Overseas study programs offer a variety of living accommodations (university housing, apartment, homestay, etc.). This post is to help you decide if a homestay, which is simply living with a local family, is a good fit for you.
Depending on where you're studying, safety may or may not be a major concern, but safety is always relative. An area deemed safe is not safe in every situation and vice versa. Since I studied in Brazil, violence is a major issue due to inequality, so safety was very significant in my case. Therefore, it's important to know that when you live with a local family, you're less likely to encounter abuse, crime, etc. because the people you're staying with are looking out for you. If you live in an apartment with roommates, there's no local there to mitigate unfavorable situations and there's no rules in place to prevent these types of unfortunate events from occurring. Fortunately, if you live in a homestay, you're less at risk of experiencing life altering or life threatening situations in your living space.
On a more positive note, there are major benefits from living in a homestay. For example, my homestay offers two meals a day. This usually translates to breakfast and dinner being provided for me. I also don't have to do my laundry. There are some homestays that have a gym or a pool.
If I find that I don't mesh well with my host family or the location isn't convenient, I can request to live in another homestay that better suits my needs and expectations. In terms of budgeting, homestays are ideal because a certain amount of your program cost is already allocated toward living expenses, so you don't have to deal with paying rent or finding a subleaser if you decide to move. Ultimately, the flexibility that homestays offer is a plus.
3. Cultural Immersion
Living in a homestay will teach you everyday valuable communication skills and potentially the language of the region. Depending on your host family's openness, you'll feel like you have a family/home away from home.
1. Strictly Business
In some cases, host families are kind and make sure that you're enjoying your stay, but they're not interested in having a close relationship with you. This is not always a negative, depending on the situation, but it can create a communication barrier. You also may notice that certain things are off limits to you, but not to your host family. For example, you may feel a little excluded because your host provides you with food that's different from what they eat. Or maybe you have to ask your host in advance to wash your clothes, and there's a great possibility that you may be told to do it another day because they want to wash their clothes. This particular con can make you feel like you and your hosts are strangers to one another, or you may enjoy that your homestay is strictly a place to eat and sleep.
2. Restricted to you only
For my program, you're not allowed to have guests at your homestay unless your host approves. As a college student, this can be disappointing. You're used to freedom and doing what you want when you want in your own space. However, homestays limit this freedom. Since it's not technically your space, you're expected to keep your room fairly tidy, no alcohol consumption is allowed, and having guests over is likely to be a rare occasion. Typically, your homestay is a space for only you and not your friends or your significant other.
3. Am I getting my money's worth?
One of the best parts about studying abroad is that you can travel. I believe traveling is one of the aspects that makes the experience worthwhile. I usually traveled 1-2 times per month. Some people prefer to travel nearly every weekend. In this case, you're going to miss many meals that you've already paid to receive. Unfortunately, you're not likely to get that money back, so depending on how money conscious you are, this could be a major downfall of living in a homestay.
Sharing is Caring?
When you live in a homestay, you have to be prepared to be humble. Someone is opening their home to you. If you are discomforted by the rules and the lack of freedom, remember that they are just as discomforted from inviting a stranger into their household. Regardless of the relationship you develop with your host, I encourage you to remain open-minded because your living space is such a small portion of your study abroad experience.
Sometimes you just don't like the food your host cooks. Sometimes your host tidies up things that you already had the way you wanted them to be. Sometimes you just want to cook for yourself instead of someone always cooking for you. I could go on and on about preferences in lifestyle that matter to each of us, but the reality is that it's different for everyone and in the grand scheme of things it's an easy challenge to overcome. Not a fan of your host's cooking? Remind yourself that you should be grateful that you have food to eat on a daily basis. Is your host tidying up after you? Politely ask them to stop. Interested in using your host's kitchen on a regular basis? Again, just ask. These inconveniences will turn out to be minuscule in comparison to your overall experience.
IN THE END...
Living in a homestay has its advantages, disadvantages, and some unfavorable in-between areas, but it's sure to be an experience that will help you grow. The ultimate goal is to learn how to navigate unfamiliar situations and living in a homestay is a rewarding way to do so.
Thanks for reading! Até próxima vez, minhas pessoas lindas, keep life sweet and never stop feeding your soul. -xo