Perhaps the most daunting aspect of my study abroad program before I arrived in Italy was the idea of the homestay experience. I am by no means a neat person. I like to play music in the mornings and to sing in the shower. The idea of intruding on someone’s family and home scared me more than my inability to speak Italian or any study abroad horror story I had ever heard. What if I did not like my host family? What if they did not like me? What would my home be like? Would I ever feel comfortable?
The answer is yes, I am comfortable. I share a spacious apartment with two of the most wonderful people I have ever known. For me, the host family experience has been a positive one. But while I would recommend it to others, I know that the host family experience is not for everyone.
A great deal of BU’s study abroad programs involve students being housed by host families, from Italy to Ecuador to numerous others. The response to the homestay experience among the students of BU Padua is reasonably mixed with pros and cons. One of the common benefits described by those living with host families is the cultural education one receives simply by living in a home with native Italians.
“I think that in order to really study abroad, it’s necessary to do homestay, especially if you’re learning a language,” said Becca Young, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences who is studying in Padua with me.
Having to constantly practice the language you are trying to learn improves your ability exponentially. You learn a great deal from the language and habits of your host parents and siblings, which helps truly immerse you into the culture you are studying. This is one of the main goals of the study abroad experience and even helps in breaking down cultural stereotypes.
However, in living with a host family, a certain level of comfort is lost.
“I can’t just kick my shoes off at the doorway like I can at my apartment. You have to be conscientious that you’re living in someone else’s house,” said Olivia Paris- Kornilowicz, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences.
In the BU Study Abroad “Housing Guidelines and Policies,” it lists “making your bed in the morning” and “not leaving clothes or personal items on the floor” as rules to live by in the homestay household. These are not, of course, hard and fast rules in every household, but they are generally the preference. Furthermore, there are different household habits to keep in mind, such as differences in meals — Italians like to have cookies for breakfast— or in bathroom cleanliness, such as bidets and toilet brushes. While you cannot live exactly as you would in an apartment with roommates, there is undoubtedly a benefit to living with the assurance that someone is looking out for you in a vast foreign country.
“It provides you with a home away from home. You’re coming home to a family,” Paris- Kornilowicz said, and after a weeklong spring break trip across Europe, “there’s nothing like coming home to a family,” she said.
When living with or considering living with a host family, it is important to make yourself feel at home, but also to remember that you are still a guest. While this balance is difficult to maintain at first, it becomes easier with time. It is also similarly important to remember that you are living with a family for four months of life, with all its highs and its lows. This includes both the fun of a holiday or a family vacation and the sadness of family arguments or even a death in the family. The most I can say of the homestay experience is that it was not immediately easy or natural, but it has become so, and it has been worth it.