When I learned most of my friends were staying in the dorms while I was in a homestay, I couldn't help but feel a little jealous in the beginning. Seeing all their texts in the Line group chat, saying they were doing homework together on the third floor, or they were having a movie night, or otherwise just getting up to usual college student hijinks in the dorms—all of that gave me major FOMO. While I loved my host family from the very beginning—and that has yet to waver—it was hard to tell if I made the right decision when I seemed to be disconnected from my friends and was still in the awkward getting-to-know-each-other stage with my host family.
However, that FOMO quickly resolved itself when I realized how lucky I was to be in a homestay and directly learn Japanese slang words, culture, food, and daily life from the source. When I wrote my application for IES and Nanzan, one of the main things I emphasized when I got asked "Why do you want to study abroad?" was that I wanted to learn from the new culture and connect with Japanese people. While in the throes of my FOMO, I asked myself, "Why did I choose to do homestay?" Any time I felt that terrible feeling, I thought back to myself about why I came to Japan in the first place.
I wanted to experience a culture completely different from my own, something that South America or Europe wouldn't be able to give me. My friends, bless their hearts, barely have any run-ins with Japanese culture outside of class and going to a convenience store. They do not speak the language outside of class and barely have any Japanese friends if any at all. Sure, they have the freedom to come and go as they please and be able to hang out with each other, but I came here for a reason. The sooner I realized that the sooner I could truly savor being with my host family.
It wasn't as if they made it hard. My host family is the best family I could ever ask for. My host mother, Mako-san, is the most talented, intelligent, funny, and sweet person in the world, and I often hang out with her one-on-one because I genuinely consider her one of my closest friends in Japan. My host father, Keita-san, is super fun-loving and never misses the opportunity to talk to me over dinner about differences in culture while pouring me some sake. Hanging out with my host siblings (who are the most adorable children to grace this earth), Minato (7) and Yume (4) is quite literally the highlight of my day. While I barely understand anything they say, they are so open to playing with me and continue trying to communicate, with Minato (who is the most emotionally intelligent kid I've ever met) deliberately slowing down his speech and using hand gestures to help me understand what he wants to say.
But that's enough of me gushing about my own host family. Now here's my pitch: if your main goal in coming to Japan is to learn a new culture and be fully immersed, there is no better way to do it than to be in a host family. People are not exaggerating when they say that being in a host family increases your Japanese level quickly. I was learning new vocabulary words in my first two weeks with my family, and am now well-versed in casual forms and grammar, something that is not really emphasized in Genki (or any Japanese textbook).
They are able to give you advice on good places to explore in Japan, if not taking you there themselves. My friend went camping in the snow with his host family of all places! My own host family has taken me to Aichi Farm, Kurankei, and Laguna (a waterpark). I have experienced so much more than I would have if I was in the dorms, and it's all with my Japanese family who can teach me how to approach new locations and social interactions.
If you are coming to or are interested in Japan, especially Nagoya, to run around and explore and be independent, that is your prerogative. I, too, love to party and go out with friends. Homestay does cut into that a little, I will admit, considering trains shut down at 12:30 and a taxi home for me costs $50. But I've found that I barely feel FOMO when seeing my friends' stories going out to eat or to the club when I'm home with my host family, watching a movie or having a dance party in the living room or playing card games.
And I say this as an extrovert who loves to party and have a good time. Hanging out with my host family isn't missing out, it's a privilege to be with them. I have witnessed countless life moments and have had the privilege of being in the photos that they'll look back on and consider me part of their family history. I've been to Minato's 7th birthday party, seen him lose his bottom front teeth, had Mako-san tell me she's pregnant before literally anybody else other than her husband, and welcomed Yume home several times from her bus.
I have hardly felt any homesickness on this study abroad journey, and I can wholeheartedly say it's because of being in a host family. I won't say everything will be amazing--while I personally haven't had any serious gripes yet, my friend has had to contact IES for help on how to handle an issue in her homestay. However, that was quickly resolved, and it didn't cause any major strife with her and her host family. In fact, she attended a festival with her host brothers and host mother a month after that issue arose.
Japan is the country to do a homestay, and Nagoya especially is the perfect city to do so. If you are on the fence about doing a dorm or homestay, please heavily consider homestay. There are so many benefits that at this point, I see more defects in staying in the dorms than anything. You do not have to be best friends with your homestay family like I am, but regardless, they will teach you so much about the Japanese language and Japanese culture that you truly will feel like you are in a different country. But the only way to find out...is to do it.
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I am a senior at Johns Hopkins University studying Writing Seminars (a fancy way of saying creative writing) and Sociology. My main goal in life is to be an author, so when I'm not scrolling on TikTok, I'm writing stories, reading, and daydreaming.