During college, I studied abroad in Spain during my junior spring semester. I knew this was a once in a lifetime experience, and therefore I should take advantage of every opportunity given to me, including living with a host family. While this was a daunting and almost scary idea—living with people I never met who didn’t speak English—I knew that I probably would never have this opportunity again. And so I checked the box in my application requesting a family homestay. Looking back, I wouldn’t ever change that decision because getting to know my host mom was one of the most meaningful parts of my time abroad. I loved her patience when I was struggling to find the right Spanish words, her Spanish dinners, the way she folded my socks, and most importantly—how warmly see welcomed me into her home. However, my Spanish mom was not the family I was originally paired with; I switched families after living in my new city for about ten days.
Signing up for a host-family is an important and vulnerable step when thinking about studying abroad. Switching families happens, and if you don’t feel like your original family is a good fit, you should look into requesting a change. In my original home-stay, it was clear that my host-mom didn’t care about whether or not I learned the language, or whether I had a more culturally authentic experience. I realized that her home was more appropriate for a student who already knew the language very well, and since I didn’t fit that bill, I explored my options. I talked it out with my program coordinator, visited other families, and eventually settled on Gemma, who was an angel on earth. I owe much of that semester’s joy and fulfillment to her.
If you’re planning on studying abroad and wondering if staying with a host-family is the right decision, I encourage you to take the risk. It is well worth it. But it’s also important to remember that you have options. If you just don’t click with your original host-family, that’s okay—you’re not stuck. Be an advocate for yourself and try to find another family who is a better fit. This is not to say that living with a host-family is always a breeze. You are still a guest in someone else’s home. You will have to and should put in the effort to get to know your new family, offer to help cook dinner and clean the dishes, and join in on any of their hobbies or customs. It will make a more memorable and enjoyable experience for you and your host-family. Don’t forget that this is your time abroad—make it count!