For many high school students, the idea of living overseas with a host family is a bit intimidating. Students often question several things like if they’ll get along with their host family, if they’ll like their cooking, if they’ll be patient with their language abilities, etc. Even with all those fears, there is still always the challenge of slowly being comfortable in somebody else house who doesn’t speak the same language as you. This takes time and is no easy task.
Needless to say, there’s always those frustrating moments when you’re adjusting to living with a host family. These days it takes just a mere 10 hour plane ride to leave behind a world you understand and replace it with a world of foreign customs and traditions. Throw in jet lag, carrying luggage, and trying to converse in a different language and you can see how easy it’d be to get frustrated. Now that may sound inconvenient and a bit unglamorous, but in many ways, that’s truly what high school study abroad programs are about.
So what advice can be passed on for a smooth sailing with your host family?
- First, your host family is doing you quite a favor if they only speak to you in their native tongue, even if you have to tell them to repeat themselves twenty times. (We’ve all been there.) Those first conversations will be a struggle but when you speak to a local and realize that you can actually speak with a local, you’ll be thanking your host family for making you speak only their language.
- Immerse yourself in the culture and tradition of the family and they will in return give you a rewarding experience. Living with a host family is probably the best way to learn local culture, but that isn’t going to do you any good if you stay cooped up in your bedroom Skyping home. Make a point to sit down with your family and ask about where they like to eat and shop. More than likely, you’ll end up in places off the beaten track.
- Food is maybe the most important thing in several countries around the world. You will be served food that you’ve never even heard of before. Here’s a word of advice, try everything once before you knock it. You may not be apt to eat certain things, but normally quite the opposite happens: You eat something you never thought you’d like and then find out that you love it.
- Most importantly, become part of the family. After getting over that first awkwardness, embrace your host family as if they’re your own. Remember, you make this experience what you want it to be and host families 99% of the time want to add on to a positive experience. Learn their local customs, but also teach them a few things about your norms. If you like to cook, cook them a dish from your native country. Be attentive, help out around the house as best you can, and live as if you’d normally live.
Living overseas with a host family is certainly a trade off when it comes to privacy. You will be around them constantly and they will know more about your life than perhaps even your friends do. But what you trade off in privacy, you gain in cultural immersion and superior knowledge of the language. It’s no easy task and it takes a brave person to give up personal comfort for such a gain, but it’s worth it.
SPI Study Abroad offers overseas programs for high school students in Spain, France, Italy, Costa Rica, and China. Click here to learn more.