This week’s post in the Endicott Observer! As always, check out the website and be sure to pick up a copy if you’re on campus!
I won’t try to be sneaky about it; I am here to convince you that you NEED to both:
A) study abroad
B) do a home stay
In high school, I stayed with a family for a few days when I visited China on a school trip and it was one of the most unique experiences of my life. And that was less than a week! When I was planning out my study abroad experience, I knew that living with a host family would be the perfect way to enhance my semester in Spain. Here’s why:
All you can eat
You will be provided a certain number of meals per day, depending on your program. For me, it’s two meals plus whatever I want to grab for breakfast as I’m rushing out the door to class. But this isn’t just any food; it’s delicious homemade foreign food that will probably make you gain the freshman fifteen all over again (but you totally don’t care). This gives you a chance to taste the typical cuisine instead of going to the nearest bar or making yourself pasta every night if you lived on your own because, really, there’s no time to cook yourself three meals a day when you’re trying to soak up every second in your study abroad country. And if you study in Spain you will look like the heart eyes emoji every time you sit down to the table, the food is THAT good. Also, if you’re a bit more of a high maintenance eater because of dietary restrictions, like I am, your study abroad coordinator will make sure you are housed with someone who can accommodate you. In fact, my host mom loves to cook so she says making me all these new vegan and vegetarian dishes has been a ton of fun for her!
Laundry and cleaning
Part of the deal is that your host mom does your laundry and changes your sheets once a week. Plus she will iron everything for you, including your underwear. And really, when was the last time you even picked up an iron? You don’t have time to do that stuff, nor do you want to when you could be off exploring. Enough said.
Most host families are a bit more well-off so they often live in nicer apartments with a doorman and sometimes surveillance. You will get your own set of keys for added independence and as an added bonus, more than likely you will make friends with the doorman and have conversations that end in playing with his dog in the courtyard for ten minutes (or maybe that’s just me). Not only do I feel safe, which I didn’t think I could ever feel in a big city, but knowing that I don’t have to go home to an empty apartment gives me peace of mind.
Live like a local
Part of the reason I love living with a host family is that I feel like I am immersed in the culture. Here, you know it’s mealtime because the prime news is on. At lunch and dinner we often have the television on in the background so we are constantly keeping up with the news and current events, or even just watching the cooking shows and game shows my host mom loves (Pasa Palabra, anyone?!). Just listening helps me improve my Spanish unconsciously and I feel like I know more about what’s going on the world now than I ever do at home. Another thing that is fantastic if you’re directionally-challenged like myself is that your host family can often give you tips on the easiest way to get from Point A to Point B. They can also give you advice on where to go/where not to go. I also love that I am able to get a different take on the world. I’ve obviously learned quite a bit in my classes, but I’ve already been able to apply it to my life in Madrid with much more ease because I live with a family with whom I can ask unlimited questions. My host parents are more like grandparent age and I often sit with my host dad in the kitchen in the evenings, having in-depth conversations about what it was like to live under Franco’s rule, or swapping stories about Oktoberfest. I love the comparison of different cultures and I always feel like I’m learning something new from my host parents and their son that I never would have been able to learn or discuss on my own.
The number one reason I chose a home stay was to improve my language skills. Here I am speaking Spanish every day and, as one of the world’s most widely spoken languages, it’s certainly relevant. If you don’t speak the language of your host country, you’ll be surprised how much you can pick up just by daily exposure. More often than not, there will be an option to live with a family that speaks at least some English and can help you get by. In my first couple of weeks, I would just walk around the house and point to everything I didn’t know how to say, asking ¿Cómo se dice? – How do you say? – or asking my host mom what verb tense I use in a specific sentence. Since my host family doesn’t speak English and I want to talk to them, I have more incentive to try harder. Don’t get me wrong, it is not always easy but I promise it’s worth it!
Easier on your wallet
When you are weighing the price tags of an apartment or home stay, sometimes the apartment may seem cheaper. However, that’s before you think about all that you’re getting living in someone else’s home. There’s no need to furnish anything or spend money on silly things that weren’t provided like a can opener; you already have everything you need. One of the biggest perks is paying for food is unnecessary except when travelling or if you decide to have a dinner out with friends. Plus, if you can’t make lunch, your señora will gladly pack you a bocadillo—sandwich—complete with fruit and a cute little juice box. You feel like a kid again in the best possible way! And once again: laundry and cleaning for free.