Everything You Want to Know About Doing a Homestay and Why I Chose It

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Paige Giordano
November 29, 2023

My decision to do a homestay was one of the best decisions I made abroad! It was a decision that definitely made me a little nervous pre-departure but to be so honest it has been one of my favorite aspects of my abroad experience. I just wanted to share a little bit about my experience in a homestay and all the things I wish I knew that would have made the decision to go with a homestay a little easier. 


IES Abroad Milan Housing Options

IES Abroad Milan offers several different housing options. The options available may vary each semester but you do have a lot of choices. The three general options can be separated into 3 categories: Residence Hall, Apartment, and Homestay. Residence Hall and Apartment accommodations are made specifically for university students. For the term I was studying in Milan, the Residence Hall options had the most availability. Some of the options had an additional cost on top of what you were paying to attend. The options you paid extra for offered single rooms and generally more amenities. There was also one option that included a meal plan, but for the most part you had to cook on your own. The majority of students in the program will be in residence hall or apartment accommodations. 


Why I Chose a Homestay

When I initially committed to studying abroad back in February of 2023, I was certain I was going to opt for an apartment option. At the time, that seemed like the best option for me because I wanted a really social experience, wanted my own space, and was not even considering a homestay because I didn’t really think it was an option for me. I had such a limited background in Italian and had specific dietary restrictions most of high school and for my freshman year of college so it was not something I had really considered when thinking about going abroad. 

I didn’t even consider doing a homestay until it was July of 2023 and I was just learning more details about the housing options for the programs. I was going through a bit of a tough time and had been living alone all summer. To be honest, this kind of pushed me to go with the homestay. I really wanted to push myself to go out of my comfort zone abroad and this was for sure going to do that. I also felt like I had already experienced living in an apartment alone and although I had enjoyed that I didn’t feel as strong a desire to live by myself as I had prior. Additionally, I had really appreciated all the advice and support I had been receiving from older adults in my life that were not my parents and I felt like doing a homestay was just giving me a good opportunity to make connections with older adults who were not my parents. 

I also saw the homestay as a unique experience that I probably would not have another opportunity to do later in life. I have an aunt from Germany who highly encouraged me to do a homestay. She explained how that is truly the best way to experience the culture. She had literally been encouraging me to do this back when I would talk about studying abroad in high school. I am happy that when I actually was going to study abroad, I was in a position to feel comfortable making the decision to go with a homestay because this was definitely not something my younger self would have considered at all. 

I did have quite a few concerns when picking a homestay. I addressed all the concerns I had in the section below. I had talked to a few friends that had done a homestay in the IES Abroad Nantes program. They both highly encouraged me to do a homestay because they had an amazing experience but also just pointed out that it depended on what my goals were abroad. I thought about it and although I didn’t have all the answers to my questions and there was a lot of uncertainty, I just took a leap of faith and went for it. I feel like my whole abroad experience has been about taking calculated risks and this was a calculated risk. 


Addressing all the Concerns I had when Picking a Homestay

Do I already need to know a lot of Italian?

This was a big question I had and the main reason why I did not think a homestay was an option for me. When I actually took the time to look into the homestay option, I learned that you do not need to know Italian to pick a homestay. Of course it helps if you already know Italian but it is not a requirement. I think a desire to learn and try is kind of a requirement though (an unwritten one but don’t pick a homestay if you don’t care to try). 

I had taken two Italian courses before coming abroad and was certainly not comfortable with my Italian language skills. My lack of Italian was something I was really nervous about with the homestay option, however my Nantes study abroad friends encouraged me to not let that dissuade me. The program will try to pair students with families that meet their language level. I got so lucky and my host family speaks English very well but also they are great about helping me practice my Italian. 

Also, I was shocked that I was not actually the homestay student with the least amount of Italian background. I was expecting all the homestay students to have years of Italian under their belt but was surprised that so many of them had never taken an Italian class before!


I want to travel a lot, will my host family expect me to be around most weekends?

In my experience, this is not something you should be concerned about at all. Most host families have hosted students before and understand that a big part of studying abroad is traveling. I was the first student my host family has hosted and they were super understanding of my desire to travel. They actually have very much encouraged me to travel and give me so many tips and recommendations for my weekend adventures. My other friends in homestays have had similar experiences as well. Of course, if you do stick around for the weekend that is totally okay as well! Also, if you get the opportunity to travel with your host family that can be an amazing way to spend a weekend!


I want to experience the nightlife in Milan, is it going to be weird if I come home late or am I going to have a curfew?

This is also speaking from my experience, you will likely not have a curfew and no going and experiencing the nightlife will not be seen as a weird thing. I have literally walked back into my apartment between 4am-6am before. The expectation is that I am just quiet as I enter but me going out and coming back late is not seen as unusual. You have to consider the cultural difference. My host family has two teenagers who also would stay out that late so it is really not weird at all for you to be out that late.  Also, you will be seen as an adult. Just be respectful coming home as you would with roommates or in your own home! My friends in homestays also have had similar experiences and I go out with them all the time. 


Is it like living with my parents at home again?

No. Or at least in my experience no. The best way I can describe what it is like is: it is like living with a boyfriend/girlfriend's family or even just a friend’s family for an extended period of time. You get pretty comfortable living with the family and definitely get to see inner family dynamics but you are always kind of on your best behavior as if you were at a boyfriend/girlfriend’s house or interacting with a friend’s parent. Like if you think about it you are not going to be mean or give sass to parents that are not your own. I think it is a similar experience on the family’s end where they will want you to be respectful of course but they are likely not going to ask too much of you. 


Is it challenging to make friends?

You will definitely have plenty of opportunities to meet other students and you will make friends. I do think the homestay setup does make it slightly more challenging to make friends in the sense that you aren’t living with other students, but you will make friends it just might take a little time. IES Abroad does a great job connecting all the homestay students in the beginning of the program. You also will have opportunities to make friends in your classes. I think potentially if you are just doing an internship and staying in a homestay it may be slightly more challenging because you are not around other students all the time but it is still possible for you to make friends.

In general no matter where you live, I would say making friends here requires a little more effort and planning. Many of the apartment/residence hall options place students in single rooms so you may still have little consistent interaction with other students. In situations with 6-8 students in an apartment, I think you have the easiest set up to make friends but also if you happen to not get along well with those 6-8 people then you are pretty much in the same position as everyone in a single or homestay type of situation. 

The one drawback socially to being in a homestay was just with nightlife. It can be challenging to find a good spot to meet up for a pre-game and it can be hard to find motivation to go out at 10-11pm after a nice dinner with your family when you aren’t living with a bunch of friends to hype you up. Also, it kind of sucks to have to get back home after a night out because your friends will not live in the same building as you. To work around this, I always would just anticipate calling a taxi on the way back. I also made friends with many students that live nearby in either other homestays or other living situations. The other thing that is great about Milan is that I honestly feel so safe here. I have no problem walking by myself at night to meet up with friends. Even my host parents said it should be safe to do so in the area I am in. I just stay alert and only walk on the main well lit roads. This is the reality for most Italian students in Milan that like to go out because it is not as common to move out for university as it is in the US. 


I’ve seen a lot of nightmare experiences about homestays online. What if I end up in a bad homestay?

Don’t worry too much about this! The IES Abroad Milan housing coordinator does a great job selecting families to host. All of the students I know doing a homestay have had a great experience in this program. However, do take comfort in the fact that if you do want to leave your homestay, IES Abroad will allow you to switch after two weeks. 


Is my location going to be really far away from the IES Abroad center and other students?

This is one I cannot guarantee you obviously, but my homestay location was amazing. I am closer to the IES Abroad center and public transit than any of my friends in the residence hall/apartment locations. I am a 15 minute walk from IES Abroad, a 2 minute walk to the nearest tram, 4 minute walk to the nearest metro stop, and right next to a good area for nightlife. I also have several other homestay students living nearby me and am a 20 minute walk from Aparto where many IES Abroad students live. Obviously, the homestay locations can totally vary but in general I think IES Abroad does their best to keep you close to the IES Abroad center and other students. Most of my homestay friends are in very good locations and live in very nice apartments. The other thing to note is Milan is a city so a homestay will likely be in an apartment not a house. Some of the location stuff is luck. 


What my Homestay was Like

As I mentioned before, I am so so glad I went with a homestay and it has seriously been one of my favorite aspects of my abroad experience!! I love my host family and IES Abroad did such a great job matching us up. We get along great! My host siblings attend school far away so it is typically just me and my host parents unless their kids have a school break. I eat dinner with my host family most nights. If I ever am traveling or want to go out with friends instead, that is okay. I just let them know in advance. 

The food and the inside cultural experience has been so cool. My host family has tried to make many different traditional Italian dishes for me to try during my stay. I have also been quite surprised that they eat fairly international type cuisine and it is not always Italian food. I have loved the variety. Eating dinner with my host family has been so nice! It is nice to not come home to an empty house and to have a home cooked meal.  I am convinced I would only eat pastries, pasta, and pizza if I was in an apartment so it has been nice naturally having some variety in food and having healthy meals available. 

I also really appreciate our dinner conversations. I have been able to learn so much about Italian culture and their perspective on America. Because my host family speaks really good English, we have had some nice discussions on more complex cultural differences.

Some other cool experiences I have had include going to my host family’s house in the mountains for a weekend and doing a really cool hike with them. My host mom and I do a weekly personal training session in the park which has been a lot of fun. It is so nice she also enjoys working out because at home I love working out with my mom. Additionally,  I have gotten to attend dinner parties where Italian friends and relatives have come over. I also loved it when my host siblings came back from school. It was so nice to get inside info on what to do in Milan from kids around my age (they are 19 and 17). 


Reasons why the homestay may be right for you:

  • You have a strong interest in learning more about Italian culture and have a desire to immerse yourself in the culture
  • You crave a unique experience
  • You want to create strong connections with Italians
  • You want more opportunities to practice your Italian language skills
  • You are studying Italian at university 
  • You don’t want to live alone
  • If you are on a budget, don’t like cooking, or just want to experience a lot of authentic Italian food (breakfast and dinner is included)
  • If you appreciate the comfort of coming home to other people (I think also the apartment options with 6-8 students could be good for this situation)
  • You want to challenge yourself 


Reasons why an apartment/residence hall might be right for you:

  • You want to experience independence abroad (I definitely still had a ton of independence abroad but I am talking if you specifically want to experience living on your own; in some ways I feel as though I have been more independent living in a homestay than if I were an apartment/residence hall student)
  • You want to live around other students
  • You have a lot of allergies/dietary restrictions and would prefer to cook for yourself (do note that some students are still able to be accommodated in homestays with dietary restrictions and allergies)
  • You do not have a strong enough interest in immersing yourself in the culture/learning Italian 
  • You want access to amenities like study spaces or a gym (varies by living accommodation)
  • If one of your main focuses while abroad is partying (tbh I just think an apartment/residence hall is better if this is your main thing, but you can still go out in a homestay)
  • You want your experience to be very focused on being around other American students/your friends


Hope this helps you make the right decision for you. If you have any questions/wanna chat feel free to reach out to me on Instagram @paigegiordano :)

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Paige Giordano

Hi! I'm Paige Giordano. I am a junior marketing major at Santa Clara University. I am originally from the Boston area. I am studying abroad in Milan, Italy fall semester of 2023. In my free time, I enjoy working out, reading, cooking, and fashion.

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