The “How-To” for Host Families

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Michael and Inge Hess, My host family in Germany

Going abroad can be a bit nerve-wracking for many reasons, but one of the things I found most stressful about going to Germany was the prospect of living with a host family. I didn’t know their names or where they lived, or even what sort of people they were or how much English they knew. After a summer with them, I learned host families are wonderful and great resources during your time abroad, so here are a few hints to help you if you’re worrying about your own host family:


Get to know them!

It’s simple in theory, but sometimes the bustle of class and activities and excursions might keep you away from your host family for a while. When you have the chance, talk to them. Ask about their history, what they’ve seen and experienced. Surprising stories might come up.

Anticipate some communication issues.

Learn or write down basic phrases you think you might need. When I was abroad, my family spoke almost no English, which worked well for me because I was in Germany to study the language. Even if you’re not there to learn to speak the language, it really helps to know how to ask where the bathroom is. Trust me.

Observe so you don’t offend.

Watching and imitating is a skill that shouldn’t be overlooked. Does your host family wear shoes inside? Do they keep things in a certain order? If you feel uncomfortable asking directly what’s polite and what’s not, watch. It’s better to learn along the way than to never learn at all.

Show your gratitude.

Give them a small gift before you leave, or do something to show how thankful you are for all they’ve done for you. They give you a space in their home, and knowing that you appreciate it would mean a lot to them.

Take pictures with them.

Whether you’re with a younger family and kids or an older couple, be sure to take at least a few photos. It might not cross your mind while you’re with them, but you’ll want something to bring home and keep once your program comes to an end.

Keep in touch.

It’s easy to forget to send a letter or an email once you’re away, but your host family would like to know how you’re doing. Even sending a quick postcard would be a good way to catch up and let them know you still think about them and all they did for you while you stayed with them.

While meeting your host family might still make you a bit anxious, they’re there to help and introduce you to a new community and culture. Make the most of it while you can, especially since you don’t know if you’ll be able to come back and see them anytime soon.


Sarah Warren is a junior at the University of Kentucky majoring in German. This semester, she is interning as an Education Abroad Peer Ambassador.