A Word About Homestays

So, let’s set the scene.

You’re a sophomore (maybe a junior by credits, don’t get cocky). You’re about to study abroad. You notice a lot of the coolest places (*cough* Spain *cough*) require or highly suggest a homestay. You wish you had someone to give you advice about the dirty details of the homestay life. You stumble across this blog.

Or, scenario B: you’re a future employer stalking me on Google. You stumble across this blog.

So, either way, here you are, reading my advice about homestays. Homestays are tricky to write about because everyone has such a unique experience. So, I would like to disclaim that my observations and experiences may not hold true for every place, family, program, etc.

To begin, I would like to touch on the type of people who sign up to host a student. The first type of homestay is a family that wants to provide a room to a student in order to supplement their income. As Spain is having tough economic times, this is a very common scenario. The next type of homestay is someone elderly and/or alone, usually a woman, who would like some company. This situation can be weird because you almost feel obligated to spend time with your host family. The last type of homestay includes a family with kids. In this type of homestay, the family sometimes would like you to practice English with their kids.

The three scenarios for homestays are just generalizations, naturally. Sometimes, the host family can be a combination of the different types described above. For example, my host mom Maria* is a combination of the first and second situation. However, sometimes homestays can be nothing like what I described. For example, my friend’s family requested to be a homestay because their cousin hosts students as well.

After realizing the different types of families, the best advice I could give is to fill out the homestay request form as detailed as possible. A lot of other applicants do not take the time to do this. Therefore, if you are more specific you will likely get things you request. For example, I wrote down a specific neighborhood on the form. You could request a specific walking distance from school. Some of the surfers on my program asked to be closer to the beach (however, this did pose a longer commute to school and metros don’t run super late every night of the weekend!). A lot of people request families with kids.

I requested to be near the Guggenheim, a central location in Bilbao.
I requested to be near the Guggenheim Museum, a central location in Bilbao, Spain.

Another important part of the homestay request form is the roommate section. I said I did not care if I had roommate and I was assigned a single. At first I was excited to have a single, because roommates sound like the epitome of freshman year. I soon realized there were pros and cons to living in a homestay alone. For example, it might have been easier to have a friend to work through the language barrier with. It also could have been nice to have a friend to go out with, because it is always safer to walk home with someone. However, living alone helped me be independent from the group and I also got to practice more Spanish! You should consider these things before filling out the form because it really shapes the homestay experience.

Finally, once you are abroad and living in a homestay, remember that it is going to be weird. Maria treats me like a child a lot, as if I have not been living on my own for a while now. For example, after my return from Morocco, my host mom had reorganized my whole closet. All of my sandals are now missing. The same thing happened to my swimsuit top in September. If my bed isn’t made perfectly, she will remake it. She does my laundry, cleans my dishes, and has even blow dried my hair. And I kind of feel helpless because I never had the courage to tell her these things bothered me and that I am a capable adult. I also was not really sure how to say all of these things in Spanish. If I had been honest with Maria, I would have saved a lot of time harboring anger toward her. However, if you are only going to be honest with your host family about one thing, let it be the food. Otherwise, they will cook you the same crappy dish they think you like (think: pigs’ feet).

In the end, I had a lot of trouble getting along with my host mom. But do I regret it? Not really. If I had lived with friends, I would not have practiced Spanish every day. I would have wasted time cooking and cleaning that I could have used exploring. In the end, it is one thing to live alongside a while culture abroad, but my homestay let me live within the Spanish culture.

*name has been changed

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This, That, and the Other Thing – Three Tips for Pre-departure and Arrival Abroad

  1. Bring something special from home to spruce up your room

This may sound a little silly, but it is definitely something I regretted within the first week of being abroad. Whether it is photos, a poster, or even a pillowcase, bring something that can connect you to home and give your room a little personality. You will be glad to have something to distinguish that space as your own and make it feel homier.

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  1. Don’t make any promises… yet

11874120_10203798343993835_192348149_nStarting school abroad is a lot like orientation week as a freshman at college. Everyone is excited to meet each other and explore their new home. But like freshman year, people form friendships fast and soon settle into friendships. For that reason, don’t make any promises to people from home about FaceTiming, writing emails, or even texting. Take advantage of the newness of your study abroad location – get out and explore with new people. Don’t be that person who stays back because you promised someone you would talk at a certain time. Give yourself a chance to settle in and find your place in the new city with new people before you get into a routine of reaching out to people at home. Once you figure out how your schedule works and when you are free, THEN you can figure out a schedule for staying in touch. Don’t feel guilty about being in the moment when you first arrive.

  1. Allow yourself to feel every emotion

The other day I was eating an apple and thought about eating apples at home during the summer, and out of nowhere I started crying. The first week or so abroad can be totally overwhelming. You meet new people every day, you learn the layout of your city and new home, and you are trying to get over jet lag. emoji_autism2All the stimulation keeps you insanely busy, so remember to allow yourself some “me-time.” Give yourself at least 10 minutes a day to reflect on your experience. You could write in a journal, talk with a new friend or roommate, or even just think in silence about the experience so far. Whatever you like best, make sure you give yourself time to feel everything – the highlights like an awesome new friend or a funny experience as well as the things you miss and things that frustrate you about your new home. It is okay not to love every minute of the experience. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Let yourself feel every part of the experience so you can grow from them.

 

 

 

  • Emily Wolverton