Should I Live with a Host Family? Answering a Frequent Inquiry

Congratulations! You’re planning on going abroad (or are maybe just reading this for fun). Anyways the one daunting question that one may be asked when deciding to go abroad is “Homestay or no homestay?”

Well well well, I was put in this same position biting my nails in anxiousness reading “Homestay Gone Wrong” stories on repeat. Eventually after talking to some friends I decided “I WANT THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE.”

At this point I wanted to completely immerse my self in the uncertainty and confusion many call “Living Abroad.” Now don’t get me wrong, the option isn’t for everyone but I want to show my thought process and opinion on living with a host family.

Now, day 1 is usually the toughest because you meet these new strangers you will be living with and if there is a language barrier it can add another dimension of stress and being overwhelmed. My host family spoke only Spanish the whole time that I lived with them which completely is fair because I was in Madrid to learn more Spanish, be immersed in the culture, and learn more about another country I only knew about from history texts books.

Day 1- I was overwhelmed because my new Spanish family wanted to know everything about me, as where I wanted to sleep and could barely make out sentences with how fast they were talking, and in my mind I was so confused because Latin American Spanish can be dimensions away from Spain Spanish. Anyways, after meeting my other American roommate I was relieved!! As the days progressed I started getting more comfortable with speaking to them and living with them.

One thing that was a huge adjustment for myself was if you live with a host family, you will be eating what they eat and when they eat. For those of you who may not know, Spanish eating times are way different from when Americans usually eat. An example of eating times may look like the following:

Daily Eating Schedule In Spain

Breakfast: 7/8 am – Coffee with small toast and Jam or Nutella

Lunch: 2-3 pm -Small salad with a main course of lentils, rice, and jamón

Dinner: 9/10- 11pm – Small salad with paella or another rice dish followed by a small dessert such as a jello cup

bread-food-brunch-lunch-3326103

Whereas I was used to an eating schedule as follows:

Breakfast: 7/8- Coffee and oatmeal or eggs

Lunch: 12pm – A sandwich or rice and beans

Snack: 3- Bar or fruit

Dinner: 6/7-  Some type of pasta or rice dish

This was somewhat of an adjustment and since Spaniards don’t snack with the exception of grabbing “tapas and drinks” at the end of the day, I was so hungry at each meal. Especially with all of the walking I was doing that my body was not used to. My friends on the contrary who didn’t live with a host family stuck to their normal eating schedules and ended up eating less “Spanish traditional” foods than the students who did pick a homestay. A pro is you have someone cooking for you which leads to being more immersed in the eating culture. A con is the unpredictability that comes with having someone cook your meals vs. cooking for oneself.

Another thing to consider with living in a homestay is, you have to be mindful of the rules and also of what is expected of you. My host family told me many horror stories of people walking in drunk into the apartment and being a ruckus. This was a way of telling me and my roommate, “please don’t be like them.” Luckily for them, me and my roommate only went out once so this was never a problem, but my friends who lived in apartments had more freedom and could explore the nightlife more without worrying if they’d be judged for coming home drunk. I did have a few friends who lived with homestay parents who encouraged them to explore the nightlife and that aspect of Madrid, but it is something to consider.

Depending on the relationship with the homestay family, you may have new friends for life. A few of my friends still talk with their families and they also plan on going back to visit them. I unfortunately didn’t build this type of relationship with my host family but I still appreciated them and all they did for me. It definitely is a once and a lifetime experience that really helps you be closer to the culture since you are living with actual citizens from that country who are experts on the countries food, way of living, customs, and politics.

All in all, I really appreciated my experience and I am glad I decided on a host family. I got to talk about controversial topics ranging from the politics in Spain to some Catalonians wanting Independence. I got to learn the recipes for the famous dishes such as the “tortilla.” I also learned far more Spanish than I thought possible. I will note that  my friends who didn’t live with a host family would mention that since they didn’t have the “host family language immersion” in their daily lives, they didn’t feel as though they learned much Spanish especially since many of them only hung out with other American students. This isn’t to say you can’t pick up the language if you don’t live with a host family, it just might take more effort to go out of ones way and make friends with the locals.

So in conclusion, should you stay with a host family. I say yes of course, but it definitely isn’t for everyone. One way to help with making the decision is writing a “pro” and “con” list, also talking to other students may help one with decision making but remember EVERYONE’S experience is so different. In the end the experience is what you make from it so just know either you will have a great time either way if you keep an open mind through your time abroad.:)

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