Words by Katie Kunkel who studied abroad in Sydney with CAPA International Education during Spring semester 2013 via Arizona State University. Katie stayed with a host family and below she gives us eight reasons why she was pleased with her decision.
When I decided to study abroad, I immediately knew I would stay with a host family. My idea of traveling to a foreign country always involved living among the locals, so I never even considered housing options in a campus dorm or apartment. My experience living with Aussies in Sydney, Australia, was unforgettable, and I wouldn't trade the memories I made with my host family for anything in the world. The following list highlights reasons why I think all study abroad students should consider living with a host family:
1. Develop deeper connections
Some of the conversations I had with my host family really resonated with me and allowed me to better understand myself as a person. My host mom and I would have meaningful talks about everything from life, religion and relationships to pop culture and sports. Rather than making small talk with Aussies or having short conversations with locals at a pub, I was able to truly connect with my Australian family and learn about their personalities and perspectives on life. In turn, I evaluated my own thoughts and beliefs to better understand what about my culture and background makes me who I am today.
2. Score an "in" with the Aussie crowd
Because I was lucky enough to live with three Aussie roommates right around my age, I was given the opportunity to meet their friends, spend time with them and ask questions about the Australian lifestyle. They all seemed equally eager to ask me questions about my life as an American, which made it fun to compare and contrast lifestyles in the two countries. I attended several Australian dinner parties and a few nights out with Sydney locals, both allowing me to meet new and interesting people who would try to impersonate my accent and pick my brain on the latest hot topics in American news (which they usually knew more about than I did).
3. Understand the culture
Simply taking classes on Australian culture was certainly not enough to really learn what makes an Aussie tick. Whenever I would learn something in class about Australian history or modern culture, my host family would share their own opinions and interpretations to give me a deeper understanding of the topic. In addition, they always had either a game of cricket or rugby on the TV, they got me totally hooked on the show MasterChef Australia and they told me all about Australian politics compared to the United States' practices. Maybe I never totally understood the rules of cricket or every aspect of Australian politics, but having a host family to share their experiences and learn from helped me tremendously when trying to make sense of a whole new culture.
4. Give a positive impression of your home country
My study abroad advisors warned me that many countries view Americans as a loud, self-centered population that eats WAY too much and spends a lot of money. I used my opportunity of staying with an Australian family to prove this stereotype wrong. No matter what, I always made an extra effort to treat my family with respect, kindness and appreciation for them opening their home to me. I told them about my own views as an American and what I think our country can do to improve, and also what it does well. The chance to represent America in a foreign country was an amazing opportunity, and I'm glad I could help my host family learn more about my culture as I experienced theirs.
There's no way around it—if you're not staying with a host family, you're probably not experiencing the local cuisine to the extent that I did. My Australian family loved cooking, and I was lucky enough to sample dozens of delicious seafood creations, creative Asian recipes and freshly prepared local produce in a variety of applications. Not only was it comforting coming home to a family dinner every evening, but I know that I spent much less on groceries compared to most students living in apartments or dorms while studying in Sydney. Yummier food for less pain in the bank account? Seriously, it's a no-brainer!
6. Feel safe and secure
It may not seem like a big issue before you're in a foreign country, but having people to rely on when you're in need is critical while abroad. If I ever felt homesick or experienced a bit of culture shock, my host family was there to ease my pain and make me feel right at home. Even when I fell physically ill, they took me to a hospital and stayed with me for as long as I needed them. Having that sense of security makes an enormous difference when living in an entirely new and foreign area, and I'm so thankful that my host family always made me feel at ease.
7. Receive valuable advice
I can't tell you many times my host family guided me throughout my adventures in Oz. I told my host mom I was looking for a church, and she immediately got me in contact with Christian Australians around my age who helped me get involved in a local service. When I was looking for the perfect birthday dinner location while my mom was in town, my host family rattled off tons of ideas and let me borrow a book of the best Sydney restaurants. They even taught me how to eat Vegemite in a way that actually made it taste good—overall, they were complete life-savers!
8. Land an entire family to love
The very best part of staying with a host family is perhaps the most simple: love. From day one, I was treated like a member of the family and given all the comfort and care I could ever ask for. If there was anything I needed, whether it was a ride to the airport or encouragement on a bad day, my host family was there with selfless love and kindness to help me get through any challenge I came across on my trip. I hope all study abroad students can experience this same feeling of contentment as they develop relationships in different countries, and I also hope they return to their home countries knowing they still have a family overseas, no matter the distance that separates them.
Read more about Kate's experience in Australia by visiting her blog: http://www.theamericanaussie.wordpress.com/.