Spending time abroad is life changing! It’s one of those experiences that shakes your inner being and changes you as a person. There are some ways you can get even more out of this experience, and one of those is staying with a host family. Living with a host family is one of the most vulnerable things you can experience. It will rock your inner core in the very best way.
1. Staying with a host family helps language comprehension immensely.
There’s really nothing scarier than meeting your host family for the first time and realizing they don’t speak a lick of English. Although this is scary, it is the beginning to a potentially beautiful relationship with the language.
Successful communication does not require correct grammar structure, correctly conjugated verbs, or even a vast vocabulary. Knowing this provides the assurance that it’s okay to make mistakes when learning a language, and this alone will accelerate the language learning tremendously. Charades definitely helps, and being that vulnerable will make the scariness of learning a language that much less.
2. It’s not always easy being immersed in a new culture with no “escape” to what feels safe.
There comes a time while being abroad when cravings for the security of what’s known and comfortable become utterly amplified. Even if the experience has been great and the learning immense, there will always come a time when you’d love your mom’s home cooked meals or a hug from your best friend.
When you’re in a country with a foreign language, the desire to speak and be understood through the use of your native tongue is something fierce. Overcoming these craving for emotional security is hard to do, but do what you know and you will thrive.
Now-a-days, we are very fortunate to have the technology we do. Miss your family? FaceTime them. Miss your favorite chocolate bar? Try a new one where you are, you might like it even more!
3. It’s extremely difficult living under someone’s roof (with rules) when you’ve already been on your own.
After being on your own and in your own place, having rules suddenly feels a bit like a prison. A curfew? Dinner at 8pm sharp? Although often bothersome, following these rules will help you feel a part of the family and show your respect.
Sometimes, it can even be comforting have this set regularity with a family that is there purely to take care of you (and vice versa!). When you’re alone in a new place, it always helps having someone you know will protect you and guide you through the journey (that’s often why they have the rules that they do!)
4. Authentic food made by locals is an experience that will amaze.
Even the simplest dishes are inspiring. Experiencing the everyday dishes and flavors of a culture provides a unique insight into the daily lives of the locals. Sharing a meal creates a wordless bond as taste is one language that everyone understands.
Meal times with your host family are very special; it’s a time for bonding and enjoying each other’s company. Every meal is a new local dish to experience, and you’re lucky enough to share it with the person who made it!
5. You get to experience a part of the culture that is very hard to experience as a foreigner.
Being with a family gives the opportunity to observe while also being involved; something very hard to come by. It gives the opportunity to experience life through the eyes of a local.
You can, for a limited amount of time, be a part of the culture. You’re not just visiting the sites; you’re getting to know the locals that are your host family’s friend. You’re getting the opportunity to try the dishes that the tourists don’t know about. You’re able to experience the culture first hand in an unfiltered, raw kind of way that makes the experience absolutely beautiful.
6. Expectations can often lead to disappointment.
Although I look back at my host family experience with overall positivity, it was not what I expected. Based on internet surfing, I expected an inseparable bond with people that I would leave a piece of my heart with. I expected an ease that can only be felt “at home”; but experienced quite the opposite.
I learned so much from my host parents, and for that I am overly grateful; however, there was a lack of love you’d expect from a “parent”. The four months I spent with my host family taught me that expectations often make good situations seem inferior to what is imagined. Either way, the experience will always be something that creates a bond with people that you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to otherwise.
7. Host parents (more often than not) do what they do because they’re genuinely interested and care for the students.
More often than not, host parents are paid just enough to cover expenses and a little extra for the trouble. Since it is such a small amount, the biggest benefit is often just experiencing a foreign culture through a personal connection with someone new. The desire for deep connections is human nature, and being a host has the potential to be a platform for that connection.
8. Cultural understanding and empathy is key to maintaining mutually beneficial relationships.
The biggest potential source of a breakdown between the host family and the guest is a lack of understanding about behaviors, etiquette, and manners (or lack thereof) that differentiates the hosts and the guests. The way to avoid this often passive misunderstanding is to consciously make an effort to empathize with the culture itself and understand what is okay and what is not.
If in doubt, it is always okay to ask for clarification. If you want to do something that you’re not sure is okay (like bring a friend over, smoke cigarettes, etc.), it is always best to ask. They’ll tell you what they’re okay with and won’t be upset that you asked. They understand that you’re from a different culture with different customs.
9. Being vulnerable is often the most uncomfortable, beautiful, and fulfilling way to build a sense of self.
Going out of one’s comfort zone is essential to seeing the potential they can offer the world. Accomplishing tasks once thought impossible provides a boost of confidence that proves the only person you truly need is yourself and that you are enough; if not for anyone else, for yourself. Living with a family is just this; it provides a vulnerability that makes you a better person.
10. Kindness is universal and is essential to cultural understanding.
Even without words and similar ways of thinking, kindness will always be seen. It is seen through the use of smiles and common manners that provide ease to the other. It is seen through the desire to help and connect.
Kindness provides a universal language that connects people on a fundamental level. It is important to understand that even though they are your host “family”, you are still a guest in their home. Make gestures like clearing the table, offering to make a dish from your home country, or simple making sure to say please and thank you. These little actions will show the respect and kindness that is essential for a positive host family experience.
(P.S. If you want to read about how I fell in love with the love of my life abroad during my time abroad be sure to check out this post!)
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