Studying and traveling abroad is an exciting time for anyone. However, it is completely natural to be nervous about packing your belongings into two suitcases, telling family goodbye and leaving all familiarity for a semester, summer or year abroad to live with a family you've never met. No matter how much planning and preparation you do before actually leaving for your study abroad location, there are going to be several details that are impossible to know, plan or predict.
When it comes to actually being prepared for living with a new family, however, there are some things to keep in mind. Every student's situation will be different than the next, but there are still several ways to prepare your stay with a host family while studying abroad.
When you picked a location to study abroad, most likely you were intrigued by your host country's culture. Deeper research into the family structure and style of your host country will help tremendously in understanding your new family. Each culture has its own way and standard of living, and by gaining insight before even entering the host family, you can be more accepting to your new culture.
2. Bring a Gift
As a guest in your host family, you can make a great first impression by providing a thoughtful gift. Most likely, your host family is going to be just as nervous to meet you and curious about you and your culture.
An example of an acceptable host family gift would be a coffee mug with your city's logo on it or a book featuring your hometown. Share a bit of yourself in your gift — the thought and action will go a long way in developing a relationship with your family.
3. Prepare for the Food Culture
Is lunch or dinner more important? What are general meal times? There are several questions to research as you prepare to go abroad. In each culture, food and mealtimes mean something different.
In Spain for example, lunch is the most important meal of the day and dinner is smaller and served late evening, around 10 pm. For Americans, dinner is emphasized as the most important meal and served generally around 6 pm.
Study abroad blogger Alissa Falcone suggests that you eat all of the food that is given to you, "I'm not being forced to eat all this. If anything, I feel guilty about not eating something, even if there are people at the table who don't take a scoop of something." The truth that many study abroad students learn is that food is treated differently all around the world.
4. Share Your Culture
Similar to the idea of bringing a gift, you need to know that your host family is going to have questions for you. Ultimately, they are going to be curious about your culture, your family, and your traditions. Be kind to them and do your best to answer all of their questions.
Bring a photo album highlighting your friends and family back home. You can even show them a photo of your house, your room and maybe a photo of your school. Sharing photos is a great icebreaker towards the beginning of your stay.
5. Adjust to Their Routines and Schedules
Adjusting your life to your host family's routines and schedules is one of the most important actions in assimilating into a new culture. Having an open mind and willingness to fully adapt to the culture and lifestyle of your host family is key to being successful in integrating into your host family.
Preparing to stay with a host family can be intimidating, but as you travel and meet your new family, you will learn that they are nervous and excited just as you are. Be sure to ask questions and answer any questions they may have for you!