FAQs

Should I bring a gift for my host family?

Students normally like to bring their host families a small gift from their hometown. It’s by no means mandatory but always appreciated. Some students also purchase small gifts during the Signature Seminars, like a bottle of olive oil or sweets.


What if I don’t speak Spanish?

You shouldn’t worry too much about the language. Families have a lot of experience and are very patient. They will slow down and use the dictionary when needed. Body language is very helpful.

If you’ll be staying in the residence hall, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice your Spanish with the students and staff. However, the staff and many residents speak English as well.


What if I lose the keys?

Students will be responsible for the damage caused to the host family or residence hall property, including the replacement of the lock and the keys.


At the table, what should I expect?

Spanish families will show good manners at the dinner table, and eating with fingers is not acceptable. Students should not stretch or yawn at the dinner table. At the beginning it could be shocking for you to see how the members of the family peel their apples or pears before eating. You don’t need to do the same, but don’t be surprised.

Things may be a bit more relaxed at the residence hall, but we advise you to be observant.  Notice what locals do and how they behave.


Should I help the host family to cook or clean?

It’s nice to offer help to clear the table, but the kitchen is usually considered the host’s space, and you should ask in advance if you’d like to prepare a special meal.  Generally, however, you won’t be allowed to cook.


Will I be forced to eat red meat and fish?

Both families and the residence hall staff will respect your eating restrictions.


Should I notify anyone in advance if I’m not going home for dinner?

Students have to consider that the host family has been cooking dinner and it could be considered rude not to show up without informing anyone.

If you’ll be staying in the residence hall, kitchen staff can save a plate for you to heat up if you notify them in advance that you won’t be making it back in time for dining hours.


What time will we eat dinner?

Spaniards tend to have dinner late, around 9:30 p.m. A usual lunchtime is 2:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., and bedtime is often as late as midnight.

The residence hall dining hours will be posted at the entrance of the dining room.  However, dinner is typically from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on weeknights and from 9:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday and holidays.


Is it true they eat a lot of fish and olive oil in Spain?

Host moms are very proud of their cooking and believe the Mediterranean diet is a very healthy one. Spaniards do eat a lot of fresh fish and use olive oil with almost absolutely everything. However, your host families will respect your preferences, but don’t be surprised if you see more seafood than you’re used to.


How long will dinner be?

Spanish families take mealtime seriously, and they sit down to relax and enjoy it. A normal dinner can take over an hour, and it’ll be followed by a sobremesa, conversation around the dinner table. Oftentimes the TV will be on, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is watching it.


What if I don’t like what they cook?

In Spain it’s not considered rude or offensive to tell the host mom you don’t like what you’re eating. In fact, it’s better to be upfront about it. If you pretend to like something, your host is probably going to continue preparing it for you.

The residence hall offers several options for each meal.  While the food is more tailored to local student tastes, there’s a great deal of variety.


My señora yells at me. Why?

Spaniards are very direct and honest. They love to debate just about anything, and they’re very passionate when talking.

Sometimes students feel like their señoras are yelling at them, but it’s simply their way of speaking. Many Spaniards believe it’s better to talk about problems that arise right away than letting them snowball.


Who will I share the apartment with?

Spaniards are family oriented. It’s not unusual for find a grandmother and 30-year-old host brothers or sisters living under the same roof. Families could vary from a single professional to a family with several generations living together.


Can I close my bedroom door?

If you close the door to your bedroom when you are at home, you will be sending a clear message to the other family member that you’d rather be left alone. Students should make an effort to communicate and build a relationship with the family. Joining them in the living room or the kitchen is always a nice way of participating in the family life.

Students living in the residence hall should ensure that their room door is properly closed at all times.


Will I share bedroom with my roommate?

Most of you will probably share a double room with two twin beds in a homestay while students who choose the residence hall option will have a roommate from the SU Madrid program.


Will people come into my bedroom?

Your room will be cleaned at least once a week. That means someone will go into your room to clean, sweep, and dust. You’re expected to keep your bedroom tidy.


Can I walk around the house barefoot?

You’re expected to use house slippers or flip-flops because in Spain it’s considered rude to walk around the house in bare feet.


I met someone; can I take them home with me for the night?

Students should know it is completely forbidden to sneak anyone in the host family home. If found out, this could result in an expulsion from the host family at the student’s expense.

Students who select the residence hall option can have guests during visiting hours only.  No overnight guests are permitted.


Can I take a shower everyday?

Due to Spain’s very dry climate, students are asked to limit their showers to one a day.  Spaniards are very conscious of water consumption, so they’ll shower instead of taking a bath, and they’ll turn water on and off as needed. Please, observe and imitate. Most students will join a gym and take advantage of the facilities to take a second shower.


Will my clothes be washed?

One of the host family’s responsibilities is to do your laundry once a week. All the host family homes are equipped with a washing machine. You may be surprised to learn that most of them don’t use dryers. The climate is very dry in central Spain, and clothes are line dried. Keep your clean clothes inside the closet. It’s understandably frustrating for your hosts to find the clothes that they have washed and ironed balled up on the floor.

In the residence hall, students are responsible for washing their clothes. (There’s a laundry room on the premises.) However, your bedlinens and towels will be changed weekly.


Am I required to stay in my room?

Take advantage of your time in Madrid to learn about the Spanish language and culture. If you confine yourself to your room instead of socializing in the living room with the family or in the common areas with other residents -in the case of students in the residence hall option- , you won’t fully enjoy the benefits of a cultural immersion. Take advantage of this opportunity and interact with locals as much as possible.


Will I have Internet access at home?

Both housing options will have Internet access. Don’t expect the same speed as in the U.S. Internet access at home may be limited to the host family’s criteria. You’re expected to be very careful and quiet, especially after midnight.


Where should I study?

If you don’t like to study in the library of the International Institute, you’ll have a desk in your bedroom where you can also do your homework.

Students in the residence hall can also rent out study rooms.


Will I have a curfew?

There is no curfew in your homestay, and you’re asked to exercise common sense. Take off your high heels when coming back late, don’t slam doors, and try not to be noisy. Most Spaniards live in apartment buildings with thin walls. Be respectful to the family members and the neighbors. After midnight, be sure not to speak loudly and disturb others.

The same is true for students in the residence hall.  You won’t have a curfew, but you’ll have to sign out and back in during late night hours.  You’ll also be expected to be considerate and mindful of the noise when you return home during quiet hours.


At what time should I stop playing music or talking loudly with my roommate?

In both housing options, quiet hours are strictly observed after 11:00 p.m.


I haven’t met the neighbors, but they always talk and smile at me. Why?

Neighbors will greet each other in the stairs of the building. Saying good morning or good afternoon is common courtesy at the building entrance or elevator.