No matter where you live during your time abroad, you’re going to have an incredible experience. However, where you decided to stay can intrinsically shape what kind of experience you have while abroad. If you have the option to choose between a home stay with a host family or a dorm room (perhaps with a roommate native to the country in which you study abroad, as with the IES Beijing Program), it might be helpful to know a bit more about how each will affect your study abroad experience so as to choose the one best suited for you.
Homestays are a wonderful way to completely immerse yourself in the culture of your host country. If this is your first time studying abroad or living for an extended time in this country, then I highly recommend this option. All of the time that you spend with your host family you will be completely immersed in the language, culture and family dynamics of the country you are studying in. Plus, many host families include their students in celebrating national holidays, going on vacations and cultural excursions and getting together with family (plus, home cooked meals!). Simply put, living with a host family can give you a whole slew of opportunities that you can’t get living in a dorm.
While many families that volunteer to host students are warm and well-intentioned, there are the occasional duds. Being in a host family can also mean a lot of pressure, as you have to carefully maneuver cultural and social differences between your two cultures to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes. It can also be a bit difficult to get used to living with a family again, especially one from a different culture, as American college students are used to enjoying a good amount of personal freedom.
Living in a dorm is a great way to experience the life of the college students in your host country. If you go abroad to IES Beijing, you will even be placed with a Chinese roommate who is also a student at Beijing Foreign Studies University. This can be a great way to make friends on campus and really connect with your university, much the same way as you would at your home institution.Your classes and friends are all in the same place, offering a convenience most host families can’t provide.
However, most dorm students need to actively seek out their own cultural experiences and make sure they don’t find themselves “stuck” at the dorm. With nearly all your necessities on hand, it can be easy to find yourself complacent with your surroundings. It can also be more difficult to fully immerse yourself in the culture, as it may seem very tempting at first to maintain your native culture with your friends.
Although I think that both options are great ones, based on your individual preferences and the tips I’ve offered here, hopefully you can pick the living situation best suited to yourself!
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Alexis Cobau is a Junior at the University of Michigan, majoring in Chinese and International Studies with a concentration in International security, cooperation and norms. She is excited to be returning to China for the first time since her original foray into study abroad in Harbin, China on an NSLI-Y State Department scholarship as a rising senior in High School. This will be her sixth year studying Chinese and she can't wait to spend it exploring Beijing. When not practicing her Chinese characters and tones, Alexis enjoys reading, writing, drawing and cooking.</span></p>