A homestay family is a couple or a small family that you can stay with during your time abroad. It usually happens during exchange programs or when young children go overseas without their parents. Homestaying has a lot of advantages, such as improving your language skills, making connections, experiencing the country's way of life, or all of the above. Here are some reasons why, given the chance, you should choose to live in a homestay.
Hundreds of families participate in homestay programs all over the world. One of the most obvious reasons for joining a family for a few weeks in a foreign country is to improve your language skills. A classroom curriculum, homework and tests can only teach you so much - when you stay with a family, however, you'll be exposed to the language a lot more, and be encouraged to use it more naturally in everyday situations.
A great thing about staying with a family is that they'll most likely show you around their town or the surrounding areas. You may see parts of the country that you otherwise wouldn't have known about, off the beaten track and away from tourists.
There's nothing like getting immersed in culture whilst you're abroad. When all the international students stay together in the same building, they only speak English at home, eat western food and only really experienced the country after they'd step outside. Staying with a homestay family shows how a local family lives - You can see their beautiful house, eat the traditional food, and develop routines like studying with your homestay sisters, and get fully immersed in their way of life. It is an experience you just can't have inside a classroom surrounded by other 'foreign' (e.g. non-local) students.
Of course, you can sample local cuisine at a restaurant, but when it's home-cooked and you're eating it with a family in a relaxed dining room, it's a different experience altogether. It is a variety of different foods cooked with love and care, including unique own spins on traditional food, and things I hadn't even heard of. If you have the opportunity to do this, please do. Your homestay mother might just introduce you to food you didn't know you loved.
Making friends whilst abroad is one thing, but there's something stronger about having a homestay family. The family signed up for the program because they wanted to establish connections with international students who are interested in their country and language. Once you've stayed with a homestay family, keep in touch with them by email, Facebook, Skype, etc. You will always have them to chat to, practise the language with, and they will most likely let you stay with them if you end up visiting their country again.
If you want to go back to the country in the future, for example to work, your homestay family may also offer to help you with finding a job, a car, somewhere to live, etc. They'll be pleased that you like their country enough to go back, and be more than happy to help you out. This kind of assistance is invaluable, and well worth staying with a family for.
Most of all, staying with a family is great fun! Even though sometimes the language barrier might be an issue, you will still find lots to talk about. Take interest, ask lots of questions and see how they make a huge effort to make your stay comfortable and enjoyable.
It's important to keep in mind that families wouldn't be accepted onto the homestay programs unless they could prove they were safe, trustworthy and hospitable. Therefore, you really have nothing to lose by staying with a famlily during your time abroad. It's definitely an experience that's worth going for. You might just discover that there's more to the country - and its people - than you thought.