Homestaying and Boundaries: Lessons from Quito

Louis Herman
January 1, 2019

One of the biggest things I wish I’d understood before I went abroad is that homestaying means living in someone else’s house. To be clear, I understood this on a surface level, thinking only of the plus side: the guarantee of an immersive cultural experience from day one. And at its best, homestaying can be a truly incredible experience: I know people who essentially developed the closeness of real family members with their host families. One of my best friends has basically the same relationship with her host brother that I have with my actual sisters; it’s really wild seeing to think they’ve only known each other a few months when they’re constantly exchanging inside jokes and practically finishing each other’s sentences.

The situation is a lot more complex than just this pretty picture, though. Personally, I had to move houses during the semester because in my first house, my host mom didn’t respect my personal privacy and was going through my things. My second house was much better: my new host family respected my space to a much greater degree, and I really enjoyed my time there. Part of this improvement was because the second home was a better fit, but it was also partially because my expectations had shifted. I was no longer looking for a replacement parent; instead, I was hoping for a good host. I found one; my new host mom was happy to show me around town, give me advice on where I should go shopping and what buses I should take, and help me learn local recipes.

I also learned a lot from my experiences with my first host family: in one of the first conversations I had with my second host mom we established boundaries. That was one of the biggest problems in my first family; I had never been informed of the rules. To be fair, I had never asked; rather, I was just sort of anxiously stumbling my way through each day, hoping I didn’t cause any problems and accidentally incur the (admittedly somewhat mild) wrath of my host.

This is my main piece of advice for anyone choosing to study abroad: set boundaries right off the bat. Studying abroad can be an incredible experience, but it can also be extremely stressful. If you’re living with a host family, they will have certain expectations of your behavior. It’s important to start your relationship off with a foundation of transparency, so that if there are any complications throughout the semester, your host/guest relationship is set up in such a way that you can talk things through and reach mutual understanding. I ultimately had to switch host families due to a lack of communication; you might not have to.

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Louis Herman

<p>Hi! I'm a current junior at the University of Rochester studying the history of early modern globalization, with a specific focus on links between Asia and Latin America. When I'm not busy writing papers, you can probably find me lying down on the beach, soaking in the sunlight, and reading sci-fi.</p>

2018 Fall
Home University:
University of Rochester
Rocky Point, NY
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