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The Pros and Cons of a Homestay Abroad

Volunteer Director Katie and her Mexican host family

Choosing your accommodations for an extended period abroad can be a struggle. One of the most discussed options when travelling or studying abroad is a homestay with a local family. Homestays can be a rewarding experience and present an unrivaled opportunity for genuine cultural exchange.

Living situations can range from a basic room-rental agreement to full-blown family immersion. Depending on what kind of experience you’re looking to have abroad, either side of that spectrum could either sound awesome or awful. Here are a few pros and cons of living in a homestay abroad!

The Pros of a Homestay Abroad

Cost

One of most attractive factors of homestays is the cost. Homestays can sometimes be the cheaper option because they can include meals, laundry facilities, and maybe even some light cleaning services in the cost for room and board. You may be provided with a guaranteed number of meals each day, which can save you money for extra excursions and shopping.

Cultural Immersion

By living with locals rather than other travelers, homestays can provide a more authentic cultural experience. Depending on the level of involvement that you choose to have with your host family, a homestay can present an opportunity to experience the realities of daily life in the new country. Hosts will probably cook you local fare and you have an insider invitation to events or places that most other tourists and visitors would never even know of. Moreover, your family members can be your personal tour guides and may provide you tips and advice on surviving in your new environment.

UC Berkeley student, Jade Quintero, describes the advantages she gained living with a host family: “They were super helpful in learning the culture, history and local traditions that we might not have learned otherwise. The food they provided was also a great advantage, as it was a big money-saver and often a healthier choice than what we could get at a restaurant.”

Live in a yurt in Mongolia!
Language Skills

Living in a dormitory or hostel situation with other travelers, you will inevitably encounter a concentration of English-speaking individuals. But living with a homestay will force you to use the language with native speakers in a low-stakes setting. Your adopted family can help you practice your language skills, which will definitely make exploring the city and meeting new people a less daunting task.

A Home Away from Home

Many people who travel abroad are college students or young adults and may have lived away from family for a few years before their program. However, nothing can prepare you for the type of homesickness that comes when living in a completely unfamiliar land alone.

Jade told us why she ultimately chose a homestay: “I was really nervous about living on my own in a new country. I really wanted a sense of family or just people who cared enough about me to be worried if I didn't come home one night.”

With family and friends in a distant time zone, a homestay family can serve as a great support system and can be an excellent resource in your times of need. If you allow yourself to develop relationships with your hosts, you can open yourself up to life-long friendships and connections abroad.

The Cons of a Homestay Abroad

Rules

Many times, college-age students traveling abroad will already have been living in a dormitory or apartment situation far away from the rules and regulations of their parents or guardians. Living in a homestay, you must respect the rules and expectations set by your hosts. This can include a curfew, rules about guests, checking-in, etc. Sometimes this type of environment isn’t ideal for young travelers looking to discover the world in their own ways.

UC Berkeley student Megan Dalessio studied abroad in Chile last spring and experienced living both in a homestay and later in her own apartment. She recalls, “I decided to leave my homestay. Even though I lived with a kind and helpful older woman, I felt that it was important to my overall abroad experience to have my own space and make my own way.”

Lack of Allies
Is having another set of parents restrictive?

If you opt to live in a homestay, you may find yourself isolated from other travelers, and it could feel a bit alienating being the token foreigner in your own home away from home. You could be further out from the center of your town and you might have to commute to dormitories or hostels to visit friends. Exploring your new environment with others who are in the same inexperienced boat can be both comforting and exciting, a process which can be made more difficult while living with a homestay family.

Feeling Dependent

For some people, a homestay may not be the best personal space to be 100% yourself. You can feel awkward depending on your hosts. Even though she was thankful for the hospitality of her host, Megan was a bit relieved moving into her own place while in Chile: “[It was an advantage] cooking for myself and doing my own laundry, not feeling like a burden to someone.” Although most hosts will try their best to make you feel welcome, the feeling of being a guest in someone’s home can sometimes can be difficult to overcome.

Key questions to ask before choosing:
  1. Do I want to live with other travelers like me?
  2. Is learning the language and customs of my new home important to me?
  3. Am I comfortable living in someone else’s home?
  4. Would I enjoy having a host to turn to for advice and help me around the area?
  5. Will I follow potential rules set by my host family and respect their rules during my stay?

Everyone has different needs and expectations to reflect upon when moving abroad. Remember: the decision to stay in a homestay depends on the type of experience you hope to have in your new home. Happy house hunting!

Look for homestay families for your trip.

Photos courtesy of Katie Boyer, Quinn Ryan Mattingly, and The Pocket.
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Elaine is a rhetoric major in her final semester at UC Berkeley. As an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness, with an interest in post-colonial trauma, Elaine spent last summer as a sexual health educator in rural Tanzania. She can't wait to soak in more of Tanzania and beyond when she returns to work in Africa after graduation this spring!