The Homestay Experience by Kay Cuffari

Thinking about living in a homestay for your study abroad experience?

Living in a homestay is known to be one of the very best ways to greatly improve your skills in a foreign language.  This is because living with a local family allows you a much more profound level of contact with the local culture, interacting on a daily level.  There is also the added plus of getting an insider’s look into the life and world of a local, something that is always very valuable when visiting a foreign country.

What does a typical host family look like?

The term “host family” does not necessarily mean the nuclear family of two parents, two children, and a Labrador retriever.  This is particularly true in countries like Argentina where the situation is that homes are generally small and children often live with their parents will into their mid to late 20s.  This means that some families do not have room to host a foreign student until one or more of their children have moved out, at which point they decide to welcome foreign students into their home for a mutually beneficial experience.

The result?

A host family can of course be a traditional family, but can also be a middle-aged or older couple whose grown children have moved out, or a family with grown children who still live at home but nevertheless the family has a spare room, or even a single lady by herself with an extra room or two in the home.

Benefits of staying in a homestay while studying abroad:

1.    Daily contact with the language, allowing you to learn colloquial expressions and useful everyday phrases rarely taught in class, as well as forcing you to think in the language, as daily communication does not allow you time to “translate” everything you want to say!
2.    An insider’s look into the culture – this is a privileged position to be in a foreign country, as it is often difficult to form close enough relationships with locals in order to really see what their lives are like, what they feel and believe about their country, politics, etc.
3.    An endless source of advice – need to go to the supermarket?  Looking for a book store?  Want a suggestion for a nice typical Argentine restaurant?  They’ll know in what direction to point you, and are usually more than happy to give their advice on how to best take advantage of what their city has to offer you.
4.    Live the local lifestyle – okay, this may require you to be flexible and at first you may feel a little uneasy, but is really a life-changing part of the study abroad experience.  Details like meal times, greetings, relationships, types of food eaten and when, and much more, can vary greatly from culture to culture.  It can take some adjustment, but it is well worth it to learn to adapt to a different lifestyle.

Staying in a homestay is recommended for:

1.    Those who are very motivated to improve their language abilities and practice it everyday.
2.    Those who wish to get an inside look into a typical local family.
3.    Those who are willing to be very flexible and adapt to new cultural norms, customs, and beliefs, and of course new foods.

Staying in a homestay is not recommended for:

1.    Those who are not flexible about their housing and adapting to a different lifestyle.
2.    Those who have very strict dietary restrictions.
3.    Those who do not speak the local language and are not very interested in learning, or who would not feel comfortable learning in this way.

Whether or not you decide the homestay experience is right for you, studying abroad, be it for 2 weeks or for a whole year, is a wonderful opportunity and an experience that you will never forget!