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A Southerner in Barcelona: mi experiencia con mi familia española

¡Hola! My name is John Harbison and I am from Greeneville, Tennessee. I am a junior at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and I am studying Sport Management and Business. My goal when I graduate college is to become an international sports agent and many American athletes come to Europe to play professional basketball. I decided to study abroad specifically in Barcelona because I had never been to Spain, I didn’t take Spanish in high school and wanted to learn and because Barcelona has a very strong sports culture with Futbol Club Barcelona, FC Barcelona Regal Basketball and FC Barcelona Intersport Handbol. I felt that staying with a host family would give me the best opportunity to learn Spanish and be well acquainted with the culture and city. Before coming I was more nervous about being accepted into the host family program then anything else. Yes, I didn’t know that much Spanish and I didn’t know what to expect with the family, but it was a goal of mine ever since I knew I wanted to study abroad for a semester. 

I couldn’t have asked for a better host family. Paloma, my host mother, is a stay at home mom and does everything for us. She has been really sweet and fantastic. Tello padre, my host father, is a lawyer in town and has been learning English, so we help each other out. Tello hijo, 20 and Cristina, 10 are their two children and they have been very friendly and kind in letting me into their home. Tello is studying engineering and speaks English very well so he has been nice to have around. I have been lucky to spend time with him and his friends going to see Barça games in local bars, shopping and hanging out in the Gracia neighborhood. Having a homestay brother my age has taught me a lot about how Spanish university students interact with each other. For example, when Tello and his friends go out to a disco, they always go to the same place because they know they will have a good time, the prices are good and all their friends will be there. In comparison to my American friends, we like to try new venues and not stay in the same place for too long. Another thing I have learned is that it isn’t so easy to get a Spanish girl’s phone number because she has to know you well before agreeing to go out with you. Tello on the other hand enjoyed how friendly and open my American girl friends are. In fact, they actually went out a few times without me! 

Paloma and Tello padre were born and raised outside of Cataluña which has given me an interesting perspective on the current Catalan separatist movement. Like many Spaniards, they have lived in Catalonia for about 20 years but consider it a part of Spain and would not vote for its independence. Putting politics aside, when it comes to football, Paloma is a Real Madrid supporter and her son Tello is a diehard Barça fan. It’s fun to see them watch El Clásico and their healthy rivalry reminds me of football games back home when the Tennessee Volunteers play against the Florida Gators. 

Tello padre, Paloma, Tello hijo and Cristina have really made a big effort to make me feel part of the family. Five days after arriving in Barcelona, I had my 21st birthday. I didn’t really know anyone and I didn’t expect to have a celebration. To my surprise, my host family planned a big meal with a birthday cake, a bottle of cava and gave me a book on Gaudi. Although 21 isn’t a milestone birthday in Spain, they understood it was really important for me. Their thoughtfulness and generosity really brought me into the family. Throughout the semester my host parents and I took trips to various museums and different parts of the city. 

One trip I enjoyed was going to see Colónia Güell in Santa Coloma de Cervelló. We drove out there to see the textile community that the famous architect, Gaudi designed for his friend Güell. In addition to only speaking and hearing Spanish, I really enjoyed the experience of seeing a different city and more Gaudi architecture that I imagine most students don't get a chance to see. Even though I missed having Tello hijo with us, I had this weird but neat feeling that I really was a part of the family.

I can’t believe that four months have gone by since I got to Barcelona and first met my family. I knew before coming that it was going to be a challenge communicating and adjusting to the Spanish family lifestyle. To be completely honest, there were some days when it was hard to get out of bed because I knew I would only speak Spanish outside my bedroom door and my brain felt like it couldn’t process anymore new information. However, I didn’t let that stress me out too much and went with the flow and tried to keep a positive attitude about it. After a few weeks I started to get used to speaking a new language and I actually think in Spanish now. I am very happy I chose to stay with a host family and recommend anyone who is studying here to do the same. It’s crazy how many other American students I met said how jealous they were that I was staying with a family. Everyone has the same opportunity; you just have to say yes and not be scared. Overall, this semester in Barcelona has been incredible and I will always remember my homestay family. They have truly made my experience unforgettable and I can’t even thank them for all they have done for me.
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