What It's Like to Live in a Homestay
by Christie Roberts
It’s no secret that taking the opportunity to see a foreign country can be one of the most enriching and life-changing experiences. That yearning sensation of the desire to travel constantly tugs at the strings of my heart, even shortly upon returning from my latest travels.
But I’ve finally approached a reasonable age where it makes no sense to wait around for anyone else to make travel plans; I’m young, and I can shape my own journey. And although I can’t generalize for everyone, I believe I have come across plenty of young people that share the same curiosity I have about the world.
In the past year, I’ve studied abroad and lived in three homestays. Each home I’ve lived in and family I’ve lived with was is unique in its own ways, but there are some things I’ve learned along the way that have taught me important lessons about reforming my comfort level, my respectability, and my ability to compromise and to coexist.
Countless times now, I’ve had to change my entire routine to adjust to the customs of a foreign culture. Living with another family is not always easy, but it’s certainly one of the best ways people can see through the lens of another culture. I’ve learned to open my mind, and I probably wouldn’t have learnt everything I know now, had I not made the conscious decision to roll with the punches. If you are thinking about traveling, this is something you have to do: put yourself in a can-do attitude.
If you’ve ever experienced culture shock before, you probably know how challenging it can be to cope with at times. Not all homestay families are similar, just in the same way vein all cultures differ. And culture shock can often influence your willingness to release control, especially when you live in a space that isn’t your own, or get served new foods that you haven’t tried before. Your comfort zone gets disrupted, and it may seem like almost everything is out of your own control. But it’s up to you as an individual to change this perception of control, and communicating with your host family can always relieve these feelings of discomfort.
While I was in Argentina, I was forced to learn Spanish by speaking with an elderly couple at dinner every night. After a full day of school and being out in a city I had never known before, the last thing I wanted to do was attempt to communicate with them in a foreign language. Sometimes, I would mess up so much I felt like crying, but other times, when I lifted the pressure, I could speak perfectly.
Pressure often results in frustration, so it’s important to ignore it in these situations. Just to realize that you are a different person every day, and that no day is perfect. Without immersing myself in these situations, I wouldn’t have learned the language, or built such a strong connection with the country.
You also won’t have as much control over what you eat, and if you’re very health conscious, it might be hard: If your host family cooks for you, it’s impolite to refuse or reject the food. But if they give you large portions, it’s also okay to establish that you won’t want to eat such heavy portions. The most important thing to remember is that you should figure out a routine that suits you when you move in. If it includes exercise, spacing out your meals, going on long walks, that’s ok; just establish it. In the United States, diet often controls our body image, but in another country, there may not be such a heavy importance placed on your body.
Open your arms and try to embrace a new family, a new way of life! You’ll never get the opportunity to fully enjoy and appreciate another culture if you constantly compare your values at home to with their local customs. Don’t allow yourself to criticize, and you’ll find yourself leaving with a more enriched experience than you could have ever imagined.