A Bison Abroad | Host Family vs. Living Alone

Paige Johnson | THE SPECTRUM

Studying abroad is an incredible, exhausting, exciting and tiring experience that lends plenty of insights and new ideas. Some of the decisions people have to make include where they want to study, what classes to take and, more importantly, where they want to live.

There are usually many options in living abroad, but there are two that are most common: with either a host family or alone. (Keep in mind some programs may not offer a host family, and some programs may offer more options.) I have been able to live with a host family, but many of my friends here decided to live in an apartment.

From my experience and theirs, I have been able to determine the benefits and drawbacks to both options.

Host family

Pro: A fully immersive cultural experience. With a host family, you live in the home of someone who has lived and probably grew up in the country you’re studying in. You also eat their food, learn about their family, religious or cultural practices and thought processes. Depending on your family, you may be invited to attend family events (birthday parties, weddings, funerals, etc.) or invited out to local hangouts like restaurants.

Living with a host family teaches you many things, not just about living with someone else, but also things about a culture you wouldn’t normally learn. For example, since Monterrey usually doesn’t get cold, they don’t have central heating. (This became miserable when it did get cold, and the house was actually colder than outside.)

You may also discover things you wouldn’t otherwise have experienced. Living with a host family led to me discovering my favorite restaurant in Monterrey, one I probably wouldn’t have ever stopped at if I had gone on my own or with friends.

Con: Language and cultural barriers. If you don’t speak much of the host language, or if you’re just learning, it can be hard trying to tell your host family the toilet is clogged or you don’t know what’s on your dinner plate. Sometimes the host family may speak the language you speak. If they don’t, you might live part of your time abroad in complete mystery.

Cultural barriers can sometimes be more troubling than the language. Cultural barriers may include practices at a church service, how to speak to your elders (and even those younger than you) and the appropriate way to behave with people you’ve just met.

How genders interact is also a difficult thing to decipher. Each culture has its own unique practices that aren’t necessarily bad, but may put you in a tight or uncomfortable position should a situation arise.

Living alone

Pro: Independence in a foreign environment. A lot of things are going to happen to you mentally and physically when you go to another country. Your body may take a while to adapt to the water or the food. You may become extremely homesick. You’re definitely going to experience culture shock.

Living alone lets you chill out when these moments occur. You’re able to go into your room and watch all the Netflix without anyone bothering you. You can order your comfort foods or buy them yourself at the grocery store.

It’s also easier to meet other students, both international and domestic. Usually, the living spaces that the university will recommend for incoming international students are student apartments, meaning that you will be surrounded by other students. It’s a lot easier to meet friends, classmates and others living on your own in a student apartment than with a host family.

Con: You may be stuck in your own comfort zone. Your roommates might all be international students, and the only language you speak at home is English. You will probably only cook food you’re familiar with, and when ordering in you will probably only order food you’re familiar with. You might get hot local tips from other students or your roommates, but you might not venture too far away from the center of town.

Studying abroad is about throwing yourself into an entirely new situation and personally growing through learning more about yourself, about a different culture and from a different viewpoint. While living alone might give you the perks of home, you might not learn any more than if you had stayed there.

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