Living with Strangers: Homestays 101

by GoAbroad Writing Team

For those that want the highest level of cultural and language immersion while studying abroad, homestays are the cherry on top of what will soon turn to be more beneficial and tasty than the rest of the sundae. Living with a host family is a great way to be immersed in a new culture, make meaningful connections abroad, and to learn more about yourself in the process.

While living with locals is a great opportunity to pick up on the local lifestyle, it can also be a little intimidating. Like in any relationship, some days go better than others. There might be cultural differences, conflicting perspectives, and language barriers, but that’s alright; these are all part of the homestay experience.

Small wrapped gift with blue and white stars on the wrapping paper
It’s always a good idea to give your host family a small gift to thank them for opening their home to you.

Here are a few general host family tips to help you get off on the right foot with your homestay family, and leave with an invitation to come back soon:

Bring a small present.

Good first impressions can go a long way. Considering that your new host family is opening their entire home up to you, the least you can do is bring a small present. Something characteristic of your home country or home state is always a great idea, as it can serve as a conversation starter and begin the two-way cultural exchange. Barring any potential issues at customs, bringing a favorite snack or local delicacy is always a great way to share your culture with your host fam.

Take note of how they live.

When living with a host family, be mindful of their lifestyle. Something as simple as leaving your shoes on or taking them off while inside can be seen as disrespectful, so try to mimic their customs. Your homestay family will realize that you’re new to the culture; they don’t expect you to know how to behave right away, but they do expect you to catch on. Have a conversation about general house rules to be sure you know what your homestay family expects of you and what you should expect from them during your homestay program.

Woman hanging out laundry in an apartment window in Cagliari, Italy
Follow house rules and get involved in the day-to-day of your homestay life– yes, that means doing chores.

Try new things.

One of the best ways you can show respect to your homestay family is by immersing yourself in their way of life, even if that means trying things that may seem odd to you. Try every meal that is offered to you at least once. Have them teach you how to play their favorite sport or card game. If you try something that you don’t like, be honest. Your host family wants you to enjoy your homestay program, so they won’t make you do something if you gave it a chance and didn’t like it.

Remember that you’re a guest.

Yes, ideally, your host family offers you more of a “home” than just a “house.” However, at the end of the day, remember that you are a visitor. Partake in chores, help with the meals, spend time together, and stay tidy in your homestay abroad. Even if you are used to a “closed door” policy back home, it’s common in many parts of the world to clean weekly, and this might stretch into your bedroom. Make your bed, wipe the toothpaste out of the sink, and don’t stack up cups on your desk.

Row houses in Oxford
Remember that you’re still a guest in their home— be respectful.

Follow the homestay program’s rules.

Some rules are developed by homestay programs, not your host family. But, this doesn’t mean you should break them. Program advisers work closely with host families and require families to notify them if protocol is broken. Homestay families can lose their ability to house international students if they cover for your misbehavior, so think about the situation you’ll be putting them in before breaking any rules.

Learn from them.

Learning from locals is much more beneficial and interesting than learning from a textbook. Not everyone who studies abroad is lucky enough to live with people from their host country, so take advantage of your homestay. When it comes to the language, host families make the best tutors; they’re grammar experts and love to teach phrases used by actual locals. Aside from helping you learn the language, your homestay family can also teach you a great deal about the culture of your study abroad destination, and they are also there to answer any quirky cultural questions you may have.

Stay in touch.

During your homestay program, interactions with your host family will come on a daily basis. The relationship you develop with them doesn’t have to be cut off the moment you return to your home country, so make sure you exchange information that will allow you to continue updating each other on your lives. You’ll be able to maintain a friendship and practice a language at the same time.

Family walking with picnic basket
Just like you would spend time with your parents and siblings, be sure to spend plenty of time with your host family. 

Homestays can be a tricky situation, but the long term benefits of living with a host family far outweigh those awkward first few days. You’ll learn about authentic lifestyles, share a few laughs about common misunderstandings, and make new friends in the process. With clear communication and some flexibility, homestay accommodation can become the highlight of your educational experience abroad.

Totally jazzed about homestay programs abroad? Save and compare programs side-by-side with MyGoAbroad or check out some of the top homestay programs below.

  1. Andeo International Homestays
  2. Homestay.com
  3. Nacel International
  4. AFS Intercultural Programs - USA