Staying With a Host Family: Tips

What to expect and how to prepare for a homestay in a foreign country

While staying with a host family is not required for going abroad, most of our programs offer this type of accommodation option first and foremost. Nothing can compare to the language and cultural experience you will receive, so if you are someone who is comfortable being a guest in someone else’s home, here are some tips for making the experience meaningful:

Bring a Gift

When I first traveled abroad in Paris and was told that bringing a small gift from my hometown for my host family was customary, I thought that the idea would make for an awkward exchange. However it’s not only an extremely polite and generous gesture, but the small act can break the ice and lead to a first conversation with your new family.

gift Photo Credits: Leslie Seaton.

Some suggestions? Being from Seattle I brought a University of Washington mug and local chocolate. Anything that says something about where you are from is a good way to introduce yourself and, if a beginner, is a great place to start speaking “small talk”.

Keep the Conversation Going

Don’t be surprised if your family speaks very little English! Most likely they will speak to you in their native language right off the bat. This may be intimidating at first, but try to show them that while you might not pick up on everything they are saying, that you want to try and learn with them. Sometimes the members of your host family are the best teachers you have.

Be Respectful

This goes without saying, but it’s important nonetheless. The amount of time you spend with your host family is completely up to you! There is no need to feel like you are required to be at the house at all times. You are in a foreign country and it is only understandable that exploring your surroundings will be the first priority.

train ride Photo Credits: patrick janicek.

If you are going to be gone or, for example, decide to book a weekend trip to a neighboring city, tell your host family that you will be absent for the next few dinners. They might want a break too, so make sure that you’re not leaving them with cooking a large dinner for no reason or worrying that you are lost or in trouble. Communication is the hardest part of this relationship, but it is also your most valuable tool.

Don’t Have Expectations

It might seem odd to suddenly let go of all this planning and plotting about what the best manners are, but the truth is that you never know who your family will be. If you don’t imagine a perfect scenario in your head, then you will be much more open and receptive to any situation. Odds are that something may bother you about your family, but chances are also high that your family has an attribute you completely love. Whether that is a cultural difference you find endearing or a child that reminds you of your own, capitalize on these likenesses and similarities rather than dwell on the negatives.

host family Photo Credits: sunriseOdyssey.

Hopefully these tips will help you feel more at ease in a homestay wherever you are traveling. Being informed before your trip is always a good idea. Do some googling and brush up on the common customs, norms, and practices for the culture in which you will be immersed.

Most importantly, take advantage of the opportunity of living with people who are different, unique, and willing to share their life with you. Then, next time you’re in that city call them up and show off your newly developed language skills!