What is a Homestay?

Eugenio González

by Eugenio González

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A homestay is when you travel abroad and stay with a local family called the “host family”. Homestays are popular for students studying a language abroad or doing study abroad programs. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture, build new friendships, and have a host family that you can rely on during your time abroad.

What is a host family?

A host family is a family that you stay with during your homestay. Host families take on the responsibility of welcoming you to the destination and helping you throughout the course of your program or vacation. 

The host family can be a couple with young children, an older woman, or anyone willing to open their homes to you and bring you into their family for some time.

What is a host mom?

A host mom is the woman whose home you are staying in. It is normal to refer to them as “host mom”, “host dad”, or “host parents”, especially if your homestay is for a longer period of time. Don’t feel obligated to call them that though, the important thing is to know that your host mom or host family is there for you. They can provide wonderful support and you can form long-term bonds. 

What do the homestay families do?

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At the very least, a host family has to provide a place to live during the study abroad, and typically also some of the meals during the week. Each language course abroad or study abroad program will provide several meal options when choosing to do a homestay. 

It can range from just one meal a day (typically dinner) to 3 meals a day from Monday to Friday. Weekend meals may be included, but you’ll probably be traveling and visiting nearby places during your course abroad. 

A homestay family can do more than just provide housing and meals. They typically want to be host families because they are interested in showing the culture of their city or country, and giving you a taste of what life is like for locals. So expect for your host mom or host family to want to show you around, invite you to family events, and be your go-to for any questions about the culture and the city. 

Do host families get paid?

Host families get paid anywhere from $150 per week, to above $250 USD in expensive markets since they incur the expenses of providing room and board. This all varies depending on the amenities offered (meals, private bathroom, etc.). The host families do it for the experience and the stipend helps offset the costs. Rarely are families providing homestays to make extra money. 

Homestay students can expect to pay $150 to $250 USD per week, or sometimes more. It is a much more affordable option than staying at hotels or renting out an Airbnb. Most of the time, the language schools and study abroad programs don’t profit off of these services but may get a small commission, so it’s normal to pay a bit more than what the host families receive as a stipend. 

Are homestays safe?

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You can video call the host family before accepting the homestay

Sometimes homestays may be safer options than staying alone, since the schools have the relationships and have vetted the host families. A host family gives you a support system to rely on, making it potentially safer than staying in a hotel. They can give recommendations on areas to avoid, or help you get places too. 

Before choosing to do a homestay with the study abroad program or school, you can ask them what their process is for vetting host families, and what happens if you encounter problems with the host family. This will give you a sense on whether or not you can trust them.  Usually study abroad programs and language schools abroad have developed long term relationships with host families that provide rewarding and safe experiences for visiting students.  

If you are concerned about a homestay you are placed in, talk with the language school or program abroad to look for alternative solutions. Your safety should be their number one priority and you should not stay somewhere you don’t feel safe, be it because of the family or location. 

Overall, homestays are rewarding experiences with host families that want to welcome you in and make you feel at home in a new culture. 

Is homestay a good idea?

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A homestay is a good idea for those looking to really immerse themselves in the culture. If you are learning a language, homestays will allow you to practice the language constantly and you will make much more progress. Daily dinner conversations and day to day interactions with the host family will get you much further ahead. 

It is also a good idea if you want to learn more about the culture, taste some local dishes, and have a place where you can feel at home away from home. Host families will often guide you with the culture and point out things you may not know foreigners mistakenly do. 

Homestay benefits

  • Lower cost: Homestays are typically less expensive than the alternatives since they also include meals and host families do it for the experience.

  • Cultural immersion: When you are living with locals you immerse yourself in the culture and have a much more authentic cultural experience. You’ll experience local cuisine and traditions you may otherwise not have learned about.

  • Improve your language: If you are traveling for language learning, a homestay forces you to have conversations in the foreign language. This is hands down one of the best ways to make progress with your language learning. Daily interactions outside of the classroom is what will help you become fluent.

  • Home away from home: A host family can also provide a comfortable place to be and have the reassurance that there’s someone there ready to help you during your course abroad. 

Homestay disadvantages

  • Less autonomy: With a homestay, you are living in someone’s home and they expect you’ll follow their rules. Leaving messy kitchens or coming home at 4 AM may not be appreciated.

  • Feeling like a burden: While host families want the experience of having a foreigner living with them, it may make you feel like a burden to them. It can be difficult not to feel awkward or like you’re invading someone’s space but remember that they want to be a host family!

  • Business transaction: Most host families don’t do it for the money, but there’s always some that do and it can be tough to deal with them. 

  • You don’t pick them: Host families are usually picked by the study abroad program or the language school. If there’s a bad situation, programs and schools are usually good about finding alternatives. Still, you are trusting in them that they will pick a good host family.

What is the difference between homestay and hotel or Airbnb?

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Staying at a hotel is just a business transaction, getting a place to stay that will be well kept and give you some personal space. A homestay is more about the cultural experience of it. 

While some Airbnb’s may be private rooms, you usually don’t interact that much with the hosts, so it has less of the cultural experience aspect. However, hotels and Airbnb can still be great options for a language course abroad or a study abroad program. It really all depends on your preferences and what you are more comfortable with.

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