Last Updated on June 21, 2019 by Maya Duncan-White
Staying with a host family will certainly increase the value of your time abroad. Here is the lowdown on my experience living in a homestay in Salamanca, Spain:
- Consistent practice using the language. Your host family is essentially a live-in tutor. Over every meal, you will get practical vocabulary and conversation practice. They will correct your frequent mistakes until they become much less frequent. If you need help with homework, they are happy to assist.
- Patience and understanding. The host families I stayed with were both very patient and understanding. They slowed their speaking, and made sure that I understood them when they were telling important details.
- No need to cook! It is all taken care of for you. By AIFS policy, you aren’t even allowed to make your own food in a homestay. This helps with time management, since you don’t need to spend time shopping for and cooking all of your meals. It gives way to a structured routine, too, if you want it to. I have gotten very accustomed to my schedule, timed around meals. This helps with being productive and having extra time to explore the city. Also, as long as you let your host family know that you are going out of town, or will be missing dinner, they will make you sandwiches to go!
- Exploring the city. Your host family lives in Salamanca, and most likely has for their entire life. They will know the best places to visit, which restaurants serve quality traditional food, and which areas aren’t safe to go to in the city. If you need advice, they are happy to offer it. You have an abroad family. When you stay with a family, they look out for you. You eat every meal with them and get to know them well. There’s a level of trust—they give you the keys to their home. You have a responsibility to be respectful and engage in conversation.
- You don’t need to do your own laundry. They will wash, dry, and fold it for you! This may be different depending on where and with whom you stay, but both host families I was placed with did the laundry for me—no need to find a laundromat.
- You must keep the noise down. If you come back late in the night, you have to be quiet coming in. Of course, this is dependent on the family you are with and their sleep schedule, but its respectful not to play loud music when others are home, and not to take a shower at 4am. If you stay on your own or just with other students, it will most likely be more lax, but you still need to respect your roommates and neighbors in the building.
- Usually only one bathroom for everyone in the apartment to share. Again, just be respectful. You can’t take 30-minute showers or blow-dry your hair for an hour. You’ll have mirrors and outlet plugs in your bedroom to take care of makeup and hair, if you choose to. Sharing a bathroom is also a con when multiple people need to shower at a given time. If you wake up with just enough time to shower and get ready, but someone else gets to the shower first, you may need to rethink your routine.
Honestly, it is difficult to think of cons, because I have enjoyed my time in a homestay. I was placed with two other students, my roommate from university in the United States and another student in my program. Together, we made sense of the rapid Spanish being spoken to us, and worked together to share information about ourselves and our plans for the summer.
The most important responsibility you have concerning your homestay is effectively communicating with your host family. They need to know where you are going and how long you will be there, so that they can prepare your meals accordingly. Always remember to tell your host mom when you will be missing a meal, or she may be extremely angry—and rightfully so. Just remember to be gracious.
My situation was unique in that my roommates and I had to switch host families during our stay in Spain. Our first homestay was lovely, an abuela and abuelo and their grandson lived in the home. She cooked extremely well and cared for us. One week into our stay, however, she developed a health issue and could no longer care for us, so we moved across town to another homestay. The largest issue was reacquainting ourselves with the city and with our new familia.
After a few days, we were moved in and comfortable again. Both families that we stayed with were absolutely perfect and extremely generous. Putting in effort and actively communicating makes all the difference, because once the language barrier gets knocked down a bit, you can get to know your family and start to truly experience the culture and the company.
This post was contributed by Maya Duncan-White, who studied abroad with AIFS in Salamanca, Spain in summer of 2016.