After deciding where you want to move abroad, the next step is finding the right accommodation. While there are several options out there, living with a host family is one of the most popular ways to live overseas.
Should you really live with a host family though?
To be honest with you, living with a host family definitely isn’t for everyone. To know if it’s right for you, think about what you hope to accomplish. Why are you moving abroad? To learn a new language? Experience a new culture? Make new friends?
I’m going to share with you the pros and cons of living with a host family so that you can decide whether or not this type of housing experience is right for you.
The Pro’s of Living with a Host Family
1. Language Learning
Definitely, the biggest advantage of living with a local family is the ability to talk in a foreign language. Being surrounded by people that don’t necessarily speak English, means that you’re basically forced to speak the language you’re trying to learn. You will interact with your host family and talk about everyday things which will skyrocket the time it takes to learn a foreign language.
2. Cheap Accommodation
Living with a host family is normally a lot cheaper than other housing options abroad. If you’re doing an exchange or attending a language school, you will generally be given the options of staying in a student dorm or living with a host family. While student dorms are also relatively cheap, living with a local family will normally be cheaper.
One of the best parts of a homestay is the food. As part of the weekly price you pay to live there, you are given home cooked meals every day. This is a great way to not only save money but also experience the local food. You will learn the traditional dishes of a certain region and country and be able to talk about them with your host family.
Don’t be shy to politely tell your host family if you don’t like a meal, this way they won’t cook it for you again. It’s important to tell them of any dietary restrictions that you may have as well. Furthermore, make sure you know how many meals are going to be provided for you when talking with your host before you arrive.
4. Cultural Traditions
If you live in student dorms or rent an apartment with some friends, you’re going to miss out on all of the cultural experiences that you would get with a host family. Celebrating birthdays, holidays and integrating certain routines into your daily life is something that is extremely important if you want to better understand a culture.
5. Live Like a Local
Being part of a local family means that you’ll be able to see everything they do on a day to day basis. This can include anything from watching local TV, playing native sports, and eating different types of food. There is no better way to experience these cultural past times than with locals who have been doing them their whole lives.
Furthermore, by living with a local family, you have a support system that can help you with almost any problems that may arise including how to get somewhere, opening a bank account, which areas to avoid, places to see etc.
The Con’s of Living with a Host Family
One of the biggest problems most people face is a lack of privacy. You may have to share a room with your host brother or sister, and not have any space to yourself. You’re expected to spend time with your host family, which can mean not having enough time to yourself. Personally, I didn’t mind this because I had my own bedroom and was given plenty of time to myself.
Just like in any family home, being independent is difficult. Because you’re all living together, you all need to work together for the house to run smoothly. This means that you’re expected for meals at a certain time every day, and need to let your host family where you are most of the time. This lack of independence can be really difficult for those that have been living independently for a while.
3. House Rules
In order for a house to function correctly, there need to be house rules. This means you will have to clean up after yourself and help out around the house. Be sure to check with your host family if you’re allowed to bring friends over because more often than not you won’t be allowed. This is difficult for many people because it means that you won’t be able to bring any relationships over either. The best thing to do is check with your host family in the first couple of days after arriving what the house rules are.
Unfortunately living with a family can mean living outside the main city. If you’re going to school or work every day in the city, you will have to take public transport there which can cost you both time and money. It is nice to live outside of the main city but means it’s a lot more difficult to go out and spend time with friends. Be sure to check where you will be staying before you commit to anything.
One of the biggest traps that you can fall into is not making new friends. Because you already have a home base and know some locals (your host family), there is a tendency to not make the effort to make any new friends with other locals. Try and make friends with your host brother and sisters friends if they are of a similar age. This way you will already have a group of local friends that you can hang out with.
You might find it extremely overwhelming to be dumped into a completely new culture. This is normal because living with strangers, talking a foreign language, eating different food and not having any time to yourself can be quite daunting. Sometimes it’s nice to have time to yourself to watch a movie in English, eat some food from home and talk to your friends on Skype.
I had my own host family experience in 2009/2010 when I went to Bordeaux, France for a high school exchange program. I was only 17 years old at the time and was obviously a little nervous and anxious when I arrived. However, it turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of my life and is what has inspired me to keep travelling and living abroad.
I stayed with a typical french family which consisted of 2 parents, a brother and sister, who were both around my age, and the family dog. They had a massive three-story apartment in the centre of the city which was only a short walk away from the high school I was attending.
I was able to practice my french, play tennis with them and hang out with their friends. They had hosted others before so they already had experience dealing with lodgers.
During the Christmas holidays, my host family took me to the french alps for a week of snowboarding, drinking beer and relaxing in hot tubs. To say I had a great time would be a massive understatement.
After my 6-week exchange came to an end I was welcomed back the following summer. During the 3 weeks, I was there, they took me to Spain for a week to relax in the sun next to the pool. I had such a great relationship with my french family that my french brother stayed with me in Australia for a couple of months and attended high school with me.
I ended up finishing high school later that year and decided to take a Gap year to Bordeaux. During part of that year, while I was attending University and living in the student dorms, I stayed with my host family on weekends.
This amazing experience that I shared with my host family inspired me to do my university degree in Europe. This enabled me to live and study in four different cities around Europe and fuelled my passion for travelling.
Now that I’m a bit more independent than I was when I was 17, I’m not sure that I would stay with a host family again, at least not for more than a couple of weeks. I appreciate my privacy and independence a lot more now.
If you’re a little older and have lived away from your family home for a while, then maybe you would prefer to have more independence and find an apartment abroad. If you’re staying for more than a month you will generally be able to find cheap options for a studio or one bedroom apartment.
In order to take full advantage of your time living with your host family abroad, you need to remember to have an open mind. Living in a strange place, with a family that you don’t know, speaking a language you barely understand can be daunting. Remember that the whole reason you’re going abroad is to have new and exciting experiences to the ones that you’re used to back home.
Have you ever stayed with a host family? What was your experience like?