To Homestay or Not to Homestay

Posted on October 5, 2011


Should I stay with a local family or get an apartment with friends? This is the question on the minds of many soon-to-be international students as they plan their semester abroad. This article reveals the pros and cons of home-stays versus private apartments in order to help you make the best decision about your own study abroad living situation.

By Peter Langlois

Living with a local family is a completely different experience than living in a private apartment with friends; each option has its pros and cons. For any student heading abroad, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each kind of living experience.

Here are the benefits of living with a local family:

  • Cultural Immersion: There’s no better way to get beneath the skin of the culture than eating, sleeping and spending time with your family. You can observe cultural differences that you might otherwise miss — and you can ask questions about cultural differences you might otherwise never pick up on.
  • Language: Your grasp of the local language will improve drastically in a single semester, especially if there are younger children to practice with. If you make a habit out of not speaking any English, and practicing the local language with your host family, you’ll pick up new vocabulary words faster and feel more comfortable using the new language with strangers.
  • Local Connections: Your family will know everything about the city, ensuring insider advice about local events, activities, clubs, hang-outs, etc.
  • Friendships: Many families have kids your age who will happily connect you with the local scene.
  • Food: There’s nothing better than nightly home home-cooked meals, which also save you some dough.

If you stay in an apartment with friends, you won’t get the same incredible cultural experience. You’ll speak less of the local language and won’t ready access to insider knowledge of the city. Plus you’ll probably meet fewer local people and won’t enjoy the obvious benefits of amazing home-cooked food (unless you learn how to do the cooking).

Of course, when you live with a family, there are also drawbacks, which include the following:

  • Less free time: Your family will want to spend time with you, so expect less time on your own.
  • Less privacy: When you live in a house with a family, it’s not quite the same as having your own private pad. There are usually parents and kids around.
  • Anxiety and discomfort: You will certainly have different beliefs and living habits than your family. This may cause anxiety or discomfort, but it also represents a great learning experience.
  • Rules: Don’t expect to throw raging parties or leave your dirty socks on the kitchen floor. You’ll have to adjust to your family’s rules and standards.
  • Limited social life: Once again, you may not be able to host friends at your home whenever you please. Get used to the European way of meeting friends at cafes, restaurants and bars instead of staying in the living room.

If you have your own apartment, you can live by your own rules. No one will be around to watch over or restrict you. Furthermore, because you’ll probably live with people of the same nationality with similar living standards and beliefs, you won’t encounter many awkward or uncomfortable moments.

In the end, your decision depends on what type kind of experience you want. Are you unwilling to sacrifice your personal freedom, social life, and comfort? In this case, get an apartment, but recognize you may fall into recreating the lifestyle you have back home.

If you want to perfect your knowledge of the language and enmesh yourself in the local culture (and don’t mind the potential restrictions and discomforts of family life), then a home stay is the right choice for you. Either way, you’ll have an amazing time abroad!

More on the pros and cons of home-stays:

Posted in: Other