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From September 2015 to May 2016, I had the opportunity to experience a homestay in Madrid while I was teaching English. Now that I am reflecting back on that experience of coexisting with a family abroad for almost a full year, I can’t help but think of a few things that looking back now, I would have done differently. No matter the times where I felt awkward or slightly uncomfortable as not only adjusting to a new culture, but to a new family, theses are just a few reflections on things I would do differently.
First and foremost, I would like to say that I am thankful for my experience. I’ve heard different stories and endings to homestay experience, and I can say that mine was overall a positive one 🙂
If I could redo my homestay experience in Madrid…
I would share my lifestyle with my host family as much as they did with me and their own lifestyle.
I think that one of the biggest miscommunications on my part was that I wasn’t as open to my host family as far as sharing my customs and house norms. Things like talking about what Thanksgiving means, or explaining the reason why I am used to doing my own laundry. The main reason why I now think it would have been helpful to share a little bit more about my norms was so that my host parents could get a clearer idea of the person they were hosting. This is not to say that in sharing my own house norms, they would in response, change their ways to accommodate me. What I mean more importantly is that by doing this, it would have allowed us to understand each other in a few of the most important aspects of coexisting with other, and that is who you are, how you do your part around the house and how tidy you are. In retrospect, I think that would have given us a good base to coexist smoothly under the same roof. Them understanding more of who I am, what I’m used to doing at home, and them sharing what the house customs and expectations are to create a common understanding.
I would also share any kind of concern, doubt, or question relating to my host parent’s home, lifestyle, and why they did certain things the way the did. Mainly, I would have asked questions about them as far as…
- I see that _____Why do you_____?
- I noticed that____. Why does my host dad______?
- Tell me more about your_____? I______.
Really, anything that you’re not sure about your host family/home. I think that if I would have been more adamant about asking my host family more questions about them as a form of getting to know them and showing interest in them, it would have allowed us to not only get to know each other more, but to also build more trust between each other and to bond as well. As soon as your host parents see how curious you are to know more about them, it will open the door for them to feel comfortable to ask you questions about you and your living situation/family in the States. More communication, improved trust.
While I lived with my host parents, I always had certain questions about them for instance, why has my host mom been feeling____this week? However, I never asked them because I just didn’t feel comfortable asking (didn’t know how to ask) them a personal question. Whenever I felt there was a change in the household, whether it was no communication during dinner, no “hola” whenever each of us got home at different times, or whenever there was silence in the house, I felt concerned that it had to do with me. This led me to self-doubt from time to time, that I was an inconvenience to my host family, or that they were thinking something wrongly of me and didn’t want to ask me about it because they were too upset. There were plenty of times when these thoughts ran through my head as a possibility, and I felt like I couldn’t share my concerns or doubts with them because we hadn’t really built a good foundation and communication to feel open to say what we felt. They may have felt it to with me on occasion, but I’ll never know now. We stayed quiet and we all rode it out.
What I did
“Riding it out” was my mistake, as I learned to just get over any kind of hiccup that the family went through. I didn’t ask questions because I felt like I would be barging into their personal life, and I didn’t want to step over any boundaries. I also came to think that maybe it was a “Spanish Thing” and that I was being oversensitive towards some quiet dinners and situations that I was felt were awkward but really could have been anything but for them for all I knew. I thought if I “rode it out” it would have avoided what I thought would have been some kind of confrontation over personal space and business. Whether I was right or wrong however, what it did create was a path that led us to become more and more distant with each other. So basically, by thinking that I was avoiding one issue, I may have been contributing to another one. My host family may or may not have thought that I didn’t care about their personal issues whenever I didn’t ask them why they were quiet during dinner, or why they skipped dinner altogether.
At this point, it’s all “what if” but if I could go back in time, I would at least mention a few of my concerns, as what they were, concerns and not make it seem like I wanted to get in on some chisme or personal business.
What I would do differently
From the beginning, I would have let my host family know more things about me, as I should have made it an effort to constantly share more things about my culture with them. Below are a few suggestions based on my experiences that I would do differently, and suggest to anyone who is about to enter a homestay.
- Be noisy, disruptive
- Be wasteful: Once, I was using the desk lamp to illuminate my room while I was cleaning up my room. My host mom walked by and told me to turn off that light because it takes up a lot of energy, and to only use it if I am studying or working…oops.
- Stay quiet if you feel awkward or uncomfortable in your host family; your actual host parents were the ones to volunteer to host YOU, not the other way around. It’s their responsibility to do just that, in a comfortable manner.
- Be a stranger. Come out of your room on more than one occasion to actually participate in their daily household. Your host family will appreciate your efforts to join their household activities, and you will feel welcomed by a group of people that are essentially adopting you into their homes and families. That’s not an easy thing to do.
- Pay attention to the house rules, and abide by them. You are a guest but you are also living there, so have your area tidy and help out when you can.
- Do what you are supposed to do: when I was living with my host family, in return for my room and board at my host family’s home for the year, I would speak English only around the house certain days of the week and practice English with my host mom, and I did just that because it was my end of the bargain. If you have to do something like speak English to your host parents or whatever your contract (if applicable) says you should do, do it and do it as best as you can. It’s only fair 🙂
- Be patient with them and yourself: whether you are the first person your family has hosted or the 10th or vice versa for the person living in the homestay, it’s a first time for everyone because you’ve all never lived together. Do your best to communicate, share, join in and have fun 🙂
Again, overall my experience was not bad. It was challenging, yes, but it was rewarding as well in many other aspects.
Let me know if you guys have experienced a home stay, and what your experience was like! I’d love to know if you guys would add anything more, and also where you experienced a homestay. If you have any questions about homestays at all, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hasta la proxima,