Deciding to study abroad is one of the most beneficial things you can do to enhance your CV and expand your perspectives on the world.
On its own, international study does wonders for proving your independence and adaptability, but when combined with a host family stay (as opposed to renting your own place, or living in student accommodation), placements have twice the personal value:
offering a completely rounded cultural immersion experience.
So once you know where you want to study (and if you’re lucky enough to be able to select your hosts), how should you choose the right host family for you?
Point to consider which may sway or influence your decision include:
Geography – To avoid huge transportation and commuting costs, your first concern should be finding a family close to where you’ll be studying and socialising.
Find out if your potential hosts are rural or urban (and if this affects you at all). If you will be studying in the city, will you be able to stay with city hosts?
Or will you have to stay with a suburban family and commute? If so, can your family help you with your daily transportation?
Religion – Ask yourself if religion matters to you. If you hold a strong faith, are your hosts tolerant of it?
You should equally be aware of your host family’s faith; if they are very religious, would you be comfortable conforming to their terms?
Family dynamics - Will other students be living with you and your hosts? Do you get your own room? Does the family you plan to live with have children or pets, and is that OK?
If you have animal allergies or phobias this may be an issue for you. Equally, if you plan to stay with a large family with younger children, find out if this will affect your study or your social life – you may need to conform to family routines and curfews.
- Language – Do you speak your host’s language? Do they speak yours?
If you’re studying abroad, you’re likely to need to learn the local language, and if so, home stay placements are the best way to brush up on your everyday skills, practice your pronunciation and get a good ‘real’ colloquial use of phrases!
Diet – If you have specific dietary requirements, are vegetarian, or have allergies, be sure your hosts can, and are willing to accommodate.
Know which meals you will be provided with (if any), and find out if you will be expected to contribute to meals/ food budgets in any way.
Lifestyle – If you’re quite a liberal person, consider that living with a conservative family might be difficult for the both of you, and vice versa.
Consider lifestyle issues such as sexual habits, smoking and drinking, assess your usual routines and consider your, and your host family’s preferences to these choices.
For example, would you happy for your hosts to smoke and drink? In some countries such as Denmark, you may find that smoking is a more common part of everyday life than you are used to.
- Study itself – Lastly, remember your base purpose is to study! So before you choose, make sure you’ve selected an environment conducive to your work.
Official exchange families will have been screened to ensure they meet certain standards, but it’s worth finding out additional details. For example; will you need/ does your family have internet, and if not, can you access it elsewhere?
Families in places such as South America may have limited home internet access, but internet cafés, and your place of study will usually be reliable points of access.
Don’t be afraid to interview potential hosts!
All of the above can be determined through good correspondence – so don’t be afraid to talk through your issues and requirements with a number of families.
As you’ll be with your hosts for a few months at least, you should treat the decisions process a little like an interview – speak to families (on the phone, or by Skype) to decide who’s right for you – and pay attention to your gut feeling!
Don’t just pick the first hosts you come across
Your living experience will shape a huge part of your student exchange, so it’s important you know what you want to get out of your experience and match your hosts to suit.
With an often overwhelming number of choices available, the temptation to accept the first family you find can be overwhelming, but take your time, and remember that it’s a two way process.
Your family must be equally as happy and trusting with you as you are with them – they are letting a complete stranger into their homes and lives after all!
Check all of this and you should get along fine with the family you eventually pick. But if there are issues, remember – your exchange programme will offer support if you need help or advice.
Good luck, and happy host hunting!
Alastair Kane is a freelance writer and travel blogger. He provided this aricle on behalf of Ceran a language school which offers intensive English courses amongst its many language courses.