Living with people is never easy, even your best friends. With everyone packed into one, four-bedroom apartment on 17th and Norris streets, it’s easy for five people to feel cramped. There’s constant irritation from the usual roomie who feels the need to bath for an hour while the other one never cleans her dishes, ever. But at least I know them.
While I enjoy living with my host Hans, I find it difficult to always interact with him. I never want to step on his toes or feel like I’m imposing on him. Luckily Hans is super understanding and can deal with my late-night strolls into the apartment and kitchen mishaps (I don’t think he’s completely over the knife marks in his pan, though). He offers to do my laundry although I’d prefer if he did it more often…
But I must remember, Hans isn’t my dad. Yes, he acts as a friend, but it’s importantly to remind myself that I am living in his environment, his home. That’s why it’s important to live by his rules to make sure both of us are comfortable living with each other.
Here are some pointers to look to when living with a host family:
- Never assume they live the same way as Americans
Man do I miss being able to stand in a shower that didn’t have a detachable showerhead. In France, people don’t stand in the shower and let the water splash them in the face. Instead, they use a detachable showerhead and only run the water after they’ve been soaped up, body and hair. Be wary of your host’s mannerisms. They’re very eco-friendly in Paris and only use water and electricity when necessary. Showers don’t last for more than five minutes (10 if you’re alone in the house) and lights must be turned off whenever you leave a room for an extended period of time.
- Ask if you don’t know
Some things are pretty self-explanatory just by appearance. It’s not rocket science to know the symbols for on/off and temperature level, but always ask before you end up breaking, uh maybe, the small microwave oven that your host has only had for about a month or so. If you couldn’t guess, this happened to me. Everything looked simple enough to manage, but as soon as I let the machine sit idly for three minutes, ZIP! There went the power. Needless to mention it was a pretty awkward morning-after. But lesson learned! Although he’s already explained how every appliance works, I always reconfirm that I understand their functions and procedures entirely, from the coffee brewer to the water boiler. Better be safe than broken.
- Go out of your way for them
Just because you don’t have any official “chores” to do, it’s the thought that counts. In my program, my host is obligated to provide a breakfast daily and a weekly dinner (mine is every Sunday). And although I leave the cleanup to Hans after every dinner, I’ll always wash his plates and utensils whenever I see them lying around the kitchen. As an adult he has a lot more responsibilities than a foreign student, and it doesn’t take any extra energy to clean the kitchen for him.
- Talk, Interact, Mingle
You’re with a host family instead of a dorm for one reason, or at least I am: cultural immersion. I know some people in my program have already switched host families because they didn’t see eye-to-eye or the family was nonexistent. People decide to live with hosts because they know it will be a terrific learning experience for their cultural knowledge and linguistic skills, but the hosts want to know how the other side lives! Talk to everyone – mother, father, brother, sister, grandmother – and tell them about your day, your friends, your home life, whatever! While you may think it’s a tedious task, your host will appreciate your openness to discussion and who knows. Maybe you can crash at their place when you make a return visit to the country!
- But it’s OK to have alone time
Too much time with one person is disastrous for any relationship. People see me as a sociable person, but I crave alone time – at least three hours to unwind and collect my thoughts and do absolutely nothing. You don’t have to be around your hosts every time you’re in the house. It’s perfectly normal for students to close their doors and just chill in their rooms. But if you feel like you’re secluding yourself, try an “open-door” policy. Literally! I’ll leave my door open but stay in my room with headphones blasting to show Hans I’m free to talk but I’m also busy concentrating on other things. Don’t be afraid to take time for yourself. It’s completely natural.