Planning for your study abroad trip often means that you have a lot on your plate. Although, once you book your homestay abroad, it sets the trip in stone and makes it a reality. Your hosts add names and faces to your trip, rather than it just being an abstract idea or picture of who you’ll live with while studying abroad.

As the day of departure approaches, nerves can begin to set in. Who will live in your homestay? Will your host family understand you? Will you understand them? It’s a big step to go and live abroad with someone else in their home, but it can be extremely rewarding and also an incredible asset to anyone trying to improve their language skills specifically.

To make the most of your study abroad program, here are some tips on how to break the ice when you first meet, to settle in, and to overcome the language and social barriers you may feel as you begin your homestay experience.

 Irish homestay mother with host student from Germany host Teresa and her guets Fabien from Germany who studied in Ireland to improve his language skills

Extend the Olive Branch Before You Go

There’s always a certain element of anxiety when you’re speaking a foreign language with native speakers, but the best way to feel at ease is to know the people you’re speaking to. While living with a host family you will get to know them, but why not kick off the process before you arrive? Send them an email, give them a call, or try video calling them to learn more about their lifestyle and interests before you study abroad. By doing this you’re not only practicing your language skills, but you’re also learning more about each other. By the time you meet face-to-face you’ll feel so much more relaxed around them.

Upon arrival, a simple gift or token from your home country can also go a long way in conveying what your linguistic skills cannot. Bring a token or gesture, such as a traditional cake for when you arrive, and you’ll be sure to have something to break the ice and talk about. upon arrival.

 Typical homestay bedroom in Europe

A homestay offers a home away from home, where you can immerse yourself in a different culture.

Be Part of the Family

When you study abroad for the first time (particularly if you are part of a class or school group), it’s easy to stick together. Being in a new place and trying to speak a foreign language can be quite an intense experience; just keeping track of conversations in another language can leave you worn out, and that’s before you start to participate in them! There is only one way to get over this, and that’s by putting yourself out there!

Living in a homestay abroad means you have a natural network of native speakers around you, so spend time with them. Even if it’s only once a day at mealtimes or helping them clean up afterwards, it all adds up to improve you language skills. Use the time to ask what you are eating, how it was prepared, or the names of household items around you, and you’ll build up your vocabulary before you know it! You’ll get to know your hosts better and you’ll improve your language skills faster than you ever would in a classroom. Just make sure you jot down what you learn in every language student’s survival essential: “the vocabulary notebook”.

Do What You Really Want to Do 

 Host family talking with their host student

Spend time with your host family to get the most you can out of your experience

There’s more than just language to learn as part of a homestay abroad. Staying with a local family in their home is the best way to get insight into the daily life of a country and its culture. There are a lot of expressions and things that go on that are completely commonplace to a local that may seem strange to you as a newcomer. Don’t be afraid to ask about them about these things; this is your opportunity to learn without it becoming a chore.

Play against your own interests and hobbies and see how they correspond to life in your new home. Are there new sports or activities you can try, or a local dish you can learn how to cook? Pieces of information and lessons like these are invaluable to your study abroad experience, and are something more tangible for you to take home with you.

If you’re planning on spending a full year studying abroad and living in a homestay, and have an interest that you are passionate about, it may be worth asking your hosts if there is a local club or meetup where you could join in and put your language skills to work on something you love. It will be hard at first, but meeting people you have something in common with definitely makes the conversation easier.

 American students with host family in Japan

American students, Samantha and Kayla, making friends with their host family in Japan

Speak Up!

 Italian students with host sister in Tokyo, Japan

Italian guests Silvia and Francesca with their host Yoko in Tokyo

The last point may seem obvious, but for most of us, speaking up and saying we don’t understand something is a lot easier said than done. This is doubly true when you are learning a foreign language. To improve, however, you need to speak up and ask someone to repeat themselves or say that you don’t understand. In many contexts, this can be an icebreaker and with your host family in particular, this is a chance to learn in a relaxed casual environment.

Living in a homestay is a wonderful accommodation experience for any study abroad student, but it can take some getting used to. The best thing to do when planning your study abroad program is to think about what you want to get out of your homestay experience and find hosts with similar interests. Push your comfort zone a little bit and a lot will come back to you, and your host family will go from strangers, to educators, to friends.

Make the most of your time studying abroad; before you know it, you’ll be heading back home!

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