My Iberian Immersion: Part III, I'm Now Part of the Family

Three months have passed since I left home. With them have gone the steepest part of this uphill journey and any inkling of the once repressive summer heat.

Although this past month has been rift with changes in my attitude, thoughts and habits, the most important of them was the growing relationship with my host family. It has been only in these last four weeks that we have begun to completely understand each other -- be familiar with each other's histories, good habits, bad habits, moods and way of thought. We have begun to be able to predict each other's actions, know each other's TV shows, and have inside jokes. I have become part of the family.

The barriers that had to be overcome before I could write that sentence were many and difficult. Language, culture, personalities, traditions and a thousand other tiny things had to be accommodated for and, above all, understood. Immediately upon arrival, the first call of duty was to understand the rules and routines of the household. This was learned not only through slow and choppy conversations with my mother, but also through a number of mistakes on my part -- using the wrong towel, using too much water, and my personal favorite, accidentally telling my mother, "You are very attractive when you cook" instead of "You are a good cook."

The next step was adapting to living with a 12-year-old, something that I am still adjusting to. I had to learn how to cheer him up, make suggestions, and get used to having a ball of hyper activity perpetually zooming around me. What's more, the rules of the relationship of the two brothers had to be learned -- how they interacted, when they laughed together, when they fought.

Most important of all was gaining the trust of my family, making them feel comfortable with my maturity, my ability to handle myself without supervision, and, in the case of Luis, my capability to be someone who would not intrude excessively on his lounging lifestyle.

Understanding the family did not lie only within the boundaries of our housing complex apartment, but also in the entire extended family, especially in the house of my "host aunt" who lives in Alicante, about 15 minutes away from us. The two families form a support network, an alliance of steel of sorts, where everyone comes and goes between the two houses as freely as if it were their own. We eat with each other on Sundays, and constantly drop by to sip coffee and say hi. Their kindness and generosity have been key in helping me adjust.

The hardest thing for me was abandoning all my conceptions of family and family traditions to make room for the new ones that were being poured in. I had to forget about what I ate before, what I did before, what I said before. I had to act like a newborn, open to everything and without any preconceptions of the world. All the little things that I had held on to for all my life were gone, and replaced by new quirky traditions to absorb and interpret.

All that I can say now, three months later and feeling Iberian, is that nothing has ever been so worth it. I have a new family now, and even though the one in California will always be my home, I know that I will always be able to come to Spain and feel at home here, too.

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