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An inside look at living with a host family abroad

Host Family Interview Katie Kaelin

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You’ve chosen your dream destination, you know what classes you need to take abroad and you’ve been approved to leave your home campus for the semester or even the whole year. 

Amazing! At this point, now you are probably wondering where you are going to live. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the options, but luckily you don’t have to stress about that when you go on a program with Spanish Studies Abroad. 

Almost all of our students live with host families and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Plus students rave about perks such as improved language skills, feeling more integrated in their host city and having a sense of “home” abroad.

Want to know more about what it’s like living in a homestay? Read about Katie’s experience below. Katie is a recent graduate from St. Catherine’s University in Minnesota who spent the academic year of 2018-2019 in Alicante, Spain in the International Studies Program.

What made you decide to live with a host family abroad? 

Before applying to Spanish Studies Abroad I knew I wanted to live with a host family to fully immerse myself into the culture and learn the language. I couldn’t be happier with my decision. 

 Anniversary Lunch Celebrating My Host Parents, Lirios And Pepe's Wedding Anniversary With All Of The Family.
Anniversary Lunch: Celebrating my host parents, Lirios and Pepe’s wedding anniversary with all of the family.

How did your language skills improve from living with a local family? 

Immensely!! I could notice differences in my ability to speak after 2 weeks of being with my host family. Having that consistency, and not being able to fall back on English really pushed me out of my comfort zone. Recently I have found notes that I had written down while I was abroad, filled with new vocabulary words and phrases, and looking back at the differences it’s crazy! 

 Grandkids Over Some Of The Grandkids Had Come Over After School While Their Parents Were Working. My Host Mom's Sisters' Exchange Student, Haruka Was Also Over!
Grandkids Over: Some of the grandkids had come over after school while their parents were working. My host mom’s sisters’ exchange student, Haruka was also over! 

What kind of person would do well living with a host family? 

Overall I feel like any person in the end can live with a host family. Obviously it helps if you can really push yourself to converse and socialize with them, but they won’t force you to do stuff. How involved you are with your host family is all based on you as an individual. With that being said, I truly believe that living with a host family is a great opportunity to grow in more ways than that of living in an apartment or student residence/dorms, but if you’re wanting that type of living, they won’t disrespect that. 

 Mom And Host Fam Santa María Lirios And Pepe Gave My Mom A Tour Of Alicante When My Family Had Come To Pick Me Up In May. We Stopped At The Basilica Of Santa María.
– Mom and Host Fam Santa María: Lirios and Pepe gave my mom a tour of Alicante when my family had come to pick me up in May. We stopped at the Basilica of Santa María. 

What were some challenging aspects about living in a home stay, and how did you overcome them? 

Going in, I was stressed about the consistent communication piece. In that, yes, I was studying Spanish at university back in the states – but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold a perfect conversation with my host parents all the time! That was something I quickly got over. Once you stop worrying about how you sound and accepting that you will make mistakes, your language and communication skills will increase exponentially. Your host family is a great resource, and they are there to help you and teach you about the Spanish language and culture. 

 Hike In Alcoi With One Of My Host Family's Daughters And Her Family After A Hike In Alcoi.
– Hike in Alcoi: With one of my host family’s daughters and her family after a hike in Alcoi.

What advice would you give to someone who is going to live with a host family for the first time? 

Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! Understanding that yes, you may be nervous, but being upfront and communicating your likes and dislikes right off the bat is useful! Also, in those situations where you’re invited to go somewhere with your host family – and maybe you’re nervous about it – GO! Step out of your comfort zone! Challenge yourself! A lot of my favorite memories are when I was with my host family. 

Post Hike
Post Hike With My Host Mom, And One Of My Host Family’s Daughters And Her Family After A Hiking Fundraiser.

Any favorite memories/moments from your experience? 

Any birthday celebration and family gathering. It was the most wonderful kind of chaos I have experienced. There’d be the grandchildren running around, and I’d have trouble hearing myself speak. Then after, I’d be so tired and full from eating all day. But in those moments being with them all, there was so much joy in one space. I am beyond grateful for those times.

Birthday Celebrations
Birthday Celebration: 1 of 3 rounds of lighting and blowing out candles. I can’t even remember how many birthdays we had celebrated that day. I got to blow out my birthday candles with the twins (2 of my host family’s grandchildren).

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