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Host Families

[From the October 2009 Miami University Study Abroad Newsletter]

Study abroad programs have several different housing options. Some place students in apartments with other American students, some house students in residence halls, and others will place students in homestays with a host family. Host families come in all shapes and sizes. Many students will live in a typical nuclear family of parents and young children, like Sarah did in Chile or Stephanie did in Japan. You might live with parents, grandparents and college-aged children, like Meghan is doing in Mexico. Or you might have a less predictable host family, like Anna did in Jordan, where she lived with three elderly sisters. Sometimes your "host family" might be one elderly woman, several generations of a family living together in one house, or a young couple with no children. In any case, you can learn a lot about the local culture and about how other families work. When you live in another country, you learn a lot about the cultural assumptions you take for granted ("Because we do it that way in America, I thought everyone ate pasta as a main course!") and when you live within another family, you also learn about the personal assumptions you take for granted ("Because my family did it this way, I thought everyone's parents made the kids do their own laundry!")

In some cases, the homestay is like a boardinghouse or landlord/renter situation, where you have your own detached apartment within their home and little day-to-day contact with the family. In others, you're more integrated into daily life and take your meals with the family. Many host families have been taking in visiting students for years. I know that I was very anxious about making a bad impression on my host family, but relaxed a lot more when I realized they'd had 20+ American students over the past ten years, and they'd seen everything. They know that visiting American students will want to travel, will occasionally stay out late, and might forget to call to tell their host parents they won't be home for dinner. If there are any serious conflicts between the student and the host family, the study abroad program will help mediate and, if necessary, move the student to a new situation.

If you're going abroad to study a foreign language, a homestay is the best housing option for you. While learning a foreign language can be mentally exhausting, it's even more exhausting if you're switching back and forth between English and that language. If you're immersed in the classroom and at home, you'll start thinking in that language, rather than trying to mentally translate all the time, and that makes it much easier and less stressful! Even if language isn't your main focus, a homestay is also a great way to casually learn about a society and what's important to them. You'll be included in family meals and learn about what and how people eat. You'll be included in festivals and holidays and see how people celebrate. And you'll see them in their down time to learn how people relax.

If a homestay is not an option in the location you're looking at, the next best thing would be a residence hall or apartment setting where you're living with local roommates or flatmates. That's another way to get the "in" into local culture and a way to casually observe the way that the locals live, eat and celebrate.