5 tips for surviving a difficult homestay transition

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As seen in USA TODAY College:

5 tips for surviving a difficult homestay transition

By McKenzie Powell, Ohio University August 19, 2015 3:42 pm

A fter having spent a year or two in college and away from the constant surveillance of your overprotective parents, it may seem daunting to know that your upcoming study abroad program is placing you in a homestay — a housing option presented to may study abroad students that allows them to live in the home of a local family.

Although it may seem like all of your independence is about to be taken away from you in one fell swoop, try to enter the living situation with an open mind before passing judgments or making assumptions. remember the positives of living with a host family: cultural and linguistic immersion.

“I think it is one on the best ways to complete an immersion program. If the student is well integrated into the family, a homestay could be excellent to improve language abilities — especially day-to-day language that we do not necessarily find in books,” says Gamo Mbow Tounkara, resident coordinator for the Council on International Educational Exchange’s study abroad programs in Dakar, Senegal.

If you have been living abroad with a host family for a little while now and just can’t seem to get things right, here are five tips for surviving a difficult homestay transition:


First, try and assess the situation. Does the entire family seem distant, or just certain individuals like the parents? Are you often staying in your room or leaving the house to avoid the living situation or are you actively trying to spend time with your host family?

In the beginning, your family may try and give you some space to get adjusted to your new life abroad. If, once you have adjusted, it seems that particular people still just don’t seem very interested in you, or you are still being secluded in specific situations, contemplate certain cultural influences and differences as these could be major factors. More often than not, what may seem negative to us — like being sent to a different room to eat on your own — was actually intended to be a positive, kind gesture.

Go into each new day with a positive, open mind and keep trying to integrate into the family, even if it still seems like you just can’t fit in. Don’t avoid your family out of fear or misunderstanding. Instead, start mingling with the children and work your way up. Ask questions, participate in family activities, offer to help clean and continue to show your genuine interest and desire to become a part of the family.


One of the most frightening aspects of living with another family in a foreign country is the fact that they are probably speaking a different language than you, perhaps one that you have only been able to practice in the comfort of your own home university with other beginners.

“If language is the only barrier, I think that it’s not a problem at all. I would just advise them to relax, not worry about making mistakes and be accepting to learn the language from the family,” Tounkara says.

While it may be terrifying at first, this is also one of the greatest benefits of living with a host family, as it allows you to dive head first into cultural and linguistic immersion. If you are having a difficult time keeping up with conversation during dinner or answering questions while hanging out with your family, start carrying a dictionary with you to look up any forgotten or unfamiliar words. This is nothing to be ashamed of and can work wonders in getting to know your family on more than just a “how was your day” basis.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask any children in the family for their help in teaching you key phrases, slang words or just general words you have never learned. They will more than likely love teaching the older, new kid in their family how to say things and it will also allow for some great bonding time with your little siblings. If you are really struggling, take these new words and phrases that you have learned and write them down a few times every night before bed to really start retaining and memorizing your vocab.


Keep a journal to use as an outlet for any thoughts, experiences or homesickness. Between moving to a new country, adapting to different societal and cultural norms and living in a brand-new, unfamiliar household there is no doubt that you are probably feeling a multitude of dissimilar emotions.

Collect your thoughts and reflect on everything you’re feeling through daily journal entries. This can help you sort out your differing sentiments and see things for what they really are, while also allowing you to reflect on hard times, good times and the times ahead. These written reflections will also be great for the future when you wish to look back on your experience and indulge in all the amazing memories you oh so wish you could relive.


You must keep in mind one major rule: Don’t compare your homestay family to your family back home OR to other students’ host families. This is a new culture, a new environment, a different way of life and a different family than your own. You will find similarities between your homestay family and your real family, as well as differences, all of which make your stay beautiful in its own way.

Other students on your program will also be undergoing completely unalike living situations and family dynamics. In the end, all your homestays will be unique in their own way, resulting in special benefits, memories and experiences. This is a time for learning, development and eye-opening experiences, so what fun would it be if all families were identical or alike your family back home?


If all else seems to fail, ask the resident coordinator of your program for advice on how to deal with your particular situation.

“Homestay is a two way street. The student should be making efforts, it is true, but the family should also be able to go out of its way to assist the student,” Tounkara says.

Your resident coordinator is there to make you feel safe, make sure all your needs are met and, most importantly, make sure that you are having a happy, beneficial learning experience and time abroad. If worst comes to worse and it seems that you have run out of all options, perhaps you can switch families and give it another go.


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    Most host programs will give you the option to include meals in your homestay. I recommend joining your family for at least one meal each day, both to enjoy home-made local cuisine and to enjoy the conversations that meals inspire.

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