By Ashley Douthett, Global Studies & Global Honors, '15. This article was originally published in the Institute for Global Engagement newsletter.
Last March, I was lucky enough to study abroad in León, Spain, where I anticipated learning more about the Spanish language and culture. Initially, I was equal parts terrified and excited; I had never been overseas and was going to be gone for the duration of the quarter. To an extent, I knew this was going to be the opportunity of a lifetime, but I didn’t truly realize this until the moment I met my host family.
It was raining when the nine of us UW students arrived in León. We were all hungry, irritated, and exhausted, having spent the last two hours trying to find the meeting spot, all while dragging our luggage and struggling to decipher directions given to us in a foreign language. I started having doubts—had I made the right decision coming here? Just ten minutes earlier, I had thoroughly embarrassed myself by trying to order food from a nearby restaurant. Fun fact: there is a significant difference between asking, “¿Tiénes hombres?” (Do you have men?) when you really mean to say, “Tengo hambre” (I have hunger). Apparently incapable of feeding myself, was I going to survive?
All at once, my doubts left as the host families arrived. I looked around as each family greeted its new member with a loving embrace, and mine was no exception. The warmth and safety I found in the embrace of these complete strangers transcended the language barrier and was like nothing I had ever experienced before. They welcomed me into their house, which quickly became my home.
Over the course of the next three months, I was able to explore the culture of northern Spain via tapas, Gaudí, discotechas, siestas, volunteering at a local elementary school, and, most importantly, my host family. They called me daughter and provided me with some of the most amazing memories I will ever have, as well as with an incredible amount of patience as I struggled with the language (for which I will be eternally indebted). By embarking on this adventure, I was able to step out of my comfort zone and into the best experience of my life (so far).
Learn more about the Institute for Global Engagement and Global Honors program here