Are you getting ready to study abroad or be an exchange student? If your program is placing you with a host family, there are a few things you should keep in mind! After my junior year of high school, I spent six weeks of summer living abroad in Germany with a host family. I did it through Youth For Understanding’s exchange program, and it was so amazing!
Keep an Open Mind
The first thing I’d say is to make sure you’re keeping an open mind. I know sometimes going to another country can put you in complete shock and make you just stick to your own customs. But I would really encourage you to open up to new ways of doing things. At the beginning of my exchange experience, I kind of thought some of the ways my host family did things were strange. After a little bit, I decided just to embrace everything that was different from what I knew. Once you allow yourself to do this, you will learn so much! I promise. I learned to actually love biking everywhere, even though I was used to getting in my car and driving. Your host family will be more willing to show you all aspects of their culture if you show openness.
Be Extra Respectful
This is huge. Obviously no one likes someone who is impolite. But if you make sure to say your please’s and thank you’s all the time, it definitely gets noticed. I was not nearly fluent in German when I arrived, but knowing how to say “please” and “thank you,” is super important. Being polite will really just make you more likeable, and how hard is that to do? Along with that, make sure you’re respecting their home too. If you had someone new living with you, you wouldn’t want them digging through personal belongings…so don’t you do that either. It doesn’t hurt to ask if you can use something either.
Try New Things
Sometimes I am really not much of a spontaneous person and like to stick in my comfort zone, so I totally get if you’re like that too. But isn’t the whole point of deciding to study abroad so you can learn and try new things?? That’s what I think. Make sure you’re taking advantage of every opportunity that comes your way! You will get so much more out of your experience if you do. If your host family asks if you want to try water skiing and you aren’t even sporty, still go for it! Who knows, it may take you a few tries, but what if you have the time of your life?
Make an Effort to Get to Know Each Family Member
Try to make everyone in your host family feel appreciated! Even if you’re more into girly things, don’t neglect the brother. You could very well end up really clicking with him. For me, I made sure to find things that each member in my host family enjoyed doing and then do it with them. My host mom was training for a race so I went for runs with her. One of my sisters liked to bake and one liked to make crafts, so I made sure to do those things with them. This really helped me learn more and get closer with each one of them.
Tell Them About Yourself
You’re there to learn about their culture, but they’re having you because they want to learn about your culture too! Yes, it’s so important to immerse yourself in their culture so you learn a lot. Also make sure you’re paying attention to what you’re bringing to them though. It’s called an “exchange” after all. My host family was always really interested when I would tell them more about my family and life back in Minnesota. I even taught them how to make chocolate chip cookies since those are very American and I love to bake! That was a hit for sure.
Get ready to have so much fun living abroad with a new family! Each host family is so unique and will teach you a ton if you let them. So don’t be afraid to open up and see a whole new culture!