While studying abroad, living with a family is often the most common option, and for many good reasons. Doing a homestay is a surefire way to get comfortable with the language, culture, and food of your host country, and it’s always nice to have host parents or siblings to talk to at the end of the day. For my semester in Salamanca, however, I chose to live in a residence hall. While I may not have the opportunity to gain a second family during my time here, I am able to experience a certain amount of independence and freedom that I may not have had with a host family. When making my housing decision months ago, freedom to travel was my reason for choosing the residence hall over a host family. That’s still true, but it’s no longer the only—or even main—reason I’ve enjoyed my time in the residence hall. There are many more reasons to consider a residence over homestay while studying abroad, as well as a few responsibilities I didn’t anticipate!
Freedom surrounding food is the most unexpected benefit of living in the residence hall that I’ve discovered. Many of my friends in homestays are expected to be home promptly for lunch and dinner, and it would be rude of them to turn down a meal if they’re just not hungry then! In contrast, the meal plan with the residence hall creates a window of time for each meal, or the option to eat out or skip it all together. The dining halls here in Salamanca are very different than a typical U.S. college dining hall: there are only a few options for each meal, served cafeteria-style, and there are set times for lunch and dinner—no never-ending all-you-can-eat buffet here! Nonetheless, it creates more options than having a host family cook for you might. This freedom surrounding food is especially important to me as a vegetarian, and I’ve grown to appreciate it—even when the options at the dining hall can seem repetitive.
Another benefit is more freedom surrounding my social life. As I mentioned in my last post, the Spanish youth like to keep late hours, and living in a residence hall allows me to experience that without disturbing a host family. I don’t have to worry about coming home too late and waking anyone up, or washing my face in the wee hours of the morning. And during the day or evening, not having to eat meals with a family allows me to get a meal or tapas with a friend! Lastly, I have more flexibility if plans change, because nobody is waiting up for me or counting on me being out. The structure of family life has a lot of perks, but especially for students who are used to living on their own in the States, residence hall life may feel more familiar. Similarly, living independently makes planning travel less stressful. I worried about feeling guilty travelling while living with a family, and while I will never know if that would have been true, I like not having to worry about it. Living in the residence hall has also given me a great opportunity to make friends. Both other IES Abroad residents and local students have become a safety-net for me, and many evenings have been spent playing fusbol and ping pong in the lounge.
All of these perks come from the independence of living in a residence hall, but there are also more responsibilities as well. For example, we are in charge of our own cleaning and breakfasts in the residence, and don’t have a family to help us with directions or local outings. We have to make sure we wake up on time and eat, because nobody else is accountable for us. There are times when I have envied the students staying in homestays for their home-cooked meals and host siblings, but in the end, I appreciate my independence, even when it creates more work. The residence was the right choice for me, and I would encourage more people to consider it when studying abroad! Be sure to look at the photo gallery for more details on the logistics of residence hall living.