I just wanted to give an update regarding words of advice and tips that I am sure will help you future study abroad students make a decision on whether a homestay is right for you. I have been here for over two weeks now and am finally starting to feel more comfortable. My homestay has been a little rocky recently due to the cultural differences that exist between Olga and I. I am still in the culture shock stage of the W-Curve but I’m definitely progressing towards initial adjustment. For all those thinking about doing a homestay, I would advise you to weigh the pros and cons. I do not think that it is suitable for everyone and can see where other students may have an unpleasant experience. I will list some of the pros and cons that are attributed to my own personal experience with a homestay:
- The fact that it is all-inclusive. I don’t have to worry about buying and cooking things to eat (I get three meals per day), washing clothes and bedsheets constantly (Olga does this once per week), having to pay utilities (which I hear are very expensive here), sharing rooms or bathrooms with anyone (I have my own private area), and living in a convenient area. I pay €940/month, which may seem like a lot at first, but the cost is reasonable given the conveniences and amenities that are included.
- Having someone reliable nearby at ALL times. Even if you plan a study abroad with friends, it is tremendously helpful to have a local contact while here. Olga has proven to be resourceful. She has already taught me a lot about Madrid and Spain, about the culture, she’s allowed me to practice my Spanish, suggested places to go, places to avoid and other general advice about living here.
- Feeling like you are at home. I have experienced living in a dorm before and I never really got the feeling like I was actually at home. I felt distant, even though I was close to home and I honestly don’t really feel that here. Even though I am on the other side of the world from home, I feel welcome and I always have someone to talk to. This helps a lot with the feelings of homesickness, which every study abroad student will feel at some point.
- Rules. Sure, Drexel has tons of rules about living in the dorms, as your parents have rules for living in their house, but it feels less strict than living in a homestay. Sometimes, I feel restricted from being myself. For example, I love to blast music in my room some days, but I can’t really do that here. Olga has rules that can be frustrating and downright annoying sometimes; however, I have to respect them. If you aren’t good with following rules and customs, you will most likely have some issues with a homestay family.
- Feeling distant from other travelers from Drexel. There are a several other study abroad students from Drexel here in Madrid, but I haven’t really been able to hang out with them. They are all close by to each other and I’m just kind of in my own world, doing my own thing. That’s totally fine with me, but I can see where that disconnection may present some problems for some students.
- Awkwardness. This is part of the culture shock/initial adjustment period, but it is still there. It is something that will get better with time as you get to know your family and they get to know you. On the other hand, it can actually be seen as an advantage because it will help you get out of your comfort zone and be more proactive in initiating conversation with others.
The pros outweigh the cons in my case, but depending on how you distribute the weight of each point, it can be more disadvantageous than advantageous in some cases. Patricia, the woman from Nebrija who is in charge of homestay placements, has been easy to talk to and very helpful in getting me past my initial doubts about my homestay. Thankfully, I am fluent in Spanish, so I have no problem whatsoever getting around or communicating with people but that could also pose a problem to those who aren’t as proactive or prepared. Overall, it has been a favorable experience thus far and I look forward to continue sharing my experience with you all.
P.S. – I joined an organization called CityLife Madrid. They hold tons of events, trips and activities all-year-round for university students studying in Madrid. I will be going to Valencia this weekend with them. I will be leaving Saturday morning and staying there until Sunday night. The trip includes transportation, 4-star hotel stay, among other things, all for €79 (with a discount card I purchased). Check out their website for more info: City Life Madrid