Should International Students Live With a Host Family?
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- Study abroad programs are back on the rise since the pandemic's peak.
- International students are matched with a host family for an immersive cultural experience.
- Homestays can help U.S. student visa candidates feel at home while studying abroad.
As an international student, living with a host family (also called a homestay) offers a unique way to absorb the culture and hospitality of another country. While the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted studying abroad, especially during the 2020-2021 academic year, the number of international students in the U.S., and vice-versa, is on the rise again.
A 2022 report published by the Institute of International Education demonstrated an 80% year-over-year rebound in U.S. enrollment of international students following the pandemic.
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Like so many decisions awaiting college-aged students, pursuing a U.S. visa to live with an American family in a homestay or a dorm while studying abroad has both its pros and cons. You must consider whether living with a host family works for you and your personal needs.
Pros of Living With a Host Family
1. Living Like a Local
A homestay in the U.S. offers you a unique opportunity to experience American culture from inside the household. Host families can serve home-cooked meals, practice family traditions, and answer questions about their culture and customs that might be too awkward to ask anyone else.
2. More Economical Than a Hotel
Living with a host family instead of in a hotel offers you the same benefits, like room and board, meals, and a close location to school. It also typically costs less. Commercial lodging tends to involve hidden fees, extra costs for special services, and gratuity minimums. In terms of value, you can't put a price on the hospitality of a homestay.
3. Immersive Language Learning
Sure, you can study English before traveling abroad, but a homestay can provide a truly immersive language-learning experience. Your host family may know at least some basic words in your native language to carry a conversation, and they can show more patience and understanding as you're learning English in context.
Cons of Living With a Host Family
1. Lack of Privacy
Some students can experience a lack of privacy living with a host family since they are guests in the family home and have little control over the house rules. While host families offer you a private room, you may have a curfew or few chances to invite friends over to the home.
2. Isolation from Other International Students
Students in a homestay might feel they have to trade the experience of meeting other international learners in a similar situation for bonding with their host family. Those looking to live with or near other international students might prefer a dorm, hostel, or other group living situation while they attend college.
3. Dependency on Host Family
International students may find they may not be able to assert themselves in a homestay. For example, if you like your laundry or food a particular way, you might feel uncomfortable and struggle to communicate your feelings if your host parents take charge in these areas. On the contrary, if you are the type to enjoy the help, this could be ideal for you.
4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Living With a Host Family
Obtaining a U.S. student visa and living in a homestay or dorm study abroad requires careful consideration. Every student is different and prefers a unique living situation. Ask yourself the following questions before making your decision.
- Is cultural immersion important to me?
- Am I okay with following the house rules?
- Am I comfortable with living in someone else's home?
- Would I rather live among other students studying abroad?
5 Questions to Ask a Host Family
You may already be leaning toward a homestay, which means you should start thinking of questions to ask your host family. The following questions can help shed light on what to expect during your homestay experience.
- Do I have a curfew?
- Who lives in the home? Are there other students?
- Are meals provided?
- How long does it take to get to class from home?
- What are my responsibilities or chores?
Other Housing Options While Studying Abroad
A homestay is not your only option while you're enrolled in college as an international student. Cost plays a significant role in determining your ideal living situation and your overall experience, along with privacy, safety, and cultural considerations.
College dormitories can provide living quarters for many students in one building. Dorms may house one or more students per room, and most are located on campus. Dorms often require students on the same floor or in the same section to share a bathroom. Many international students enjoy the bonding opportunities that are available through living in a dorm.
Private apartments offer the most privacy among all of the common housing options for international students. If you can afford to cover the full cost of rent and utilities, living in a private apartment gives you the most flexibility in choosing your surroundings. You also don't need to live with a roommate or share a bathroom.
A shared apartment houses many students together, offering a communal living experience similar to a dorm but located off campus. Shared apartments are typically not sanctioned by a college but can offer safety in numbers for international students. This arrangement offers an affordable solution if you can handle living with roommates.
Frequently Asked Questions About Studying Abroad
Can I work in the U.S. with a student visa?
Yes. U.S. student visas (F-1 status) enable work in the U.S., either on campus at your college or another educational facility or through a specific college-affiliated, post-graduate research project located off campus.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reports that you may not work more than 20 hours per week while school is in session. But you can work full time during breaks and on summer vacation when school is out. Your U.S. student visa employment may not displace a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
How am I matched with a host family?
The first step in finding your ideal host family is to complete an application. Your local college can recommend a verified program or agency to help match you with a host family near your school abroad. You should answer the initial questionnaire as honestly as possible to get a good match.
A qualified homestay program can match your needs and preferences to a host family that has registered with their organization. Going through an agency means you can be sure the host families are vetted for safety before gaining acceptance into the pool of homestay candidates. Most agencies facilitate introductions for final candidates.
How do I stay in touch with family and friends while studying abroad?
You can communicate with family and friends through text, email, video call, WhatsApp, and even social media. Try to make a plan for regular communication with them to keep in touch. A good start can involve introducing them to your host family so they know you are comfortable in your homestay.
Are there English language requirements to study in the U.S.?
Many schools require international students to meet the minimum Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS) scores for admission. Other colleges waive this requirement and offer English language learning programs instead.
Accredited schools typically hold certification through the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to accept international students living in a homestay. These SEVP-certified schools must also accept F1 English language training candidates.