Whenever I travel abroad, I seek out cultural wealth. I seek out new faces, new tastes, new challenges, new learning experiences, and new opportunities to grow. What is so great about traveling abroad is that we have the chance to stitch ourselves into the social fabric of a new community. We can discover parallels between ourselves and others and become more conscious of the interconnected nature of our world. I have found that living in a homestay offers authentic cultural immersion, bridges people from distinct backgrounds, and facilitates language learning and cultural competency.
We’ve all heard stereotypical horror stories about living with a host family– the family was rude, it was too difficult to communicate, they weren’t understanding, etc. However, this should not deter students from choosing a homestay. It is okay to feel uncomfortable around your host family– after three weeks with my family, I still occasionally find myself in awkward situations. It is important to remember that host families want to host international students and that they, just like yourself, crave the excitement in learning about new people and new cultures.
The main benefits of living in an apartment are clear: independence and freedom. Being in your own space means that you can choose the foods you eat, the way your room looks, and your schedule. You live for yourself and do not have to worry about abiding by rules established by your host family.
However, apartment-style living can be a cushion to the challenges of living abroad. An apartment allows you to essentially transplant your life from home and ignore the unfamiliarity of a new cultural context. That being said, apartments do not preclude all cultural exchange. Students from heterogeneous backgrounds can live in a shared setting and reap the benefits of interacting in a culturally diverse space.
My past study abroad experiences elucidate the benefits of living with a host family. In Havana, Cuba, from an isolated 18th floor apartment, I felt distant and removed from the animated spirit of Cuban culture. My friends– who did live with a host family– accessed deep and personal conversations and told glorified narratives of the incredible flan they ate with their family. I couldn’t help but be jealous of this. In Sevilla, Spain, despite not eating delicious flan, I was able to really get to know my host family (and their four dogs), which brought me that much closer to feeling linked to the larger presence of Spanish culture.
Apartments can be an impetus for cultural exchange; however, host families guarantee cultural immersion. In a homestay, you will be able to hone language skills, carve out lasting relationships, and internalize new perspectives. And most importantly, you will truly be able to seek out cultural wealth.
The world awaits…discover it.