Staying with a host is one of the most popular accommodation choices for international students studying in the U.S. Living with a host is a memorable, immersive experience. You get to experience the U.S. culture and way of life from up close, and benefit from your host’s local knowledge and experiences. It’s also one of the most economically beneficial ways of living in the U.S. as a student.
While living with an American family, you will notice many cultural differences, unfamiliar family dynamics, and dissimilarities in delegation of household responsibilities. Unless you’ve prepared for these beforehand, you can end up struggling to get comfortable in your new surroundings, and even fail to properly focus on your education.
How to prepare yourself for living with a U.S. host
Life with a U.S. host can vary from a simple room rental to an immersive, close-knit family situation. You may also end up having to switch from an independent living arrangement to sharing a house with other students, or the host’s family members. It’s essential that you’re prepared to move away from home on an emotional level, and can handle your day-to-day activities without the assistance that you may have grown accustomed to.
Work on your personal management skills
When you’re on your own in a foreign country, basic independent living skills such as taking care of your personal hygiene, doing laundry, and organizing your wardrobe present an entirely new challenge. You should ideally get into the habit of managing these things by yourself while you’re still in the planning stages of moving abroad. This will give you ample time to identify the best practices and habits for you.
Search for and try personal care products that are easily available in the U.S. If you have a condition such as sensitive skin or allergies, identifying soap, detergents, and skincare products that do not irritate your skin is a good idea.
Do you have any medical conditions that require frequent or periodic medication or consultations? If so, you should educate yourself about the medications you require, and learn to identify warning signs so that you know when to seek medical help.
If you have any vision or hearing problems that require you to wear glasses or hearing aids, teach yourself about the visual/hearing aids you require, how to get them repaired, and what to do if they are damaged or lost.
Improve your time management skills
While staying with a U.S. host family, you’ll be fully responsible for managing your time and creating a schedule that offers sufficient allowance for everything from classes and homework, to rest and extracurricular activities.
It’s best that you begin practicing time management as early as possible so that you’ve already established an efficient system for yourself by the time you move in with your host.
Learn money management
You may be getting your money from your parents/guardians or through a grant or scholarship, but learning to manage your finances is a task you’ll have to perform all by yourself. It’s advisable that you learn to budget and reserve sufficient funds for essential expenses. You should also learn to shop smart and have some money set aside for emergencies.
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Develop your social skills
Perhaps the most important skills for students living with hosts are good social skills, as they encompass everything from having command over the language, to effective communication, respecting others’ personal space and opinions, and refraining from behaving in a socially unacceptable manner.
The U.S. is home to people from diverse backgrounds with strikingly different lifestyles, customs, and religious and personal belief systems. As such, good social skills are a prerequisite for international students moving in with a host.
Expect lots of novelties
Host families for students tend to be quite welcoming and want to involve their guests in their daily activities, celebrations, and excursions. Expect to be invited to barbecues and parties, or even to meet the family’s relatives and friends. Your hosts may belong to ethnicities you’re unfamiliar with, hail from different social or economic backgrounds, or work jobs you know nothing about.
You should also be accepting and appreciative of your host’s hospitality. It’s common for a host family for international students to be curious about the country and culture that their guest is from. If they have children, they might want to utilize your stay as a means to introduce them to the culture and belief systems of your home country.
Tips for making your homestay a rewarding experience
1. Select a host with care
U.S. homestays are generally pretty safe. However, it’s still advisable you exercise caution when selecting one. Make inquiries with your school or study abroad program, friends, and acquaintances about hosts that they’ve had good experiences with in the past. You can also search for U.S. homestays online. If a homestay appears on a reputable website, you can trust it to be a good, safe accommodation.
2. Make a good impression
Bring your hosts a gift. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Typically, gift items from your home country will be delightfully received by your hosts. If you haven’t brought any gifts from home, you can present your hosts with flowers, small décor items, and food gifts.
3. Socialize with your host family
Your host family will likely be anticipating your arrival for a while and looking forward to meeting and getting to know you. Even if you’re a private person, make an effort to bond with your hosts. If you’re facing any issues with your food or living conditions, politely speak out so that they can assist you and make adjustments if necessary.
4. Be a good guest
Keep your room clean and organized, and take good care of your personal hygiene. If you’re sharing the bathroom or kitchen, make sure to clean up after yourself. Refrain from disturbing your host’s routine, and stick to the curfew and meal times.
5. Behave like a part of the family
If you consider yourself a tenant, you’ll deprive yourself of experiencing life as part of a U.S. family. Involve yourself in the family’s day-to-day activities, help out with the chores, and converse with them as you would with your real family back home.
Your attitude and preparedness play a big role in how your homestay experience turns out. Be careful, curious, and courteous, and you can create memories and bonds that will last a lifetime.
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