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what happens with a home stay, what is a home stay like for study abroad, host family study abroad

What to Expect From a Homestay Experience

what happens with a home stay, what is a home stay like for study abroad, host family study abroad

Many study abroad programs house their students with host families.  If you’re studying with one of those programs, you may have NO IDEA what to expect from your homestay experience before you arrive in your study abroad country.  You don’t know if your family will be nice, how well you will be able to communicate with them, and how you’re expected to act when in their home. I felt the same way before I went abroad, but being in a homestay made my study abroad experience even better than I expected. Here’s what you can expect from your study abroad homestay experience.

Expect a Family

First and foremost, you will be living with a family.  You are not just renting a room, and your host family is not your college roommate.  Your family might be a woman and her two dogs, or it might be a family with two parents and six kids.  Either way, you will be with a family, just like when you’re living with your parents back at home.

You may feel awkward with your host family in the beginning.  You will be living in someone else’s house and will be suddenly thrown into someone else’s family dynamics.  Feeling comfortable in the house and with the family may take time, and that’s okay. But a positive aspect about living with a host family is getting a big welcome to your study abroad destination. Usually, the host family is excited to welcome you into their home and their life.  Some cultures show this with gifts, others show this with their hospitality.

Homestay tip: Bring a gift – something your hometown or state is known for – to give to your family when you arrive.  It will help you make a good first impression and help introduce your host family to the culture that you left back home.

Expect Rules and a Routine

When you arrive, make sure to talk over the program rules for homestay students with your host family.  You may find them to be more lenient (or more strict) about the rules than your program let on.  In addition, your host family might have their own household rules, so be sure to talk about those as well so you know what is expected of you. This is also the time that you should ask your host parents if there are any chores you can help with.

You’ll also find that your host family will have a routine, and because of school you will have a routine.  After a few days, you will see how your schedules and routines fit together.

Expect a New Culture, a Friendly Guide, and a Speaking Partner

Your host family doesn’t just know the culture, they’ve lived it for their entire lives.  Try to join their celebrations and traditions.  Ask them questions about the meaning and history behind these events and holidays, even ones that you celebrate back at home — Christmas looks different in every culture!  As you do this, you will begin to understand how their life in your host country works— and that’s one of the coolest parts about study abroad.

You should also take advantage of the fact that your family is a group of locals– they can give you great advice on where to eat, how the public transportation system works, and what to do for fun around your city.

Conversing with your family is also a great way to work on your language skills, so make an effort to speak with them!  Most host families will be patient with your slow speaking, and will correct you in a nice way. You’ll find your language skills will improve super fast if you practice with your host family often.

home stay experience, study abroad

Expect a Home-Cooked Meal

One of the best parts of the host family experience is the home-cooked meals that usually come along with it. How often you receive a meal will vary by program, but you can expect some delicious meals that are native to the city and country you’re living in.  After a long day, nothing is more comforting than coming home to a home-cooked meal– just like at home!

Expect Friends for Life

When I got off the plane back in the US after my study abroad semester was over, the customs official asked me why I was abroad.  I replied that I was studying abroad, and he asked if I did a homestay.  I said yes.  The customs official looked me in the eye and said: “They will be your friends for life.”  And I nearly started bawling in the middle of the airport, because it’s true!

If you take advantage of all that a homestay offers, you can expect that your host family will become your lifelong friends.  Every time someone asks about your abroad experience, you will tell them of the neat places you went and the crazy things you experienced, but you’ll also tell them about your host family. And, if you ever go back to the place you studied abroad, you can bet that you’ll always have a bed to sleep in at your host family’s house.

Do you have a question about what your homestay experience will be like? Ask in the comments and we’ll answer it!

Photo sources: worthbak via Flickr, Shawn via Flickr




Alicia recently followed her German heritage and passion for travel to Berlin, Germany where she studied and lived for four months during the Spring of 2013. She enjoys running, everything Pinterest, and drinking way too much coffee. Her desire to wander European cities and her promise to visit her host family indicate that another trip to Europe is in Alicia’s future. You can follow Alicia on Twitter and Google+, and look for her personal blog that is coming soon!


16 thoughts on “What to Expect From a Homestay Experience

  1. Hayley

    All of this is so true. My host family has been my best teachers in the language and culture of Argentina. It wasn’t even awkward because we just clicked. I’m already planning to come back and visit them!

    Reply
  2. Alicia

    Hayley, That’s awesome that you got along so well with your host family and were able to learn from them. I hope you do get to go back to visit them and that you keep in contact!

    Reply
  3. Monika

    Hey, Alicia! I really like the insights you give in this post. I’m planning to study abroad in Germany next year, and though my university has the program set up so that we automatically live on-campus or in shared student apartments on our own, I’m hoping to maybe arrive before the program officially begins to ideally do a homestay. I just think it would provide a valuable perspective and a different sort of immersion into the language and culture than formal exchange programs may offer. Anyway, I was wondering: Do you know of any legitimate websites or organizations that allow one to search for homestays? Vielen Dank! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Alicia

      Monika, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and that you are heading over to Germany soon! It’s awesome that you are looking for a way to do a homestay even though it’s not a part of your program. Sadly, I do not know of any websites or organizations that could help you find a homestay. I’m sure there are some out there, but I have never used one nor has anyone I’ve talked to. Sorry I can’t be of more help, but if you find a good organization, please make sure to share it with the rest of us! And enjoy your time in Europe! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Katie Dwyer

    Great article! My homestay experiences have been amazing and challenging as you describe–learning a new family’s rules in a strange culture can be so hard! But my homestay families in Guatemala and Honduras made an enormous difference in my experiences there, and my Chilean host family have become lifelong friends. It’s such an amazing chance to really experience a new place!

    Thanks!

    Reply
  5. Heather

    Great article! I have recently decided I would like to pursue studying abroad in Canterbury England next spring. I would be staying in a home stay situation, and while I will not have a language barrier, I’m sure there will be many differences I have to overcome. Nervous and excited I’m gathering up all the information I can!

    Reply
  6. ari

    Im only homestaying for a week (its my first time travelling) in south korea. What are some recommendations on things i should bring?

    Reply
  7. Bre

    After reading the article and the follow-up comments, I think it would be really cool to study abroad. I’m in 9th grade taking Spanish II. I plan to take Spanish for the rest of my high school years. In college I plan to study abroad but I’m not sure yet. Any suggestions? I think studying a foreign language especially Spanish is very important because Spanish is the second most popular language in the world next to English. When you go to look for a career/job, you will get a higher position and get paid more because you can speak to customers that speak Spanish. I think it’s also very important to study abroad because it’s a different type and much more effective way of learning a language. You get the full experience. Not just the language. You get the whole culture and lifestyles that follow.

    Reply
  8. Morgan N

    Question: I’m doing a homestay in Granada to study abroad next Spring. My only concern is that I’m a pretty independent person and know that even though I’ll spend a lot of time with my host family, I’ll probably want a lot of time to explore with friends and independently. Also, I plan on going out on the weekends and some weeknights. I won’t be strolling in at 6am or anything, but I know I won’t be back early. I was just wondering how this would work in a homestay setting.

    Reply
    1. Jess Dante

      Hi Morgan, that’s a great question and something that most students who will be in homestays wonder about. In most cases your homestay family won’t expect you to be around all the time– they know that you want to go traveling and explore your new city as much as possible. Going out in the evenings will depend on the rules that your school has in place– if you have a curfew, obviously this might be a bit tough, otherwise as long as you are courteous to the other people in your home, you should be just fine. Hope that helps!

      Reply
  9. Alexa

    This blog post was just the thing I needed… I’m traveling to London for a semester and have been trying to figure out if I wanted to dorm or if I wanted to do a homestay. I’m not a very “wild and crazy” college student, so I thought it might be nice. Then again, I’m used to living with my roommates, other college students like me. So I don’t know, but thank you for the information, it’s given me a lot to ponder!
    – Alexa

    Reply
    1. Jess Dante

      Glad you found it useful Alexa! Do you have the option on a homestay in London? It’s not very common to have that option, you might want to think about not taking it up because a big part of a homestay is to help learn the language, which of course, you don’t need to do in London 🙂 Let me know what you decide!

      Reply

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