How to Have an Excellent Home Stay Experience

Just a few more days and suddenly many of us will be flying off to different countries of our choice to study abroad, if we’re not abroad already (looking at you, Australia gals).

Some of us also might have opted to stay with a home stay family during our semesters abroad. Although a degree of independence is compromised when living in another family’s home, home stays are excellent for learning the family dynamics of another culture, becoming totally immersed in a foreign language, and making connections abroad within your host family’s network.

In order to prepare ourselves and other Lala readers for our time abroad in a home stay, we asked an actual host family in France a few questions to gain some perspective on what to expect.

How long have you been a host family for?

We’ve been a host family for about 5 years.

What kind of qualities does the ideal host student have?

Generally, all the students that we’ve had have been very pleasant, open, and curious about France, our way of life, and our culture. For us, the thing that’s most important is that a student who comes to France should want to “live like a French,” not wanting to import his or her own culture. Of course, everyone has their own daily habits but a host student should ask questions about the country, the politics, the economy, the educational system, and good mannerisms, and be interested in our monuments and artists to try to comprehend our way of life, our culture, and our operations.

Have you ever had any negative experiences with a host student? Why?

We’ve only had one bad experience with a student who was very untidy and dirty, leaving his room in a terrible state, and disrespectful.

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In addition to this interview, here are some helpful tips for making sure your home stay experience is nothing but a smooth one.

Bring a gift from your hometown.

As you’re packing up your final items for the big move, don’t forget to buy something special for your home stay family! In foreign cultures, offering a gift or token of appreciation is oftentimes an expected custom. Even if it’s not expected, it’s a sweet gesture and you’re off to a great start with your foreign family. May we suggest small paintings or artistic tokens from your hometown? Accompanied by a jar of peanut butter (for those traveling to Europe)?

Discuss ground rules ASAP. 

Are you going to be given a house key? Does the family know you might not return home every night because you’re staying at a friend’s/partying/enjoying your youth? Are you responsible for cooking your own meals every day? These are all things that need to be smoothed out before you begin settling into life abroad. Also, don’t be afraid later on to discuss any concerns or questions you might have. You’re probably not living in the home stay for free, so remember that you have all the right in the world to respectfully voice any issues you may be experiencing.

Make an effort to speak the language 24/7.

We know it’s embarrassing to stumble in another language. But you’re lucky enough to be living with a whole family of ready tutors and native language speakers. When else are you going to come across an amazing resource like this?! If there’s ever a time to practice a language you want to learn, this is the best classroom you’re ever gonna get. This is probably not the family’s first rodeo with a student struggling to pronounce the difference between “canard” and “connard” (duck vs. asshole).

Respect nighttime hours.

Imagine inviting a young student to live in your home and in return getting to listen to blasting music and stumbling drunk heels at 4 in the morning. Bear in mind this is not an independent apartment. Although you’re getting an amazing cultural immersion experience, hop to a friend’s apartment to get ready and crash at on a Friday night.

Prepare some traditional meals from home.

This is the cherry on top to becoming the perfect adopted child for your foreign family. Share your favorite recipes from home and surprise your family with dinner once in a while. You’ll be remembered forever for taking the time to prepare these little thoughtful tokens of appreciation.

Take advantage of your resources.

You’re one of the luckiest of the study abroad students because you have free travel advice in your own home. Ask your host family if they’d be interested in taking you to some of their favorite bars/boutiques/parks around your foreign city, or if they can at least point you to some local favorites.

Are you a home stay veteran? Share your experiences with us in the comments below!

Ariana Mozafari

Contributing Editor, The American University of Paris Major: Journalism Her heart belongs to: Paris and the French lifestyle, her family, her friends that stay connected no matter how near or far, and kitties. And Adventure Time, of course. Take her away to: A sunny tropical paradise on the beach. Just the sight of the ocean makes her laugh with giddiness.

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