptions of host families. My host family was clearly in it for the money, so I took the situation like it was. Finally, I actually learned to enjoy it. I liked it because I felt like the apartment was my own. They were usually gone, so it forced me to be more independent. It caused me to form better relationships with my friends. I was literally never home. I explored on my own and I discovered I was capable of a lot more than I thought I was.
Whatever you do, do not let a bad host family ruin your experience! Worst-case scenario, you can contact your Study Abroad coordinator and they can change your living placement for you. This happened to one of my friends, and he still had a great experience regardless. There are options, but your option should never be to go home! You can do it, have faith. You will never regret staying, and will always regret leaving. Trust me on this one.