I’m a week in to my GoCambio exchange in Madrid and so far it has exceeded my expectations. All I really knew in advance was that I would be spending three weeks living with a woman, her husband and two children in the suburbs of Madrid. She needs to use English at work but doesn’t have the time or desire to take classes. So she thought having someone speaking English with her every day in her home would be a good way to improve. We did chat on Skype once, and she and her husband seemed very nice. They offered me a room in their home and shared dinners in exchange for 2 hours of English conversation a day. Communication in advance via whatsapp was prompt and gave me confidence that I would be arriving to a real place to stay with someone committed to this exchange.

My home in Madrid

My home in Madrid

I arrived to find a family enthusiastic about advancing their English, with the possible exception of their youngest son who is 8 and claims he doesn’t understand a lot of what is said, though he’s slowly warming up to the game. I’ve been spending at least two hours a day in conversation with my host; fortunately we get along well and have found plenty of things to chat about. She’s also very fond of walking/hiking, one of my favorite pastimes, and so we are efficiently combining exercise with English lessons after she gets home from work.

One of the major advantages of this exchange, from the perspective of my host, is that we can have dinner together and talk in English, or go out for some sightseeing or a walk nearby and her family can join the fun. It does not cut into her already limited time with her husband and children as much as taking classes would. My host’s oldest son, who is 11, speaks very good English and has enthusiastically embraced the game of talking only in English when I’m around. I have no doubt that a side benefit of this exchange will be significant improvement in his English skills as well.

Lovely parks near my host's house

Lovely parks near my host’s house

I get to spend my days working remotely (either from the house or from coffee shops), sightseeing in Madrid (a 30 min bus ride away), or wandering the neighborhood (pretty but not very exciting), while my hosts are at work/school. And on the weekends we have plans to go sightseeing to nearby towns, getting me an awesome overview of the greater Madrid area while spending lots of time helping my host practice English.

Madrid cafe

One of the best parts of this exchange for me is that I’m getting a much deeper experience in Madrid than I would as a tourist, but I’m probably spending less money here than I would at home. Eating most meals in I’m actually finding myself wondering when I will get a chance to do some food tourism (I need to remember not to pack a lunch next time I head in to the city). With housing and my dinners taken care of by my host, and access to a kitchen to prepare my other meals, this is probably one of the cheapest trips I have ever taken.

The full exchange is three weeks and I’ll have another report at the end.