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In many study abroad programs living with a host family is required; in others, it is optional. The prospect of moving in with a family of strangers for up to four months can be daunting, however there are many positive benefits of living with a host family. What do returning Macalester students think about host family living? Listed below are comments taken from recent study abroad evaluations organized by host country.
"It was perhaps the best part of my study abroad experience. I learned the most about Argentina culture, made long lasting friendships and improved my Spanish."
“[My homestay experience] helped me improve language skills and build relationships that I hope to maintain."
“It was awesome! . . . One of the best parts of my experience.”
“I was able to speak Portuguese all day . . . plus I was in direct contact with the local culture.”
“Homestay was extremely challenging because I had far less independence than I was used to. Also, my parents were almost never home. . . . While it was difficult, I’m glad I did a homestay and not dorm style housing.”
“I can’t stress enough the importance of a home stay: crucial for language acquisition.”
“Living with a Cameroonian family means taking a step back your level of independence, especially if you’re a woman. [But] I’m glad I lived with a host family and would recommend that others do so.”
"I think it was a really good choice for me, because it helped me with my language skills. Even though towards the end as I became closer to friends it was more of a hassle going back and forth, I would still choose to live with a host family."
“Because the family I lived with didn’t speak any English, I was required to speak Chinese at home, which really helped me.”
“Staying with a host family was a wonderful idea. . . . However, I sometimes wished for the independence of an apartment.”
“I had a warm, welcoming family that accommodated through homesickness, cultural adjustments, and unexpected illnesses.”
"It helped to immerse me in the culture and made me very comfortable in the country right away, to be living with people who took an interest and me and wanted to share their culture with me. The location, in a suburb outside the city, was a little isolating at times and led to me missing out on some of the nightlife in Copenhagen, but I think it was worth it."
“Living with a host family was a great chance to practice Spanish, get to know people from different generations, and learn about Dominican family life. I think the meals were an important cultural experience, but they got really repetitive (for a country in the Caribbean, the DR has surprisingly bland food). I was eating boiled plantains or yuca with a fried egg at least three or four times a week.”
“My host family was not a good match and made it much more difficult.”
“It was great! . . . There were some bumps in the road but in the end we got along very well.”
"Having a host family really helped me to understand and appreciate Ecuadorian culture."
“Made the experience fabulous and made me more integrated into the way of life there.”
“They made everything so much better. I could not have asked for a better host family, and am grateful to have shared meals with them.”
“My host family was great! I felt very comfortable, though it was weird living with a family again after spending so much time living on my own. The food was great, and my host mom made awesome soup, but I did start to miss certain foods. I told my host mom I missed lasagna, and she made it that week! A host family is an integral part in learning a language and customs of a different place, having a host family made my experience personal.”
“I learned a lot from living with my host family and I'm glad that I lived with them. At times it could be stressful because I lived in a family with a lot of conflict and tension and sometimes I wasn't sure how to handle that. But it was an overall good experience.”
“Though there were occasional tensions in the household, it was nice to have a home to go back to each day.”
"I learned a great deal culturally as a result of living with my host family. I enjoyed having discussions with my host parents and my spoken French improved as a result."
“It made my experience WAY better. My host family was amazing. It made me feel really lucky when speaking with other MAC students who did not stay with host families on their programs.”
“Made it so much better! I was very lucky and lived with an awesome family.”
“I loved eating dinner with the family. It was the time of day when I spent time with them.”
“My host mother was a great host and a great cook. Win-win situation.”
"It was about 2 hours away from the school, so it was tough to get used to the commute. It took a lot of time away from homework and socializing."
“I think it had the biggest impact of any factor on my semester. Living with a family really allowed me a window into the private lives of Jordanians, with all the joys and trials that involved. I got amazing home-cooked meals and birthday parties and everyone gathering around to hear the high school exam results, but I also got screaming babies when I was trying to sleep, hours and hours of TV, and a curfew earlier than any other girl in my program. Still, I think the benefits far outweighed any negatives. I did have to constantly remind myself that not having real autonomy was an accurate representation of the cultural expectations for a young woman.”
“My housing experience was my primary immersion experience. It was the place where I made my "real Malagasy friends" and got live, speak, and eat like the Malagasy do. Or as close as I can get!”
“Living with a host family gave me a comfortable environment to practice Spanish, allowed me to closely observe a middle-class Mexican family, and lessened the stress of living abroad.”
“It was great to have all the meals already provided. However, it was sometimes hard for me to adjust my schedule to always be home to eat. For example if a l wanted to go out with friends to eat, but the family was waiting for me at home, I was sometimes torn between which to choose, not wanting to damage the relationships with either.”
“Living with a host family was the best part of my study abroad experience. It ensured that I was fully integrated into Moroccan society and immersed in the language.”
“Living with a host family MADE the experience for me. It would have been less rich and less educational without it.”
“They were excellent.”
“In general, I enjoyed being able to live with and eat with host families - it was a good way to get to know what people regularly ate in those countries, and mealtimes were a good time to talk with the family. I also got to know my host mom in Nicaragua better by cooking with her. Occasionally, it was hard because we were always given so much food by host families and we didn't want to be rude and not finish it.”
“It was a huge part of my positive experience in Peru. Although there were some awkward moments, as with all host situations, it was a great experience and I feel that it is an essential part of this program.”
“It was a great idea to have a homestay; it drastically affected my experience. (For me, in a positive way.)”
“Living with a host family was an invaluable experience that provided me with the best access and integration possible into the host culture. I would rank it as my number one means of achieving cross-cultural insight.”
“It was frustrating at times but overall great.”
“Improved it ten-fold. The family fed me really well/ taught me a lot about Senegalese family/ values...I learned the amazing warmth and generosity of a people whose biggest point of pride is hospitality.”
“Eating meals with my family was a very important part of the day, helped with cultural integration. “
“My housing situation had a negative to neutral impact on my study abroad experience."
“My second host family [the first did not work out well] was absolutely fabulous and the best part of my study away experience. They taught me so much about Spain and Spanish culture."
"I LOVED my host family. I had a pretty idyllic situation; the food was amazing, the family was large, social and helpful, my host mom was around almost all the time and super sweet. It definitely helped me engage with Spanish culture and speak more Spanish, plus it gave me a familiar support system while very far from my own family. I hope to go back and visit sometime SOON! They were very reasonable and gave me lots of freedom, the only downside was not being able to have people over. It's pretty rare in Spain to invite people (even extremely close friends) into your home to just hang out, so it was hard to just hang out with new friends or study together without having to buy something (like a coffee or be out shopping, etc). Also Madrid's night life may mean you come into the house at 6am or later, but being respectful to my family's home and sleeping time was important to me and it's definitely negotiable and doable."
“My housing experience was overall really positive because I was able to develop a good relationship with my family and my speaking improved a lot.”
“I really loved the family I stayed with, and I learned a lot of things about the differences between the UK and US from living with them that I may not have learned otherwise. However, it was really hard meeting other students due to this arrangement since I had to commute about half an hour between the house and the university.”