Homestay or Dormstay?

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“To live with a host family, or to not live with a host family?”: that is the question every student seems to debate when deciding their housing arrangements abroad. Recently, my group of friends from both living arrangements sat down, discussing the pros, cons, and myths with both living preferences. We went over annoyances and blessings, laughing from the stories of misunderstandings, nodding enviously of what one had and the other didn’t, yet also inwardly thanking God for not having to go through certain difficulties. All of this lead me to think of why I chose a home stay and if I had any regrets thus far.

I came to this:  I love having a host family, but I wish I sat with myself and made amends with all I was giving up with a host family. What do I mean? I mean my biggest advice when deciding on your living arrangements while studying abroad is examine how you already live.

Are you always out? Do you like cooking your own meals? Can you live by yourself, or do you want other people to be around? On weekends, does staying in sound relaxing, or do you want to go out? All of these questions are what I wish I asked myself before I left home.

I have nine blood-related siblings. We all did our own things and would hang out every once in a while. Now I have one sibling, and she wants to play all the time. I used to live the dorm life at my home university and experienced a strong sense of independence. I learned I like cooking my own foods, washing my clothes anytime I want, and going out/coming back to my room anytime. A weekend of just watching old movies I’ve already seen a million times and studying is what I consider relaxing. With my host family, I eat many different things at a certain time everyday, my clothes need to be washed once a week on a designated day, and  I have to check in before a certain time to let them know I won’t be home. All of these things may seem small, but for a while, I felt like I had to give up some of my independence. With that being said, I love my host family, who are a group of strong women I cherish deeply. I laugh with them, watch movies with them, and experience who they are. So, I decided it would be a nice resource for someone who is considering a homestay or dorm, to post one pro, one con and one myth about homestays that I have learned thus far.

Homestay Pro:

You have access to a native.

This is seriously one of the best pros to living abroad with a homestay. I know many will translate that into easier language learning and firsthand witness to the culture, but it is so much more than that. Just with the basic things, my host mom showed me how to get to school (I take three trains, mind you), the cheapest routes to explore Japan, Japan guide books, libraries that have access to language learning material, restaurants, local events, how to buy things properly, and everything in between. If you live in the dorms, the access to a helpful native isn’t as easy to come by. Most students for the first week living in the dorms were late because they got lost, didn’t know where common things were or hadn’t done as much because they didn’t know where most things were. Now this isn’t to say that they didn’t go out at all, but they were just inevitably making more mistakes because they didn’t have the knowledge of what was right. With a homestay, there’s some insight.

Homestay Con:

You can’t only think about what’s good for you.

One day with two of my good friends here in Japan, we went to Fushimi Inari Taisha, a very beautiful and famous Shinto Shrine. After a long day of hiking up steps, we headed home where we met some other students at a different university than ours. We chatted for a bit, and they invited us to go karaoke. One of my friends and I were tired, but still up for a bit of fun, so we were ready. However, my other friend said she didn’t know. She had been coming back home to her host mom around midnight three days in a row. She was worried if she came back late again her host mom would feel disrespected. My other friend and I understood her internal conflict between a fun night out and going home to appease her host family. As a dorm student, you don’t have to worry about things like this. You can pick when you come home and if you come home. With a homestay, you may find it good and dandy to stay in your room all weekend and watch Netflix, but your host mom may see that as you being unhappy. It takes communicating, which takes time and effort.

Homestay Myth:

You don’t have any freedom.

Now I know with what I said above kind of contradicts what I just said, but I hear all the time that the biggest reason people don’t choose a homestay is because they want freedom. I think this greatly depends on your program. My host mom doesn’t care when I get home as long as I let her know that I don’t need dinner. She is surprised if I decide to stay in on a weekend. I don’t have to cook my meals, wash my clothes, or pay bills at all. Dorm students have to do this everyday, in a different country, in a different language. One of the dorms at my university actually has a 11pm curfew, students have to pay to take a shower, and they have to buy their own appliances to cook. It isn’t easy. Now, I’m not saying this to brag. I’m saying don’t turn a host family down because you’re afraid you won’t be able to go out every night. Again, it’s communicating. Tell your host family that seeing the country is very important to you, and usually they will come around. Most host family have had host students previously so they know the routine of wanting to go out.

And there you have it. Honestly, there’s a lot I can write about with a homestay and what I witness and hear about with dorms. In the dorms, people tend to have more friends because everyone is so close together. Homestays are usually far apart, so school is the only way to meet up without planning anything. Homestay students tend to do more local things than just sightsee in the country than dorm students. With the help of a host mom, they have access to special showings of cultural events that didn’t make it on that Top 10 Things to Do in *insert any country here.* Neither one is better than the other. It depends on who you are, what you feel comfortable with, and what you’re going to challenge yourself to while abroad.

Taking It One Step a Time,

Temperance Talley