Living with a host family while studying abroad or taking a gap year can offer unique benefits and opportunities for personal connection during your travels around the world.
From learning about different cultures to trying new foods, it’s all about being involved in someone else’s day-to-day life. It might sound intimidating at first, mostly because we‘re so used to the comfort of sticking to our own routines. However, you’ll miss out on the chance to know what it’s like to have Sunday brunch in Germany or slow down your pace to experience the Italian way of life if you stick to what is comfortable.
Up with People cast members stay with a new host family every week in different communities around the world. Based on these experiences, we’ve put together a list of five of our top tips to help you make the most of your next stay with a host family.
1. Learn the Rules
Every household has a different set of rules. Guests may be asked to remove their shoes before entering the home not necessarily to keep the house clean, but because of their culture. Some countries may also have different views on holding hands in public.
The most important thing to remember is that you are a guest in someone else’s home, city, and country. By learning a few important things, you’re showing respect and understanding of someone’s culture that can help build a positive dynamic.
At the beginning of the semester, Up with People cast members build a profile using Globesmart. This online platform accelerates cross-cultural awareness by providing advice on how to successfully navigate through 95 different cultures around the world. This helps make a student’s transition into a new country that much easier by giving them the tools ahead of time. It also can help to alleviate culture shock when entering a brand new place.
2. Ask Questions
Don’t be afraid to ask questions! No one ever learned anything new without being brave enough to ask questions. If you aren’t sure what to ask, here are some great prompts to get you started.
- Have you ever hosted someone from another country before?
- What types of activities do you and your family do together?
- Are there certain meals that you love to make? Maybe we could make them together!
- Is there a schedule or routine that your family follows?
- What are some things that are typical for your family that may be different from what I might be used to?
There are many ways to open a line of communication with your host family. One English speaking cast member stayed with a host family in Italy who only spoke in Italian.
“At first, meeting my first Italian host family was kind of awkward, but was super cool in the end. They ended up not speaking a word of English so we had to use a lot of hand signals and Google translate.” – Graham, Minnesota
3. Be Engaged
To help you make the most out of your time with your new host family, try to be a part of different activities they do throughout your stay. If someone is cooking dinner, ask to help out. If someone is heading to their weekly workout class, why not join in?
Being engaged with the wonderful people who have opened their home to you is a great way to show that you care and to thank them for their hospitality. There is a reason that someone has invited you into their home, so allow them the opportunity to get to know you too!
4. Step Away From the Screen
Speaking of being more engaged, maybe it’s time to put down your phone.
It can be very easy to find yourself scrolling through Instagram or watching funny videos on YouTube. Try to limit your screen time so you can fully immerse yourself into their culture and lives. You’ll be grateful you did at the end of your stay.
5. Stay Connected
Your stay with a host family can often lead to life-long connections. The longer you stay in someone’s home, the more intertwined you become in their daily life and the stronger of a bond you can create with new and interesting people.
“You’re constantly networking and being immersed in the culture. Every time you enter a new family, you truly become a part of it and you feel this great connection with them. One that I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t a part of Up with People. You begin to feel how small the world really is.” – Larissa from Belgium
An Up with People Alumni, Rich Calabrese, stayed with a host family in Hamme Belgium. That was in 1987 and their families still stay connected to this very day.
Want to learn more about staying with host families while taking a gap year in
Up with People?
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through another one’s eyes.
It’s the everyday people,
the stories that they bring to life.”
Through Your Eyes © Up with People
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Topics: Gap Year Abroad, Host Family
Up with People is a global education organization which aims to bring the world together through service and music. The unique combination of international travel, service learning, leadership development and performing arts offers young adults an unparalleled study abroad experience and a pathway to make a difference in the world, one community at a time. Click here to learn more about the internationally acclaimed program, Up with People.