Home Stays USA
18 August 2017

Hello. My name is Maddie Gatzounas and I’m a senior at South Hadley High in Massachusetts. When I was in 10th grade, I was interested in studying abroad, but I wanted to have a real intercultural experience by living with a host family. All the programs I looked at seemed to be groups of students living together in dorms. Then one day my Spanish teacher, Ms. Graf, told me about HomestaysUSA. and later, Joe and Paula came to our class and talked about life in Spain and their summer program, where Americans families get to host teenagers from Spain and give them the opportunity to become friends and create an intercultural exchange. When I heard it, I knew it was what I wanted to do.

After I applied and got accepted. A few weeks before the program began I got matched with my Spanish girl, Lucia (Lucy) who was 15 years old from Vitoria, Spain. I got really excited as we exchanged emails and became friends on Facebook. I had a good feeling right away as it felt like we had common interests, like basketball and a similar personality. Joe and Paula definitely did a good job of matching us.

At the end of June, we picked Lucy up late at night after she flew in from Boston. She seemed very tired and I was nervous about how it was going to turn out. I left her some magazines and candy I thought she would like in her room.

It didn’t take long for us to become comfortable with each other, as we were busy doing things, like playing basketball with my team. I brought her to meet all my friends on the 4th of July. We walked to the fireworks, and later camped out at a friends house where we made smores over the campfire, told ghost stories and went for late night swims. It was great because Lucy also hit it off with my friends. They also stay in touch with each other on Facebook.

I also showed Lucy our community garden I help out with in South Hadley where we grow tomatoes and herbs to make tasty, local pizza. We helped out a few times, weeding and putting up stakes. It was nice to be able to show her our community project. After we went some the pizza the garden makes.

The third week was the New York trip. This was A LOT of fun. I got to meet all the other Spanish students doing the program and all the other American teenage hosts as well. I met Ana from Bilbao and still stay in touch with her. I had never seen the Statue of Liberty before nor been on Top of the Rock, which was fun to experience with everyone from Spain as most were seeing New York for the first time. Then we spent the night in the hotel which was also a lot of fun. This trip was unforgettable.

The last week we went to Maine where my aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and friends also join us. It was fun to show Lucy all these great people. We went tubing and knee boarding on the lake, and fishing too.

At last it was time for her to go, and the time went really fast, faster than I thought. I was sad as I hugged Lucy good-bye, but I knew we would stay in touch.

And we did. We skyped regularly and I let her know that I would like to go to Spain. Although, she didn’t come to America again with HomestaysUSA, I flew back with the program at the end of July as I had stayed in touch with Joe and Paula. I went to live with Lucy’s family for three weeks.

Once I got to Spain, things were not as easy as I thought at first. I was very tired from the time change and found it difficult to speak and understand Spanish. I could see how difficult it was for Lucy and the other Spanish students who come to America to learn the language and live with another family.

But Lucy and her mom made sure I was okay and her family was so welcoming. I really felt like Lucy was a host sister because we spend a lot of time together. It was intense, but helped us to really get to know each other and form a strong relationship.

We went to fiestas, which was a bit crazy. It was fun to see all the people in the street and the local traditions in the Basque region, including dance and clothes. I got a chance to meet Lucy’s friends, as she did mine, and we hit it off as well. We too stay in touch on-line.

We also went to France, San Sebastian and Laredo, the town where Lucy spends her summer days on the beach.

As her family drove me to Madrid to get my flight home, we stopped in Segovia and saw the beautiful castle. It was such a nice close to the trip to spend time with her family. The last night we were up late and telling stories and laughing.

When we said good-bye, it was really hard to communicate how appreciative I was. All I could say was thank you. We cried and then later waved until we could see each other anymore. It was such an invaluable experience and I know I have a friend for life in Spain.
I would recommend it to anyone who is thinking about hosting.  

Maddie
Photos from Maddie Gatzounas and her experience hosting Lucia and her trip a year after to visit her in Spain.