During my time in Aix-en-Provence, I lived with my host mom, her 15-year-old son, her best friend’s daughter, and our two cats (photos of the kitties below!). Living with a host family is the ULTIMATE way to experience French life and culture, though it can be challenging for all parties since it involves building a new relationship with new people. Fortunately, my homestay experience was wonderful, and I can definitely say I feel like part of the family. So, I’ve decided to throw together 5 tips to help you make the most of your homestay.
1. Take time to get to know them.
I know being abroad is very exciting because you get the chance to travel around very often, especially if you’re in Europe where you can find tickets for as little as 15 euros to some really cool places. The idea of staying home sometimes can be boring, however, if you are gone every weekend you will barely get time to bond with your host family.
Personally, I got to know my host family really well. We’ve been to various family lunches, concerts, plays and road trips together. It’s got to the point that they automatically include me in all family activities. Also, every night, I take at least one hour of my time to hangout with my host mom and watch something that she likes. Since the beginning, it was important to me to build a relationship with them. I didn’t want to be a stranger.
Living in a homestay is kind of like being in a new relationship. You have to communicate in order to understand what the other people need. From day one, my host mom told me that she prioritized communication, and if something was ever wrong I had to let her know because she does not read minds.
Sometimes, students are a little afraid or embarrassed to say or ask for something because they don’t want to bother their host family or they feel like they don’t have the right to. However, you need to realize that this is your home for the next months and your host family needs to know what is going on.
3. Be open-minded.
At a homestay, you will be exposed to a totally different lifestyle than you are probably used to at home, but this is part of the experience. Sometimes, you will question why your family does something in a particular way, but you shouldn’t judge them. Instead try to understand the reasoning behind this different way of doing things. Most of the time you’ll find a window into a cultural value in action. Be open and willing to try new things because there is no right or wrong way to live your life.
By the time your program is over, you’ll notice that you’ve adopted customs that you probably thought were strange when you first arrived. Personally, sometimes I catch myself saying or doing something like my host mom does. For example, I often find the phrase “ne importe quoi” coming out of my mouth before I can even process it. This is a phrase my host mom says all the time and I just caught up to the habit.
4. Respect their personal space.
Although my host family and I love spending time together, I know the importance of personal space. Even though you might want to hang out with them or just talk, always make sure to remind yourself that they have their own life and they may have other things on their mind. If one day they seem a little off, it’s probably not you! They probably have something bigger going on, and if they want you to know they’ll let you know.
5. Appreciate them!
Be grateful and appreciate the things your host family does for you. Just like studying abroad is a new experience for you, hosting foreign students may be a new experience for them as well. And even if they’ve hosted foreign students before, they’ve never hosted YOU!
Just like you, they may also go through doubts in the beginning and they’ll be working to balance this new responsibility with their day to day lives. It is a two-way relationship and you should let your host family know how thankful you are for what they do for you, which will help them appreciate you too. I know all homestays are not the same and we are all different, but if you are having a good experience, make sure that they know it.
Alors, that is it from me, friends, and I hope you found this helpful. Staying with a homestay family is a great opportunity to dive into the culture of your host country and learn so much from locals. For those of you staying in a homestay, let us know about your favorite moments with your host family by tagging us @CISabroad on social media. I can tell you that my favorite moment was every Friday night when we’d gather together to talk about our week while watching something on TV.