During my education abroad program, I lived in a student apartment most of the year, but we had a homestay weekend that really made me grasp things about the culture in my host country that I would not have experienced otherwise. Also, over winter break and for a couple of weeks after my program ended, I stayed with my Irish housemate and her family so I was able to see what it was like to be an Irish family. Here are some of the benefits that come with choosing a program that includes a homestay, whether it is for the entire program length, or a few days:
- Learning customs: Anywhere you go abroad, there will be customs that people practice that will be different from your own. By living with a host family, you are able to observe these firsthand and to adopt them yourself to really immerse yourself in this new culture.
- Picking up the language: Whether you are in an English speaking or non-English speaking culture, you will pick up a lot of new phrases and ways of speaking by hearing the way your host family interacts. Since I was in Ireland, an English speaking country, I mostly picked up on common phrases and slang that helped me to better understand others throughout my whole time abroad. For those staying with a family who speaks another language, new words will be picked up and language skills will quickly improve through communication with the family.
- Living like a local: Living with a host family makes it easy to experience what it is like to live like a local. You have the opportunity to see where they like to go, what they like to do, and how they do those things.You may go grocery shopping or out to dinner with your family. You may watch local TV shows or native sports with them that give you a feel for their culture. In Ireland, rugby and Gaelic football are huge aspects of their culture so I enjoyed watching matches with the family and seeing the passion they have for the game.
- Sharing cultural information: A great way to learn more about your host family’s culture is to ask as many questions as you can. Usually people enjoy teaching others about the way they live in their country. It’s also a great way to compare and contrast your own customs with theirs in order to gain better appreciation and understanding of both. Both of the families I stayed with often asked me about life in America and seemed to greatly enjoy the exchange of information we had.
- Trying traditional meals: Having a home cooked meal is sometimes a luxury abroad, and being able to try new foods cooked by your host family can be very exciting. You are able to try dishes prepared in traditional ways so you can really appreciate the authenticity of the meals. I enjoyed trying new foods and I have to say that I especially miss the wonderful Shepherd’s Pie that was prepared for me! Also mealtime customs vary in different countries so it is interesting to see how things work with your family.
- Visiting new places: Staying with a family who knows their way around the region is very beneficial, because they often know of places that non-locals may not know of. Because of this, you might be able to go with them to sites, towns, or shops you may not have gone to otherwise. For example, my housemate’s family took me to local restaurants and to nearby cities I would not have explored if they hadn’t chosen to take me there.
- Gaining a second family: When you live with a host family, you often feel a sense of belonging and like you have a lot of support, which you may not feel as much if you were not staying with one. You quickly form strong bonds and learn a lot from living with each other. You become like a part of the family and you gain family members that you never imagined you would have. Personally, I was abroad during Christmas, so I was able to go to a huge Christmas dinner with my housemate and her entire family. I was welcomed with open arms and it made me feel less down about being away from my family at home. If you become very close with the family you stay with as I did, you may feel like you have a second family whom you can visit whenever you return.
Photo courtesy of Danielle Beam.
Danielle Beam is a junior at the University of Kentucky studying Psychology. Danielle participated in the Celtic Blue program at Arcadia University and National University of Ireland Galway during the 2014-2015 academic year.