GoCambio Stories: Paloma’s Three-Month Cambio in the United States
Paloma de la Fuente, a photojournalist from Madrid, travelled all the way to the Rockies, USA to spend three months on a cambio with the Peden family. We previously posted a short interview with Paloma after she finished her cambio, but she had a lot more to tell us! I chatted to her over Skype to find out what exactly made this cambio such a rewarding experience for her.
Paloma first discovered GoCambio through a friend, who told her about the website. At the time she was living and working in Italy and had a work contract that was about to expire, so she was looking for something to do for a few months. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as Troy and his family were looking for a guest to help teach their kids some Spanish. Paloma got in touch with Troy and before she could say “ok, let’s go” she was touching down in America.
Paloma with Troy Peden.
Paloma received her first impression of the Peden family at the airport, when the younger members of the family greeted her and drove her back to their home. “My first impression was nice because they were so friendly, they were so nice, and they were asking me a lot of things in the car about my family, about me, and about my work”, Paloma says.
And her first impression of America? “Everything is so big in America!” she laughs. I ask about the house, and she tells me that in contrast to her little house in Spain, the Peden’s house had three floors! Paloma had a bedroom to herself and shared a bathroom with the oldest of the Peden’s four children.
When I ask her about the children, she has a lot to say, and it’s clear that after spending three months with them she grew to know each of them and their distinctive personalities very well.
Paloma with the Peden children. The two girls were aged 7 and 13, and their older brothers 15 and 16.
The two boys were like chalk and cheese, Paloma says. The eldest is an extrovert who is really fun to be around, while the younger brother is more introverted and enjoys learning – Spanish in particular. Paloma also spent a lot of time with the youngest daughter who was always keen to play in the snow or make crafts.
The Pedens’ two cambio Guests (Paloma far left) with the two youngest children.
For the first couple of months, Paloma had a Spanish-speaking friend from Paraguay who was also on a cambio with the Pedens to help her out. “It was a help in the first month because my English it was worse than it is now. So she could help me”, says Paloma.
During the first month, Paloma left the Spanish tutoring to her Paraguayan friend and concentrated on helping the kids learn some photography. But later on in the cambio, Paloma combined photography with Spanish lessons: “We took a picture and then the children had to describe what they saw in the picture in Spanish.” It sounds like a super fun and interactive way to pick up a new language!
Skills sharing sessions on a cambio are recommended for approximately 2 hours each day, but of course during a longer period of time this can be flexible, and this is exactly what happened. “The first month we had a schedule”, recalls Paloma. “First the children had Spanish and then they had to do photography. But later on they had a lot of other activities like soccer or basketball, so we did photography or Spanish when they had time.”
Towards the end of her cambio, the Pedens’ grandparents came to stay in their home, which meant that there were suddenly eight people in the house from different countries: the United States, Paraguay, Spain and the Philippines (which is where the Pedens’ grandparents are from).
The two cambio Guests (Paloma far left), the Peden children and their grandparents.
And there was plenty of time to engage in some fun activities with the whole family. “Fridays were family day,” says Paloma. “So we picked up the children from school and went to the mall to see a movie all together. On weekends we spent time in the city of Denver or met up with other people.”
Of Denver she says “It’s actually very cosmopolitan. It’s about 30 minutes from Troy’s house. They have a lot of museums, restaurants, and a lot of theatre.” Paloma was also able to take some trips on her own and she paid a visit to Dallas and Fortworth in Texas.
But there was one problem that Paloma had to overcome, and that was the spicy food! “Everything for me was spicy there. I tried a lot of things. The family used to used to eat a lot of burritos and the first day I was eating my burrito and bit a jalapeño and it was so spicy because here burritos we don’t use jalapeños!” Of course after three months cambioing with the Pedens she’s now accustomed to a little spice.
Then there are her English skills, which improved enormously after spending three months with the Pedens. Even though Paloma was the one sharing her Spanish and photography with the Peden children, she also expanded her own language skills simply by being around the family and conversing with them every day.
“Before I did my cambio, I couldn’t understand a movie in English without subtitles. I used to watch a lot of American TV series and sometimes I didn’t understand the jokes. But I was watching The Simpsons the other day without subtitles and I understood an American joke! Now I can talk fluently. It’s crazy because before I had a problem with my English, I couldn’t speak because it was so difficult for me.” No more subtitles for Paloma these days! When we hold our interview over Skype, she has no problem speaking to me or understanding what I’m saying, and the whole interview is in English. So I can certainly vouch for her improvement.
“Before I did my cambio, I couldn’t understand a movie in English without subtitles. I used to watch a lot of American TV series and sometimes I didn’t understand the jokes. But I was watching The Simpsons the other day without subtitles and I understood an American joke! Now I can talk fluently.”
She thinks that a lot of it had to do with being around children: “It was nice working with children because they always correct you. They don’t have a problem saying “what are you saying?”
Paloma believes that the improvements in her English were due to spending so much time around children, who aren’t afraid to tell you when you make mistakes!
Paloma’s cambio with the Pedens wasn’t her first homestay. Last year, she spent a few months living with a family in Italy. She believes that homestays are “a good way to learn about the country and about the culture”.
She returned from the Rockies a month ago and is now looking for work in Madrid: “I am doing some job interviews. I am writing articles for magazines. And maybe next year I want to do voluntary work in Europe. I want to travel around Europe. Maybe Poland or Germany, as I have some friends there. And maybe this summer I’ll do a cambio again. I think it’s an amazing experience.”
I ask Paloma what she thinks of other sharing economy platforms such as Couchsurfing and Airbnb. She hadn’t heard about Couchsurfing until she met the Pedens but she likes to use Airbnb. For Paloma, the difference between Airbnb and GoCambio is that Airbnb is more for travelling with friends and family, while GoCambio offers an opportunity to do something on your own: “I like Airbnb when I travel with other people. And I think GoCambio is a personal experience to learn about other cultures and other countries.”
“I like Airbnb when I travel with other people. And I think GoCambio is a personal experience to learn about other cultures and other countries.”
Cheers to that!
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About the Author: Clarissa Hirst is GoCambio’s Content Manager. A born-and-bred Australian, Clarissa currently calls Sweden home. She’s travelled to over 40 countries, loves learning foreign languages, and her passion is inspiring others to learn about and explore the world around them. She hopes to one day speak fluent Russian and ride the Trans-Siberian railway. Connect with Clarissa on Twitter.
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