I fought with my mom on the way to the airport. She bought me a TSA lock from Marshalls for my suitcase and it was a dud. My anxiety and sleepiness—I wasn’t able to sleep the night before my departure—made me rude, mean and ungrateful. That happens sometimes with people you love and know best. You act without thinking. You unintentionally take them for granted, especially when under pressure. Knowing I would be living with a host mother in Spain was a nerve-wracking thought, and as I sat on my eight-hour flight from Chicago to Germany, I felt knots tying up in my stomach. What would my ‘new’ mom be like? I imagined she would be strict like some of the Mexican and Asian mothers of my friends at home. The language barrier would congest any attempt to connect. She would give me a bunch of rules.

But upon arriving at the school where I was to meet her, I was pleasantly surprised. My host mom introduced herself as Macarena. With a Cheshire smile, she grabbed one of my two bags and began a conversation with me as if I were an old friend. I didn’t feel as awkward as I thought I would, but the city was still new. It was hard to focus on what Macarena was saying in half English and half Spanish while simultaneously being bombarded with unfamiliar scents, sights and sounds. She kept talking throughout the taxi ride to her home—even though she probably noticed my darting eyes—welcoming me to her city and into her life.

Macarena reminds me of my own mom after knowing her for a little over a week. They both have loud laughs and infectious smiles. They are both amazing cooks. They have nearly no rules. I suppose I could merely be looking for familiarity because I miss my mom, but I really do think my roommate and I got lucky by getting to stay in Macarena’s home. For being a native Valencian, she actually speaks a lot more English than I expected her to. I am also able to understand a lot more Spanish than I thought I would.  I feel at ease sitting at the table for comida, which is lunch, and cena, which is dinner. She tells us funny stories over ensalada de tomates, tortilla de patatas, jamón and white wine.

Although there isn’t an extreme language barrier, there are details and personal experiences Macarena would not have been able to share with us without the help of a translator. Last week we had the opportunity to work with Joe, a 23-year-old translator, who helped us interview Macarena for a class project. During the interview we learned that she studied abroad when younger and that she never completed her final year of school. From there, she opened a restorative art business and school, La Bottega, where she restored antique art and furniture for private clients and the government. This explains the mix-and-match feel of her home, which makes me feel at home. (I collect antique knickknacks myself, and my own mom enjoys thrifting and reupholstering furniture.) But the recession hit hard here in Spain. It was then that La Bottega closed and Macarena turned to real estate, through which she sold homes in exotic locations like Bora Bora and Ibiza. I have never met anyone who has sold a 29-million-dollar Ibizan home, but Macarena’s account of the time she did just that seemed to roll off of her tongue as if it were a normal occurrence. Yet she maintained an effortless humility.

That is exactly what is so special about mothers like Macarena. They are superheroes. They do things that go unnoticed and expect little in return. I am grateful that ‘Maca’ has so graciously welcomed me into her home. She has helped me realize how much I appreciate all the little things my own mom has done for me over the years. It took a 15-hour trip and a nine-hour time difference to remind me that my mom really is one of my best friends, and there really is no reason to fight with one of your best friends over things like a broken TSA lock. Silly me. Love you, Mom.