To homestay or not to homestay? That really is the question. I was talking with my Resident Director here in Salamanca and she brought up that this year was the first year that she had seen such high numbers of students living in apartments instead of homestays. She mentioned that she was surprised because normally there are only a handful of students who choose to stay in an apartment for dietary reasons, but other than that most students choose a homestay. We discussed what a disservice it is to not immerse yourself if you’re truly trying to understand the culture and the language. So I’m going to tell you a little bit about my homestay experience in order to allow you to decide if it’s right for you.
At home in the United States, we live in a very independent society. Being able to live on your own, in an apartment with roommates, and cook and clean for yourself is seen as a sign of maturity and development into adulthood. But I don’t think the point of studying abroad is to be independent, at least not in that way; it’s to experience another culture and fully immerse yourself in the customs. If you’re staying in an apartment, it may be possible to do those things, but it will be incredibly difficult and will take a lot of time and effort on your part.
I really can’t stress enough how wonderful and beneficial it is to stay in a homestay with a host family.
Living in Salamanca for the past month has been fantastic and beautiful, and I can’t wait to experience the next three months here, but that is mostly because of how much I love living with my señora. My señora’s name is Rosa and she is amazing. She has had foreign students living with her for almost 30 years and she truly understands what types of highs and lows we go through as strangers in a foreign land. She’s patient, she’s kind, she’s incredibly helpful with my Spanish, and I swear she’s one of the best cooks I’ve ever met.
I came to Spain for two reasons: I’m a Spanish major and wanted to improve my accent and Spanish speaking abilities, and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to live abroad before I start my career and the prospect of living abroad becomes more complicated.
It’s amazing how much my Spanish has already started to improve while I’ve been here, and I can guarantee you that it’s because of living in a homestay.
In my classes I listen to lectures and sometimes am asked to discuss ideas, but for the most part I’m not spending my time speaking and practicing Spanish. 90% of my speaking is done in the home with my señora. We talk about everything from her children and my family, to celebrities and movies, to politics and religion. There are endless topics for us to discuss when we’re outside of the confines of what we’re learning in a classroom, and homestays allow you to learn how to talk about them in a safe space where you don’t feel embarrassed to make a mistake. I may learn grammar in my classroom, but I’m more likely to learn conversation skills, and popular vocabulary and sayings at home.
Did I mention that homestays include food? Delicious, delicious food. Picture this: you’re in a new culture, you don’t know where things are in the grocery store and don’t know the language well enough to ask or know if they even have the food that you’re looking for in this country. Then, with your already busy schedule you have to make time for the shopping, the preparing of the food, and the cleaning up. Plus you’re only making food that you know from home because you don’t know recipes from this new country, and even then it’s more confusing because you have to figure out how to alter the amounts because the metric system and temperatures are different.
But, if you’re in a homestay, you get to have delicious prepared meals that reflect the culture where you’re living and all you have to do is follow the schedule of your señora.
Here in Spain the schedule is a little wonky. The big meal of the day is lunch, but it’s not until 2:30pm, and we have a smaller dinner around 9:30 or 10:00pm. So while I normally do love to cook while I’m at home, I love not having to factor the extra time into my schedule; I just know what time I need to be home for lunch or dinner and I make sure I’m sitting at that table with a smile on my face. Have I mentioned how delicious the food is? Because it really is. Completely amazing.
I understand what a big decision it is to choose between living with a host family or living in an apartment, but I really truly encourage you to try the homestay life. Because really, what’s the point of living in another culture if you’re not going to dive in and truly embrace it?
This post was contributed by Chelsea Lightfoot, who is spending the semester studying abroad with AIFS in Salamanca, Spain.