Top 11 Tips for a Successful Homestay Experience

Two students in France

Remember in high school when you would go over to your friend’s house and you had to talk to their parents? Forced conversations, unenthusiastic laughs, you know the deal. Now imagine that but hundreds of miles away from home and with people who 1) probably don’t speak the same language as you and 2) have no relation to you whatsoever. That is what moving in to your host family’s house is like. It is awkward. There’s no other way of saying it but luckily, that is what it is like only initially. As someone who did a homestay in France for 8 months I can positively say that if someone is willing to open their house to a stranger, chances are they are incredibly nice. There are just some things to remember while there:

  1. Listen to your parents: Saying please and thank you wasn’t something your parents said to you to annoy you when you were a child, they really meant it. Luckily, the Girl Scouts have a Thank You cookie and if you have trouble remembering what the word is; just open a box of those. Danke, Gracias, Merci, xièxie, Takk should not be used lightly. In a homestay, always remember how gracious it is for them to let you stay in their home.
  2. Food, duh: If you are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, pescatarian, etc. let them know. Your host family will not force you to eat anything that goes against your dietary restrictions. However, just because blood sausage sounds really gross, that does not mean you shouldn’t try it. Remember to try everything especially if it is something you’ve never seen before because food is a reflection of culture and if you automatically dislike a food without trying it, it is a sign of disrespect. Also, the smelliest cheese is usually the most delicious.
  3. It’s the little things that count: These may seem like nuances and maybe unimportant but, make sure you know simple rules about homes in foreign countries. What should you do with your shoes? Are socks necessary? What is the rule about not finishing food on your plate? How should you eat? These are things you may never think about because you have been doing them all of your life but, in a different country these little things make all the difference.
  4. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram are out to get you: This is the most common mistake. It is so easy to get caught up on what is happening back home. Let me break it to you: nothing changed. Yes, it is fun to look at pictures of your friends from last weekend but, don’t let that take you away from spending time with your host family. There is a lot you can learn from them and you are in an extremely unique opportunity so take advantage!
  5. What to wear: At home you may walk around in just your underwear, more power to you. In other countries that is not acceptable. Know the customs about what to wear not only in public and at school/work but also at home. In some countries even showing parts of your leg is looked down upon. Along the lines of clothes are tattoos. Make sure you know what the country’s perceptions of tattoos are. For example, in Japan, you’re better off just hiding them.
  6. Help out: You should help out because your host family does a lot for you and you should lend a hand doing dishes, cooking, cleaning and taking care of pets. Also, make your bed. Host families do not like going in to your room to find it dirty. They understand that you are busy with friends/work/school/internships but you are never too busy to help out. Also, when you come back home and your mom asks you if you helped, you better have a good answer.
  7. Don’t be shy: It is really easy to just quietly sit and eat dinner with your host family and get by with minimal conversation. A little piece of advice: DO NOT DO THAT. Ask your host family everything and anything within reason, of course. Favorite food, American Television (it’s everywhere), music, art, clothes, animals, anything! By asking questions you will learn so much about who you’re living with, their country and for those in a non-English speaking country, the language.
  8. Embrace the mistakes: Awkward situations will happen, there’s no way around it. You could be fluent in the language and have done hours upon hours of research on the country and their culture, you will still make mistakes and be in funny situations. These mistakes can be from language differences, social differences or something simple like gaseous movements during dinner. Trust me, all the mistakes or awkward moments are to be expected and are best dealt with by laughing.
  9. They are there to help: Your host family is ultimately there to help you and facilitate your transition to another country. Although they are not your real family, they can provide support like your family back home would. Homesickness is inevitable and there are many ways that your host family can help you, so don’t lock yourself in your room, talk to them!
  10. Keep in touch: This is a hard thing to do. Language skills come and go, you may have only lived with your host family for a short period of time or you may think you have nothing to talk about. There are many reasons why you may not keep in contact but there are even more why you should. They want to know how you are doing, how your experience abroad affected you back home, what school/work is like, plans to return, etc. You don’t have to skype them for 5 hours but a simple email is a nice gesture.
  11. Gifts: Like I said, opening up your home to a stranger is an extremely kind thing to do, so show your appreciation. Many people give their host families gifts when they first arrive. If you have no room in your bag, have someone back home send you some novelties of where you came from. People love getting authentic things from your home town/state such as sports memorabilia, food, beverages, key chains, magnets, etc. It does not have to be big nor expensive but, it should be indicative of where you’re from.

One thought on "Top 11 Tips for a Successful Homestay Experience"

  1. Laurine says:

    Good points!!
    I love staying at homestay whether I am travelling alone or with my family. While in Melbourne i stayed at Homestay Melbourne and really appreciate the privacy of the place. I used to commute everyday to city center in train with ease.

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