I don’t need to tell you that you get to know a place best by hanging out with locals. They know where to go, what to see and make great travel buddies. But if you actually live with them, you really dive into their culture. I’ve stayed with host families twice and both times I absolutely hit the jackpot. Why I loved it so much? I can list reasons like „you get to taste the local food“, „you are forced to speak the local language“, but you probably already know about those. Let me tell you some stories of what I experienced with my families. Because let’s face it: speaking the language and eating the food is awesome, but it’s not what stays in mind after getting back home.
My first host family stay was in England. I was sixteen and my parents sent me to a language school for two weeks. It was my first trip without my parents, so it was pretty exciting. I didn’t really have a host family, just a host mom. Trish was the cutest thing: her children had just moved out and she was happy to have someone to pamper again. On my first night she showed me all her kitchen supplies and told me she bought them at Lidl. When I said that we also have Lidl in Germany, she was super excited and showed me everything she had ever bought at that supermarket. Of course she also showed me my room… and what can I say, it looked like the setting for some kind of fairy-tale movie. A big bed, linen with floral prints, a dressing table with a pretty mirror, a nice view from the window. I immediately felt at home and it wasn’t just because of the room. Trish made me feel like we’d known each other for years. One night I came home and found her and a friend chatting on the couch. When I popped in to say Hi, she told her friend „June! This is Dorothee! She knows Lidl!“ and immediately a complete stranger was talking to me like an old friend. Another time Trish came to my room, desperately looking for her sunglasses. I helped her with the search, but without success. After about half an hour I realized Trish had been wearing the glasses on her head the whole time and we totally cracked up. Somehow we really were like mother and daughter and I never felt like a guest.
After I had signed up for a TEFL course in Costa Rica, I had to make a choice concerning where to stay. I wasn’t sixteen anymore, it wasn’t just for two weeks, but for a little bit more than a month… so even though I only had fantastic memories about host family stays, I was skeptical. A friend told me „You don’t even wanna live with your own parents anymore, so why stay with total strangers? Why not get an apartment and make your own rules?“ and she did have a point. In the end, I still decided to stay with a host family because I was craving that „insider“ experience. End of the story: it was the best decision ever. Why? Let me tell you about my first day in Costa Rica: my host mother picked me up from the bus station and it was love at first sight. When she showed me my room, I was absolutely stunned: it was more of a little apartment! Two rooms, my own bathroom and a little balcony. Then she told me that it was her birthday and that I was invited for her party in the evening. Later that day, another TEFLer arrived and moved into the apartment next to mine. Again, it was love at first sight. Michael and I got along great and talked for hours. In the evening, we met our host dad and brother and had another love at first sight-moment. I was so overwhelmed with the kindness of these people and could barely believe that I was lucky enough to stay there. The birthday party intensified that feeling. We had a barbecue out on the street, tons of people came and brought food, drinks and camping furniture. As our host brother was our age, there were also lots of young people who really tried hard to communicate with me, even when my Spanish skills reached their limits. They made us feel welcome and part of the family.
One time I got sick and my host parents couldn’t have been more caring. They brought me medicine and tea and made me soup. I don’t even wanna imagine what it would have been like if I had been sick in an apartment, all by myself.
I am well aware that I’ve been very lucky with my host family stays. I’ve also heard horror stories of people having to wait to take shower because the family’s dog had to go first (no joke). Still, I encourage everyone to stay with a host family at least once. You can also have a negative experience if you get your own place, but if it ends up being a great experience like mine you it will give you so much more than an apartment ever could.