Finding a Home in Someone Else’s
If you have already seriously considered studying abroad, you have probably imagined the possibility of a homestay with a local family. Some programs only offer homestays for housing. But even if there are alternatives, homestay can be a fantastic option! The most obvious reason is learning another country’s culture at a household level. Of course, public life is only half the picture, so experiencing this other side of a country will allow you to see a more comprehensive picture. I stayed with a family in Madrid my semester abroad and found that the vocabulary of the frustrated child or the fatigued working parent is very different from the public life-oriented Spanish I learned in school. Of course, we never practiced getting angry in Spanish at school, so I found such experiences incredibly informative even though they were quite uncomfortable.
Living with a family is a big choice because it carries with it all the complexities of daily life you probably forgot still exist once you left home for college. Kids not wanting to go to school, adolescent outbursts against the unfairness of not being able to play videogames during dinner, overworked parents giving lectures about behavior, etc. could all play out during your time with a family and, as I said, these moments are uncomfortable to witness. They make you feel that maybe you should have considered living in a dorm or apartment because these moments are intimate and often embarrassing and wouldn’t be witnessed by anyone outside the family had you not been there to watch it happen. I remember arguments erupting in the kitchen between my host mom and her son while I was in my adjoining bedroom and wanting to disappear not for my sake, but for the sake of her adolescent son’s fragile pride. At the dinner before I left for home, he said in a rare instance of self-reflective honesty that he was sad that I was going because he had acted so strangely while I was there and I would leave with that impression. I would have felt the same had a stranger lived with middle school me.
My relationship with my host siblings was my biggest regret abroad. They were both young (8 and 11 years-old), shy, and spoke way better English than I spoke Spanish. There was nobody in Spain I felt less comfortable practicing my Spanish with. They were cooler than me, and they knew it. Well, they thought it. But from both of our perspectives, their monopoly on cool was just about a fact of life. The sad truth, however, is that I was waaaay cooler than them and could have totally reached out to them and formed a friendship if I got over my anxiety and nervousness around them. Knowing that you’re cool when the hardships of culture shock and language shock and all the other foreign shocks are hitting you is a struggle you must fight when you’re abroad. Maintaining a healthy confidence can help you face the world courageously and open all the doors that seem closed to you when you’re down. And having a healthy relationship with your host siblings can make your stay and your presence in their home more positive. Ask them questions! Take interest in their lives! Tell them about things you find interesting! Seriously, this would have helped me so much. I had a big language barrier to get over, but I should have tried harder.
My relationship with my host parents, however, was the highlight of my trip! My host Dad was super fun to talk to and always interested in discussing politics. My host Mom intimidated me a bit at first with her strong Madrileña accent, but eventually she became one of my closest friends. Her patatas riojanas alone made up for every uncomfortable moment of the stay. Your host parents will be the most understanding of your language situation and probably signed up to host you knowing that they would be one of your primary language resources.Your host parents will do so much for you and their support is something they give freely. And if they’re working parents, their hands are already probably full. Truly, the only way to pay back this kindness is to treat it as such: always be grateful! Recognize their kindness and tell them! Experiencing the kindness of another person is not usually one of the advertised benefits of homestays, but God does it make a difference.