Becoming a foreign exchange student is full of adventures – everything is different and exciting, including your new (homestay) family. All of a sudden, you share everything with new people whom you’ve never seen before. It will take time to adjust and there might be some bumps in the road – you know, the stuff that happens when people live together. To get the most out of your time with your temporary family, check out our 12 tips – who knows, you might even be able to use some of them with your permanent family.
1. Be open and communicate
You are allergic to peanuts, don’t like seafood, and have a fear of dogs of all sizes? Tell your host family about it right away. They should know the most important facts about you from your paperwork, but some things cannot be stressed enough – especially when it comes to health issues. Plus, it’s better to discuss culinary preferences or dietary restrictions before you sit at the table and everyone is staring at you poking around in your food. (However, to be fair and polite, make sure you try everything before you say that you don’t like it.)
2. Bring a gift
Gifts are awesome and a great icebreaker. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but a little souvenir from your home country will give you some major brownie points. Plus, it will help your hosts remember what an awesome temporary family member you were.
3. Attend the family meals
Food brings people together – it’s a great social lubricant across cultures. Try to be at home for the meals and help set the table or do the dishes. Food is a fantastic way to get to know people and sitting around a dinner table is like a fun way to pick up new words and practice your conversation skills. If you know how to cook, feel free to prepare something from your home country and take the cultural exchange to the next level.
4. Respect the schedule
Even though you paid for your stay, you’re still part of a family that is not yours – respect their schedules and curfews. If the meals are at 7 p.m., make sure you are on time. If you are not home for meals or activities, let your host family know ahead of time. If you missed your bus and will be home late, tell them. Even though they are not your parents, they still worry about you, so basically just pretend that your mom is watching.
5. Accept the differences
You will probably have to get used to different food, to new ways of folding laundry, and to house rules that are not the same as back home. Remember: different, new, and not the same don’t have to mean bad. Things are done in other ways around the world and as long as everything works, this is a good thing and part of the learning experience. Let’s face it: it’s kind of what you signed up for. Noticing and accepting cultural differences is part of expanding your horizons and becoming a more open-minded and mature person.
6. Mind your manners
You do not live in a hotel and your host mom is not your maid. Keep your room clean, don’t leave the dishes in the sink or the empty milk jug in the fridge. Help carrying the groceries from the car to the house. Don’t be a diva and use all of the hot water while blocking the shared bathroom from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Do not invite friends or visitors to a sleepover and only bring them to dinner if they were clearly invited. Do not sleep all day Sunday and complain that there’s no breakfast ready when you wake up. Long story short: Try to be on your best behavior and always say please and thank you.
7. Participate in activities
Of course you can and should spend time with your new friends from school, but why not spend some quality time with your host family as well? When you’re in a foreign country, going to the supermarket or watching your host sister’s soccer practice can be super exciting. Participating in everyday activities is a great bonding experience that lets you practice your language skills and helps you get to know a new culture. Plus, you didn’t travel halfway around the world to stay in your room and stare at your phone, did you? Who knows, maybe you even discover a new hobby or make new friends along the way.
8. Benefit from daily conversations
The key to learning a new language is to get over your fear of making mistakes – and your host family is a great place to practice your conversation skills. They talk like ”real people,” so you’ll hear a lot of idioms, phrases, and expression that you might not learn in a textbook. Spend time in the living room or the kitchen, and ask them for help with homework. Be honest if you don’t understand something they said and just try to talk as much as you can. (Maybe not while everyone’s watching their favorite show on TV, but you know, talk when it’s appropriate.)
9. Get to know your host family
Be interested in what your host family works, eats, or does for fun. Ask questions, be curious, and try to learn about and from them. It’s the best way to discover a different culture and practice your vocabulary. But: respect personal space and don’t force a relationship with your host family. Inquiring about their plans for the day while they’re in the shower is probably not the greatest idea – no matter how eager you are to improve your communication skills.
10. Remember that it’s all temporary
There’s a chance that your mom makes better meatloaf, and that you don’t want to eat potatoes five times a week. If you don’t like the radio station in the car or the shows everyone is watching on TV, take a deep breath and don’t complain. This is only your temporary family and they have their own way of doing things – even if this involves a questionable taste in music. After a few weeks or months, you can go back to your old life – and have loads of good stories and memories to share.
11. Be fair and honest when problems arise
Whenever people live together, there’s room for conflict – it’s not fun, but it happens and usually blows over. In case you do not get along with your host family or there’s a major issue that bothers you, try to talk to the family first. If that’s not possible, talk to the organization that arranged the host family. Make sure you provide constructive criticism, and don’t just complain about things that are different but not necessarily alarming. Be aware that it might take some time to get used to each other – not just for you but also for the host family.
12. Stay in touch
Friendships cannot be forced, but hopefully, you and your host family will get along – and stay connected even after you say goodbye. After all, you were part of each other’s lives for a while. And everyone who has seen you early in the morning on a bad hair day deserves a birthday card.