Residence Halls and Host Families: Pros and Cons of Both

Sonya Friel
May 27, 2022

Now that I am close to leaving Granada, I’ve begun to reflect a lot about my time spent here. I’ve realized, as has everyone on the programme, just how different it would have been if I had chosen another housing option. I chose to stay with a host family, and have been super happy with that choice. But, there’s no doubt that my entire experience would have been different if I had chosen a residence hall; and different still depending on what hall I was placed in. I’ve been talking about this with my classmates, and together we made a list of a few pros and cons of each. We hope it’s helpful as you make your choice!

Living in a Residence Hall:

Residence stayers definitely have an advantage in meeting and hanging out with people; it’s just so convenient when you live next to each other and eat 3 meals a day together. There are also Spanish students at the residences, which is super cool. There is less worry about waking people up late at night, and during the day you can have guests over. However, the food is often not as high a standard as in host families (the food at my home was AMAZING; the food at residences is more like school dining hall food) and the meals can’t really be personalized; if you don’t like what’s being served, you don’t really have another option, whereas host parents will cook you something separate and learn your favorite dishes. The rooms are also usually pretty small, BUT they come with their own bathroom; a huge bonus (in homestays you usually have to share with the other IES Abroad student). You can also interact with the staff members, who can be really strict but also really friendly and helpful. My favourite part of the residence halls are the shared study spaces and hang-out rooms; I like a change of scenery and company when I study, so I often visited my friends in their residence halls to study together.

One drawback of living in a residence is that it’s really easy to get too comfortable in your group, and that makes it hard to venture out and meet new people. We’ve noticed that it’s really easy to form little cliques within residences, which isn’t great for outside the dorm. As well as that, because there are always English-speakers around it is super easy to get lazy and never speak the local language. This makes it less likely to make local friends, even if they live in the same building as you. If you only hang out with your American classmates, residence halls are pretty much the same as dorms back in the states—like a little bubble of student life separate from the outside world. If you’re really passionate about learning the language and culture of the place you’re staying in, you have to put in more effort. 

Living in a Homestay:

In homestays, we were able to meet authentic Spanish families with a wide variety of interests, careers, and ways of living. It was a really interesting insight into daily Spanish life, complete with constant language practice, inside knowledge of the city, and amazing food! Living with a family also provided us with a lot of emotional support and (for me personally) it felt more intimate and homely—like being with family at home, especially during the family lunches. My favorite was the unlimited hugs from my 6-year-old host brother! Although we shared some spaces with the family, we had rooms of our own and could shut the door if we wanted privacy. My host family was also really helpful for helping with problems such as stains on clothing or working out travel plans.

One drawback of homestays is that dinner isn’t included. The food in Granada is super cheap, but sometimes it felt like a lot of effort to go out to eat (we can’t use the kitchen to cook). What helped me a lot was storing non-perishable snacks in the kitchen so that if I was feeling really tired, I could have cereal or a sandwich for dinner, and we were also able to use the kettle, toaster, and microwave so a lot of the time I microwaved some soup and or had tea and toast. My host mum is the sweetest and sometimes stored leftovers for us to eat as well :) 

Some issues that other people had was that in host families you have to be respectful of the rules of the house and take the family into consideration when living there, like keeping your voice down at night or showering before a certain time. There are no curfews though, and I think being more quiet at night is kind of a decent sign of respect wherever you live - after all, whether in a homestay or residence hall, you always have neighbors! Personally, my flatmate and I didn’t have a lot of house rules, and we felt really welcome and at home.

One thing that a lot of us homestayers noticed was that - especially at the beginning of the program - we felt a little left out from the friend groups that formed in residence halls. With time though, this definitely passed and our group of students as a whole at IES Abroad got closer. The language barrier can also be tough, since it can be tiring and hard to express yourself - but it is honestly the best way to learn. A lot of people - myself included - sometimes felt like we were kind of strangers in our home because of the difficulty in expression, but spending quality time with the family doing something fun helps a lot. For me, playing with my host brother and our puppy was a great way to integrate into the family—for others, it was having family movie nights or listening to the news.


Just to be clear, both options are very unique, individual experiences that depend a lot on personal preference. For me, I loved my host family and wouldn’t change it for the world, but I know others who preferred the residence halls, and some people who swapped because their place wasn’t the right fit for them. Whatever you choose, it’s important that you go into it with an open mind and put in effort to get to know the people around you!

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Sonya Friel

<p>Hi, I’m Sonya! I’m a junior at Bryn Mawr College, PA, and my majors are Neuroscience and Anthropology. I’m originally from Letterkenny, Ireland, but now live in Northern Ireland (when I’m not at school, of course). I love to travel, paint, swim, meet new people and try new things. This semester I’m studying abroad in Granada, Spain, and I can’t wait to share my experiences with you all!</p>

2022 Spring
Home University:
Bryn Mawr College
Letterkenny, Republic of Ireland
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