Searching for study abroad programs can be one of the more stressful parts of the experience. The world is a gigantic place, and at times it seems like there are infinite possibilities for courses, sites, and experiences to sift through. One of the biggest questions that I had to answer when choosing a the right program for me was whether or not I wanted to stay with a host family. As I have never lived with a family other than my own, at first I was unsure if a homestay would be the right move for me. However, even after being here for less than two weeks, I can confidently say that I made the right decision. Now, I am fully convinced that the best way to truly experience a foreign country is to live with a host family.
The family I’m staying with is made up of my host mom Lucia, my host dad Juan, my host sister Fabiola who is my age, and my host brother Carlos who is just a couple years younger. Together we live in a small apartment in the center of Oviedo, right around the corner of a park and a short, five minutes walk to La Cathedral de San Salvador (pictured in the featured image). Everyone in the family has been so kind to me since getting here and has really gone out of their way to make me feel at home. Whether it’s eating my body weight in Lucia’s delicious home cooked meals, watching a Spanish movie with Fabiola, or going out for drinks in the evening with the family, I truly feel welcome and wanted here in their home.
In short, living with a host family is just that: living with a family. I am not just a resident in a hotel, nor am I a traveller passing through. In order to continue to have a good relationship with my host family, I know that I have to pull my own weight, be respectful, and be a member of the family. While it is true that I am paying to be here just as they are being paid to have me, the relationship I have with my host family is far from just financial. Hosting international students for many families is a practical way to travel the world from home. So, in addition to just doing the necessities like cleaning my own dishes, not using up all the hot water, or remembering to turn the lights off when I leave, one of the most valuable things I can provide is my company. My host family is always eager to spend time with me, talk to me about my life in the United States, and occasionally learn a new word in English or two. More than just a place to stay or a couple extra bucks in a bank account, home-stays provide both the host and the student a way to learn about other cultures, meet different people, and make lasting friendships.
Since moving in I have learned so much from my host family. Being able to spend time and converse with them has helped me improve my Spanish skills tremendously and has played an important role in integrating myself into Spanish culture. The university is great for teaching me how to speak about more educated topics in Spanish. However, I feel that the vocabulary for quotidian life is often skimmed over in the classroom. Most of my knowledge of daily topics such as cooking, talking about my day, and making plans for the evening comes from the conversations I have with my family.
To anyone considering studying abroad, I highly recommend a homestay. As long as you enter with an open mind and a willingness to learn, the initial awkwardness of being an outsider fades rather quickly. For me, living with a host family is truly the best way to take full advantage of study abroad.