Today I realized that I’ve yet to address my living situation while in France!
I’m living in an apartment with a lovely retired woman named Béatrix who grew up in northern France. Often her son will join us for dinner, and sometimes so will her nephew or other family members. She hosts as many as 3 international students at once, so I’m also living with a student from Taiwan and another from China. I have my own bedroom and I use the kitchen as I please.
I want to start out by saying that I really love my homestay, but that I wouldn’t recommend the option for everyone. First I’ll explain some challenges, and then some rewards.
Homestays are challenging because…
We only speak French in the house (unless there is desperate confusion). I never knew true mental exhaustion before this experience! Often I get back to the apartment after listening to my professors speak French rapidly for three hours, and Béatrix wants to hear about my morning, and what my plans are for the afternoon, and would I like some coffee? And it’s hard for me to say “I’m sorry, I just need ten minutes to lay down and absorb some things.”
Then there’s the commute. For my counterparts in the Foyer, which is somewhat like a dorm, I’m told that the walk to class takes around 15 minutes. My commute involves 2 metro lines and takes around 25 minutes, and of the 3 Temple students living with host families I believe I have the shortest commute. It’s not easy getting to the metro for the journey to my 8am class.
My biggest challenge by far has been communication with other students. With everybody’s varied phone plans, Wi-Fi accessibility, etc., it can be really hard for me to make plans with others. Since I’m not at the Foyer constantly running into other students, often we just don’t see each other. It’s normal for me to go out on my own and explore Paris independently. I’d definitely emphasize to students choosing their residence that a homestay requires self-reliance.
The last negative I can think of is that there’s a little more responsibility and accountability required to live together with locals. If I decide I’m not coming back for dinner, or if I’m going away for the weekend, I have to let my family know so they don’t worry about me.
I love my homestay because…
Typically your family will have hosted students before, and will know how to help you get the most out of your experience. My family includes me in conversations and will often stop to make sure I understand a word or phrase before I can even ask about it. The best way to learn conversational French is to talk to native speakers, which is much easier when you’re under their roof!
On top of that, Béatrix is a wonderful cook. I have heard of host families where this is not the case, but at any rate you’ll become accustomed to whatever meals are typical in your host country. My agreement specifies that my host family makes dinner for me 3 times per week, which I feel is just enough to take away some of the stress of planning while still allowing me to try restaurants, have picnics, and cook for myself when I want to.
And last: I love having a host mom. She tells me when it’s too beautiful out to do homework. She makes sure I’m learning but I’m not terribly stressed. She even does my laundry. Basically, she’s the greatest. But she doesn’t baby me, get me out of bed, or get on my case for anything. It’s perfect for me because I’m not afraid of exploring on my own, but I don’t always have ideas for what to do. Who better to advise me than a real live Parisian?
So in conclusion: If you’re adventurous, independent, and outgoing, and if you’re not afraid to really dive into the language and culture of your study abroad destination, do a homestay. You’ll learn a ton and have an amazing and unique experience that will truly force you to embrace your host country’s culture!