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Making the most of your homestay

Posted by on December 6, 2016

Many study abroad programs include the opportunity to stay with a host family rather than living independently or in student housing. It may seem intimidating to spend your entire time abroad in someone else’s home, but I highly recommend staying with a host family if you have the option. It is one of the best ways to get a truly immersive cultural experience. During my four months in Rabat, Morocco, I stayed with a host family, and it was one of the best parts of my experience. Here are a few things I learned:

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Traditional Moroccan couscous at my homestay – my favorite meal!

  • Offer to help out around the house
    • Cooking, cleaning, or just relaxing—these are some of the ways I bonded with my host family when I was abroad. My host mother was a great cook and baker, and some of my favorite memories from Morocco are from helping her in the kitchen. She once hosted a whole group of students from my program to show us how to make classic Moroccan couscous.
  • Try your best to communicate
    • If you are in a non-English speaking country, staying with a host family can really put you out of your comfort zone at first. Of the five people in my host family, only my host brother spoke any English. I felt intimidated at the prospect of only being able to communicate my needs in Arabic, but my host family was always incredibly patient with me and willing to play charades if necessary. My language skills improved more in conversations with my host mom than in any Arabic class I’ve taken.
  • Hang out with them outside the house
    • One of the best ways to get a feel for life in a foreign country is to spend time with locals. Staying with a host family provided this opportunity for me. One of the most memorable experiences I have from Morocco is going to the “hammam,” which is a public bath house, with my host mom. There is really no equivalent experience to the hammam in the US, so it’s difficult to describe what it feels like to be very thoroughly scrubbed down in front of a room full of naked Moroccan women. It’s intense. But despite my initial discomfort, I found that this was a great bonding experience with my host mom. Spending time with my host family also gave me the chance to participate in some of the social customs of the country where I was living.

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      My American roommate and me with our host mom and host sister in Rabat.

  • Stay in touch!
    • Almost everyone I know who lived with a host family abroad says it was one of the most meaningful parts of their experience. This was definitely true for me as well. I was so grateful for my host mom throughout my stay, and she was always there for me when I was feeling blue. Your relationship with your host family can continue even after you leave. With social media, it’s much easier to stay in touch with friends abroad. My host mom promised to house and feed me anytime I return to Morocco, and I genuinely plan to take her up on her offer someday.

 

Lydia Grossman 3 Lydia Grossman
lgrossma@umw.edu
International Affairs Major
Environmental Sustainability Minor
IES Rabat, Morocco

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