Tips for Adjusting to Your Host Family
By Kelsey Robinson
Living with a host family can be one of the most rewarding parts of studying abroad. The relationships you make within your new family can provide you with valuable insights into the local culture and these connections can last for many years after you return home. However, any new living environment will bring its share of challenges and homestays are no exception. The following tips are meant to ease that transition and put you on the right foot in your new home.
1) Bring a small gift- Bringing a small gift is a good way to show your appreciation to your host family and to make a strong first impression. We recommend bringing something that is specific to where you are from, like a book of postcards, a regional calendar, or a small bag of local candies. These types of gifts can serve as a good icebreaker and will give your hosts a better idea of where you are from. You do not want to bring anything too elaborate, as this might give your hosts a bad impression, and you will also want to make sure that whatever you bring will fit comfortably in your suitcase. A good rule of thumb is to bring a gift that costs less than $20.
2) Embrace language disparities- There is a chance that your host family will not speak much English and will expect to communicate with you in their native language. While this may be uncomfortable initially, especially if you have little prior exposure to the language, it will be beneficial to you in the long run. You will essentially be living with built-in language tutors. If you take the time to talk with them regularly, you should see considerable improvement in your proficiency by the time your program is over. We recommend being honest when you do not understand something and asking your family to speak slowly if you need it. Our families have hosted other students in the past and understand that you are still learning the language. They will be more than happy to repeat words for you or even write them down if you want to commit them to memory. If you are up for a little constructive criticism, you might consider asking them to correct you when you make language mistakes.
3) Keep your room clean- Even though you will have your own space in the house and will be treated as part of the family, you should still think of yourself a guest in someone else’s home. Keeping your room reasonably tidy will show your family that you respect them. It may also save you from an awkward conversation about cleaning your room. Try to observe the attitudes and behaviors of other members of the family in regards to cleaning and mimic them as best you can. If you notice that your host parents are washing their sheets every other week, you should try to do the same.
4) Ask for their advice- Your host family will be a great resource for you if you have questions about the local culture. If you are curious about something or want recommendations of things to do in your free time, don’t be afraid to ask them. They will probably be able to give you higher quality suggestions than any guidebook would.
5) Communicate your needs (without complaining)- If there is something that you need or something you do not understand, it is okay to let your host family know. Do your best to communicate these needs without placing blame or saying anything that could be perceived as offensive. For example, if there are certain types of food you do not like, you can identify these to your host parents. Try to also point out what dishes you find particularly tasty so that they do not assume that you dislike their cooking as a whole. If there is an issue with your host family that you are not sure how to approach, you should ask your program director what they feel would be appropriate. Complaining about your host family to friends and family back home will not resolve the problems, but communicating openly and respectfully with your hosts typically will.
6) Spend time with them- During your time abroad, you will be busy with classes, working at your service site, spending time with new friends, and exploring your new environment. Despite these constraints on your schedule, it is a good idea to carve out some time to spend with your new family. Sharing meals together, having conversations at the end of the day, and saying yes to invitations they extend to you can go a long way in strengthening your relationships within the family.
7) Stay in touch- Your relationship with your new family does not have to end when you leave the country. In today’s world it is much easier to maintain connections from a distance. Before you leave, ask them how you could best stay in touch. Someone in the family will likely have access to email, Facebook, or WhatsApp. Even a short message around the holidays could help you stay connected. Someday in the future you may decide to come back to the region, and when you do, your host family would probably enjoy a visit.