Like many other programs, my study abroad experience included a two month component in which I lived with a host family to learn how family life in the country works and to improve my language skills. The host “families” for all of the students in our program group were extremely varied. For example, I lived with two parents, who have three daughters, yet only the youngest one still lives at home. Some other students in my group lived with a single lady or in a more co-op situation where one person took in many guests.
I was very thankful to be with an actual family and to have a younger host sister (age 11) who was always there to talk to. In my two months there I had met the two eldest daughter and a lot of the extended relatives and neighbors. There was even a week which my family went to Austria so I stayed with the grandparents and was treated like one of their own grandkids. To be honest, being able to sit around the dinner table with them every night and participate in family functions made me feel very welcome. They were truly like family to me and I even went back for a weekend three months after leaving to visit.
However during my stay my host family went through a few really terrible experiences. As a respect to their privacy I am not going to elaborate on what exactly happened, but it left me in a very awkward position. Because I had grown so close with them, I too felt affected by their losses, yet I was definitely out of my element on how to react respectfully without intruding too much into their personal lives. I ended up turning to one of my German teachers for advice to learn if there were any do’s or don’ts in the German culture that I was unaware of. In the end I ended up still participating in all family events, yet made more of an effort to help with small things and let them have a few nights to themselves so they wouldn’t have to have any added stress about a host student. Although the situation was very unfortunate I did appreciate that my host family was so honest and trusting of me. Plus they still tried their hardest to make me feel welcome and comfortable and I was able to leave on a very fresh note.
All in all, I am very thankful for the experiences that I enjoyed with my host family. Although there were some difficulties, I believe that we actually strengthened our relationship by working through them. When I returned for a visit before flying back to the US I actually got to meet another one of their host students and broadened my circle even more. Being with a host family was probably the most valuable experience I had abroad and I would recommend that everyone try it out!