You might wonder why homestays are such an important part of many of our study abroad programs. The reason is simple but powerful – living with a culture is one of the most immersive, intimate, and authentic ways to learn about a culture.
Sharing your everyday life with a host family will likely teach you as much about yourself, your community, and culture as it teaches you about theirs. That’s why it’s called exchange: it works both ways.
By sharing your life with a host family, you’ll get to see it anew through their eyes. What may seem obvious or normal to you, may be baffling or odd to them. These differences in perspective are wonderful examples of how cultures tacitly inform how we think, feel, communicate, and act.
While misunderstandings can occur, with the help of AFS, these contrasts tend to stimulate delightful realizations of the value of diversity. By living with a host family, you’ll help yourself and them develop greater empathy, intercultural awareness, and adaptability. You’ll become mutual friends of peace. You’ll become family.
What it’s like
With over 150 programs in 45+ countries, AFS is committed to providing you with an authentic international exchange experience. You can live with a host family for varying lengths of time—from a full year to 1-3 weeks! Many AFS Returnees come back from their trips feeling as though they’ve gained not only a fresh perspective on their lives, but a second family abroad. Immersing yourself in a new culture can breathe new air into your life back home!
Living with a host family abroad provides a home base from which you can safely explore an unfamiliar place and culture. While host families are likely to have different rules and expectations than you have at home in the U.S., these are examples of culture at work! Becoming conscious of the implicit norms and ways of doing things we take for granted are part of the importance of intercultural exchange.
While you may go on weekend trips with your host family or tours of their city, you may find that your most cherished memories abroad will be the little things: sharing meals together, talking about your day, or playing board games. What matters most to many exchange students is forming interpersonal connections as meaningful as the ones with your natural family!
Getting used to the small differences can be an adjustment. For instance, U.S. students who study abroad in Costa Rica may be thrown by their host families sitting down to dinner as late as 9 PM! Exchange students need to manage their expectations when living with a host family. It’s not so much a comparison of their lives abroad versus their lives in the U.S., but more about jumping into a new way of life with enthusiasm and openness.
Do host families grant their exchange students a lot of freedom?
Each host family is different. Upon arriving, it will be important to have an open conversation with your host family to discuss expectations. Open dialogues are great for setting boundaries and communicating with your host family what you’re most comfortable with!
Is it hard to adjust to the language?
It’s always helpful for students to go abroad with some basic language skills. Many students are given Rosetta Stone before their departure to prepare. However, the longer you live with a host family, the more your language skills will skyrocket!
Can you choose the region in which you’ll live or the type of family?
No, students cannot typically choose which regions they will be placed. In addition, AFS families come in all shapes and sizes.
“Having me stay with a host family was the most beneficial part that AFS added to the experience.”—Heather C., China
What we do to support you
Beyond carefully matching you with your host family, AFS has a support network poised to guide you through the natural ups and downs of the homestay experience:
Each host family and student are assigned a local volunteer liaison: Liaisons communicate with you and your student individually at least once a month. If a conflict is identified by your family or student, your liaison is the first line of support to resolve the issue.
AFS staff are on call: AFS Staff facilitate communication with partner countries about any concerns or questions that require the input of the natural family while a hosted student is on program. In most cases, your liaison is best suited to deal with issues directly.
24/7 support: Should you or your student ever have an emergency, you will have access to 24/7 support through our Duty Officer system.
Orientations to prepare you and your host family: Orientations are usually scheduled at critical junctures in the cultural adjustment cycle to provide guidance and support to both you and your student.
Health and Safety for Exchange Students: Participants receive information on personal safety as part of their orientation to the AFS experience. We encourage all participants and host parents to discuss this information with each other and their liaison.
Tips and Resources: AFS guides you through what you can expect during your year with your AFS student to ensure a successful intercultural exchange.
Living with a host family has an extraordinary impact that extends beyond from your newfound home and family to your host community and beyond. It can change the way you and they see the world. Expand your horizons and family by living with a host family abroad.