Study Abroad Housing: Is One Better Than the Other?

by Suzanne Bhagan

If you’ve already decided to study abroad, one thing you need to seriously consider is: where the heck am I going to live? Believe it or not, study abroad housing can make or break your experience in a big way. Before you move abroad, ask yourself: what do you want to do while living there? Do you want to learn the local language? Do you want to make friends from all over the world? Do you prefer a private space where you can hit the books hard? 

So, what are your options? Traditional options include living in residence halls on or off campus, renting a private apartment off campus, or participating in a study abroad homestay. Here are the pros and cons of student housing abroad you can consider. 

Dormitory

DORM LIFE ABROAD: THE PROS AND CONS

For many study abroad students, dorm life is where it’s at. It’s the place where you’ll meet your BF for life, or it can become your worst student housing abroad nightmare. Many universities abroad offer residence halls on or off campus. Here are some of the pros and cons of living in a dorm abroad.

The Pros

Living in a dorm has many advantages. First, it’s convenient. Who doesn’t want to live within walking distance of lecture halls and classrooms? Not only that, the library’s usually a hop and skip away, perfect for those all-night study sessions when it gets too loud in the dorm. Laptop stopped working? No worries! There’s always a computer lab or two on campus you can count on. 

Another advantage of dorm life is that it’s sometimes cheaper than living off campus. Generally, the cost of renting a dorm room usually includes utilities so you don’t have to worry about the hassle of paying separate bills. Plus, you don’t even have to think about transport costs. No bus, train, or car for you!

If you’re a social butterfly, dorm life is a sweet deal. Living in a residence hall is right up your alley as there’s always someone to chat with, with shared rooms, kitchens, and laundromats being the norm. Also, if you live on campus, it’s so much easier to get involved in your university’s sports teams, cultural clubs, charities, and other social groups. 

The Cons

Student housing in a dorm sounds like a great option for socialites but what about those pesky dorm rules? For example, some halls may not let you have visitors stay overnight. Others may ask you to shut it down after midnight so you don’t annoy other residents who are trying to study or catch some z’s. 

Also, when you share a space with others, day in and day out, it can sometimes get annoying. Who gets the top shelf in the fridge? What about sneaky roommates who steal your food? If you like the solitude of the bathroom, waiting around before you can use one can be a deal breaker. Also nobody likes to empty someone else’s freshly washed laundry just to snag a free dryer or washing machine. In these ways, living in a dorm can be downright inconvenient.

Apartments

STUDY ABROAD APARTMENTS: THE PROS AND THE CONS

If you prefer more quiet time, living in your own apartment in a foreign country may sound like the life you’re dreaming about. Here are some pros and cons of renting a private apartment while you’re at university abroad.

The Pros

If you’re more of an independent guy or gal, why not move into a private apartment off campus? It’s bound to be quieter and less cramped than dorm quarters, especially if you choose to live alone. Living in a private apartment is also great if you value your alone time and like to study solo. And even if living abroad alone is too expensive or scares the living daylights out of you, you can always look around for cool roommates to help cut costs. 

Living on your own in a private apartment is also a great way to immerse yourself in the local community. Instead of limiting your social life to the university bubble, you’re more likely to meet a host of interesting people who aren’t just students. Living off campus also means you get to discover hidden gems in your neighborhood, like a great local restaurant you can recommend to your uni friends. If you’re in a non-English speaking country, living in the community is also a great way to meet the locals and learn your host country's language while studying abroad.

Renting a private apartment also means learning to manage your time. Unlike dormers, you don’t have the luxury of rolling out of bed and rushing to class with less than a minute to spare. Instead, you have to think about more important things, like traffic at rush hour. Living off campus is like diving into the deep end of the pool. Unlike the pampered folks on campus, you’ll quickly learn how to live like an adult in the real world, which will help you easily transition into life after university. 

The Cons

Living on your own in a private apartment for study abroad housing means that you have to do all the chores, like taking out the trash, cleaning the gunk in the bathroom, and cooking your own meals. It also means you have to seriously budget for bills like water, electricity, internet, and gas. Unlike students on campus, time is a luxury you can’t afford to waste and if you’re not careful, traveling back and forth can wear you out and eat a lot of your study time.

Houses

HOMESTAYS ABROAD: THE PROS AND CONS

One of the many study abroad housing options you may not be considering (but should be) is doing a study abroad homestay! 

The Pros

Living with a host family abroad is an option you should seriously consider if you want the total language immersion experience. It’s the best way to force yourself to interact in the local language and to learn about local customs and culture. It’s also the perfect way to get a firsthand view of what daily life is really like in that particular country. Your host family is also the best resource to find out what goes on in your area like local events or where to buy the freshest food. 

One other thing that is great about homestays is that they promise the “home away from home” experience. You’re unlikely to get as homesick if your host family welcomes you into their home with open arms, shares home-cooked meals with you, and takes you around to show you the sights. You also have the perfect opportunity to share your culture with your host family, like playing your favorite tunes for them or treating them to a meal you grew up eating.

Did we mention the home cooked meals from your new mama every night? Because she’ll definitely make sure you’re well-fed while abroad. :)

The Cons

Despite the pros, living in a homestay also means losing some degree of your independence. You’ll be sharing a space that’s not really yours, so you’ll have to consider your host family’s house rules about cleaning up, using stuff in the kitchen, etc. Your homestay parents might worry about your whereabouts and ask for general awareness of your location. Sometimes your homestay mother or father won’t go to bed until they know you’re home safe at night; while sweet, it can inadvertently cramp your social life, too.

If you’re living with a host family, you’re likely to be living away from campus which means that you won’t make as many friends as you would in a dorm or enjoy the campus nightlife as often. You might end up feeling a little isolated from your friends; but if you keep your goals in mind (total immersion, making the most of your semester, and not taking the “easy” way out), you’ll be more than satisfied with your decision in the end. 

Wrap it up!

Once you’ve decided to study abroad, be sure to narrow down your goals for your time abroad and take these into consideration as you're choosing student housing. When researching programs, look at their student accommodation abroad options. Study abroad homestay or apartment? Can they help you make some of your aspirations come true?

Also, don’t think that dorms and private apartments are your only living options. Some students go the extra mile and make the most of a homestay abroad or choose to stay in a hostel while studying abroad. All in all, whether you choose to kick it in a residence hall or rent a private apartment, remember it’s how you use your time abroad that counts so make it worth your while!