Written by Andrew Bainton, (Vanderbilt University) Student Correspondent CET Siena Spring 2019
Let’s not beat around the bush here: studying abroad is hard. It’s a huge change to be in a place where everything is foreign, and the displacement from the comfort of longtime friends and family often results in feelings of loneliness. There aren’t many similarities between life abroad and life at home. Places, people and food are different. So how does one find home away from home?
As redundant as this sounds, I found home in my homestay. I can explain this best through the example of Thanksgiving break for college students in the U.S. As fun as school may be, it can also be very taxing, with loads of work, extracurriculars, not to mention having to do all of your own domestic chores such as laundry, cooking, and cleaning. The build-up of stress combined with the lack of sleep brought on by all of these responsibilities is what makes Thanksgiving break so great. It’s a time dedicated to total relaxation and recovery. Where better to spend that time than at home, and who better to spend it with than your family?
Being abroad can cause a similar build-up of negative energy for its own reasons, including struggling to learn a new language, trying to grapple with new cultural norms, and temporary separation from loved ones. While being abroad is full of amazing new experiences and people, making these changes can be stressful and difficult. That’s why I think the homestay is so important.
Having a family and home to fall back on when the world seems like too much is an incredibly comforting feeling. Despite the drastic changes of going abroad, the much-needed safe place (similar to that of home on Thanksgiving break) can be found in the homestay. Not only does my host mother care for me by doing many domestic tasks that would otherwise add stress to my life, she also cares about me, always asking me how things are going and giving me advice on how to make the most of my experience.
Now to be clear, I don’t mean to say negative things about being abroad to scare anyone. And furthermore, I’m not saying that your experience will be bad if you opt out of a homestay. Studying abroad is one of the most positive experiences a college student can have. It promotes a greater understanding of foreign cultures, inspires personal growth, and is just downright fun. And this holds true no matter what your living arrangements are while abroad.
My only goal out of writing this post is to highlight some of the not-so-obvious benefits of the homestay that I have noticed in my time here, in the hope of helping future abroad students. The obvious benefits are: accelerating foreign language apprehension, having homecooked meals every night, and never having to worry about domestic chores, allowing for more time to explore and indulge in one’s experience.
But I would like to urge each future student also to consider the familial bonds that can be formed after several months of dinner-table chats, and the feeling of having a “home” to return to after a long day at school. It might not be for everyone, but for me, it’s made a world of difference in my experience, and I’m forever grateful to my host family for shaping my experience in the way that they have.