“Living with a host family during my time abroad has been one of the most challenging yet beneficial experiences of my entire time abroad. After all, it is where I live, so naturally, it would be a significant part of my time abroad. As this semester comes to an end, I have decided to reflect on my time with my host family and leave you guys with some tips and insight on living with a host family. Hopefully, it will help you decide if living with a host family is right for you and if so, it will help you make the most of your time with your host family!
The Pros of Living With a Host Family
They cook for you
It’s already difficult enough just living in a foreign country, so trying to navigate through a foreign grocery store and cook your meals on top of that can be very overwhelming. Coming home to a home cooked meal every day and not having the stress of cooking can really help take off some pressure. Plus, you get an authentic experience of the food in your host country!
Great opportunity to practice speaking in local language (if other than English)
If you’re studying abroad to study another language, living with a host family is a great way to improve your language skills! It’s a comfortable environment where you don’t feel as much pressure or stress. Your host family knows you are there to learn the language and they are patient and understanding!
Genuine cultural experience
I think the best way to truly learn is to experience it, especially when it comes to learning about another culture! You get to experience their daily routine and see what it is truly like to live in your host country. Plus, you have a local to advise you on all the best cafés and hidden treasures of the city! I really liked living with my host family because I think it really helped me settle into the city and culture! I felt like I had someone looking out for me since day one! I also think living with a host family encouraged me to be part of the more local life rather than just sticking with my American friends and customs the whole time I was abroad.
The Cons of Living With a Host Family
Adjusting to the local culture
When you live with a family, you often have to make some changes in order to be part of their culture. This is not to say that you must change your values or beliefs; just that you need to be aware and respectful of their customs. For example, at I usually eat dinner around 7 PM in the evening, however, Spain is notorious for eating dinner at 10 PM!!! By the time dinner was served I was starving. I simply did not understand how people could eat this late. I also had a complicated class schedule that made timing my meals very difficult. So I began eating snacks before dinner, however, then by the time dinner came I was not very hungry so I did not eat a lot. My host mother thought it was because I did not like her food and became offended. I finally had to explain the situation to her and she understood. I still wanted to eat dinner with my family, so we worked out the agreement that I would eat a snack after class and then eat dinner with them, but just a small portion. I think when it comes to situations like this, it is very important to compromise. That way you are not completely foregoing your beliefs and values but you still get to be a part of the local culture.
Sometimes you feel like you have less freedom
I am a very independent person. At home, I would buy my groceries, cook my own meals, clean up after myself, and come and go as I please. I really underestimated how much I would miss being solely responsible for myself. Living with my host family, I did not have use of the kitchen, I had to eat what and when they served me, and had to time my coming and going around their meals; I felt completely powerless. Coming from complete autonomy, to what felt like complete dependence came as a culture shock. I also could not have any friends over to the house. For the first few months, I was very reserved because I felt like I was a guest. As time went on, I settled in and became more comfortable in my new home. I stopped resenting my lack of independence and started taking comfort in the fact that I had someone opening their home and looking out for me.
The Do’s of Living with a host family
Do tell your family if you don’t like a certain food – but always try it first!
Communication is so important when living with a host family. At first, I got communication and confrontation confused. There were several foods that I tried and just did not like, but I did not know how to say it without feeling rude. However, I realized that it was worse to waste food and then go hungry instead of telling my host mom that I don’t enjoy Tortilla Espanola as much as everyone else seems to. I finally worked up the courage to tell her and she was completely fine with it and told me that she would rather know when I don’t like something so she doesn’t keep making it.
Do participate with your family
When I first arrived at my host family, I stayed very reserved and remained in my room for much of the time. I didn’t want to invade their family or barge in uninvited. But as I became more comfortable with them, I started joining them for activities and really felt like a part of the family. I realized that once I opened up and gave them the chance, they welcomed me as one of their own. This was definitely something I wish I had realized earlier in my stay.
Do bring a thoughtful gift
A small but thoughtful gift to give upon arrival is a great way to break the ice and start a conversation with your new family. It also shows your gratitude for them opening their home to you. Plus, it gives them something to remember you by once you’re gone.
The Don’ts of Living With a Host Family
Don’t be a diva (or a pushover either)
Don’t arrive at your homestay with unrealistic expectations. Homestays are very rewarding experiences but they are not a five-star vacation. While your host family may cook your meals, and wash your laundry, they do not work for you. However, do not be shy to express your needs (as long as they are within reason). As long as you express gratitude with whatever you are communicating, you should be ok.
Don’t be afraid to practice speaking to them in their language
It is always flattering when someone is interested enough in your culture that they make an effort to speak in your language. While it may take several tries and lots of hand gestures, your family will always appreciate you trying to communicate in their language. You family understands that you are there to learn and will not expect you to speak perfectly.”