The Perks of Being a Homestayer

By Conor Ryan

You’re looking at your study abroad pre-departure checklist and everything is checked off except the housing section. It’s time to make a decision! Choosing where to live while you’re abroad is a big decision that can have a really meaningful impact on what kind of experience you’ll have. There are tons of different housing options out there, ranging from residence halls to apartments. To help narrow down your search I’d like to share some of the ups and downs that come with living in a homestay. As a study abroad returnee that stayed with a host family, I can say that it was the best decision of my study abroad experience, allowing me to grow in ways that never would have imagined. My name is Conor Ryan and I am a senior here at CU and I studied abroad in Paris, France for the academic year of 2015-2016. Each homestay family is unique, and for me personally, my family-away-from-home truly made my experience unforgettable.

 

Benefits of a homestay…

 

Cultural immersion:

One of the biggest perks of living with a homestay family is getting to witness everyday life in another culture. You could be placed with a big, kooky family in a simple house covered by palm trees; or with an elderly couple reminiscent of your grandparents in a massive, metropolitan city—or anything in-between. Either way, the family you live with will take you in as their own and show you the ropes so you can thrive in your host city and in your overall study abroad experience.Conor and host family

Additionally, living with a family opens up opportunities to be part of cultural events you would otherwise only observe from the outside. Your family might invite you to a wedding, on a visit to their country house, or even to spend a holiday with them! My host family invited me to spend the weekend with them in their country house in Giverny, France, which is home to Monet’s famed gardens. I felt like I was in a classic French movie in the countryside, with horses galloping in the fields and freshly-made cheese from the cows on their property. This type of immersion made me fall in love with France, because I was able to get an insider perspective on the beauties of the culture.

Food:

One of my favorite aspects of living in a homestay was definitely the food. We’re not talking about college dorm top ramen—rather, food that is native to the region, which gives you the chance to try new spices, sauces, fruits, vegetables, and just an opportunity to taste foods that are completely different from what you’re used to! Depending on your host family, you may even be able to learn how to cook these delicious meals and gain some culinary skills while abroad. I will always remember the pastries, jams, and pies my host mother made from fresh apples from a tree at the country house. Dinner would always start off with a soup, usually French onion, then a small hors d’oeuvre like fois gras, and after that came the meat, followed by cheese, and finally a yummy desert. Food is a great way to bond with your host family while learning more about the culture of the country where you are studying abroad.

Home away from home:DSC_0377

Studying abroad can be a daunting prospect, especially if you’ve never been away from home for an extended period before. A host family can be an automatic support line. I got sick a few times while abroad and my host mother would make me a tea concoction with ginger, lemon juice, honey, and some of her special spices. Before I knew it, I was good as new! Having the family atmosphere is a unique aspect of living in a homestay that can be a vital resource in times of stress.

Local Knowledge:

Your host family is not only your home while you are abroad, but also a valuable resource for the kind of country-specific cultural knowledge that you can’t learn in a textbook. Whether it’s assistance navigating the city, money saving tips, discovering special events around town, practicing new culinary skills, or learning cultural mannerisms, your host family is a vital resource that is there to help!

When I first arrived in Paris, I was like a lost puppy, used to walking to all my classes in a college town environment. City life was daunting. My host family gave me all sorts of advice on how to get my metro pass, the best place to pick up an espresso in my neighborhood, and even how to set up my French bank account. Especially if you are studying in a country where the language isn’t your first, the local knowledge of a host family is incredibly valuable.

Language Skills:

Finally, a special advantage that comes with living with a family is the ability to practice and refine your language skills. Since you will be living in their home and interacting with them on a daily basis, you will come in contact with words and phrases you haven’t heard before and wouldn’t pick up in a classroom—especially slang and casual conversation skills. Practice makes perfect, and a homestay means you will have plenty of time to practice speaking and listening outside of class.

Things to keep in mind…

You are a guest:DSC_0470

When making your housing decisions, it’s important to remember that a family is opening up their home to you and will have their own set of guidelines and expectations for you to follow during your time there. Since every family is different, there will be some families with little to no instructions, and others with more rules. Keep in mind the fact that homestay families genuinely love to interact with international students and want to ensure you have the best experience possible.

Dependency:

A nice benefit of living in a homestay is that you can fall back on them if anything happens, but this can end up being a negative if you are depending too much on your home stay. Although each family is different in its level of independence, relying heavily on your homestay can make it easy to spend less time exploring and interacting with other people. Get involved at your host institution, join a sports team, or even volunteer or try to get a job while abroad. I ended up babysitting a five year old boy named Leonard during my second semester, and it was a great way to get out of the house. Living in a foreign country can be intimidating, but getting out of your comfort zone is one of the best parts about studying abroad!

Parental:

One of the most common concerns about living in a homestay is that your host parents will act too parental and prevent you from having the full experience. As I mentioned before, each family is different so it is hard to generalize what yours will be like, but keep this in mind: your host parents will have lives of their own too! When I was abroad, my host parents would rarely be home in the day time and I would only see them in the evening for dinner, so I had quite a bit of alone time and a chance to do things independently.img_8428

Just as every family is different, so is every study abroad student! Some students request a very strong, close connection with their homestay family, while others want to be more independent. After you are accepted to your program, you will work with your program provider to connect with a family that fits your needs and matches your lifestyle.

Now that you know some of the pro’s and con’s of living with a homestay family while studying abroad it’s time to finish up that check list and start exploring! Whether you live in an apartment, student housing, or with a homestay family, study abroad will allow for you to grow as an individual, make new friends from all over the world, and create memories that will last a lifetime. Study abroad is timeless, it will never go out of style, and your experience is something that will be unique to you forever!

All photos: Conor Ryan

Off the Beaten Path in Spain

By Jackson Zeiler

There’s a reason that Spain consistently tops the charts for tourism. The country sports several of the greatest cities in the world, with Barcelona and Madrid frequently making the shortlist, while the mild climate makes it an outdoor paradise. Spain is one of the most popular places that Ed Abroad sends students, and with good reason. We offer programs across the country, each city presenting its own features and flairs. From major cities like Barcelona to lesser-known locales like Granada, Alicante, and Salamanca; there is a huge range of ways to immerse yourself in Spanish culture. Want to get the most out of your Spanish experience? Read on for tips and tricks to maximize your time and minimize the cost!

Travel by Bus

Forget what you know about Greyhound buses in the US. Buses in Spain (and much of Europe, for that matter) are top of the line, safe, and comfortable for travel near and far. Bus companies like ALSA have it figured out. Riders are able to buy tickets ahead of time, and even choose their seats. Entertainment is usually top-notch Spanish fare–and if sleeping is your thing you’ll be glad to know the seats recline way back.

Spain, Barcelona - by Sophia Minning 'Park Guell'- 2016.JPG
Photo by Sophia Minning

As an added bonus you’ll get a free countryside tour, something you don’t get on a plane. Kick back, save some cash, and see where the bus can take you.

A Mountain of Things to Do

Can’t bear the thought of a semester away from the Rockies? Give “Picos de Europe” a quick Google. Check out Mulhacen. Gawk at some pictures of the Pyranees. You’ll find that Spain is one of the most mountainous regions of Europe. Hiking isn’t the only outdoor activity that Spaniards enjoy, either. Camping, backpacking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and the legendary Camino de Santiago are all in the playbook. Do some research, get out of the city, and hit some trails.

‘Tis the Season

If you study in Spain during the spring semester, expect to have a healthy amount of time off during your term. The Spanish relish their breaks and take their long weekends extremely seriously. The late winter and spring are chock full of holidays. I remember a two week stretch where every other day was a commemorative regional holiday, religious observance, or outright national holiday. The Spanish will go so far as to declare puentes (bridges) between holidays that fall two or three days apart; the logic being that if another holiday is coming up soon, might as well take the days in between off!

SPAIN, Santander- by Kelsey Lanning, 'Anna & Kelsey'- Spring 2012, ISA Salamanca.jpg
Photo by Kelsey Lanning

 

The biggest and most important observance in the Spanish year by far is Semana Santa, or Holy Week, which occurs during the last week of Lent right before Easter. Everything is closed for ten days and, yes, that means class is canceled too. I highly recommend staying in your city to observe some of the traditions, parades, and ceremonies that occur during this week. It will be like nothing you’ve ever seen.

 

Food for Thought

If you even marginally enjoy eating, I have good news for you. Each of Spain’s seventeen Autonomous Communities sport their own cuisine and they don’t mess around. Try out the varied seafoods of Galicia, Cantabria, and the Basque Country. The Roman and Arab influences in Andalusia give Sevilla and Granada a flash of wild flavor. Pastries are particularly good in Catalunya. Paella should only be consumed in Valencia, full stop. Sate your cheese-craving in Castilla-La Mancha. Try the pintxos (tapas) in Navarra and caracoles (snails) in Madrid. And jamón, commonly known as ham. Jamón is everywhere (luckily).

A Tried and True Culinary Tradition

Yeah, we’re not done with food yet. Tapas are quintessentially Spanish, and no one takes them more seriously than the people of Spain’s southern region of Andalusia. Tapas are small plates, similar to appetizers, of traditional or experimental food, usually served in bars. They pair great with conversation, drinks, and outdoor terraces. In Granada, any bar or restaurant of repute will supply a free tapa to any customer who orders a drink. This tradition made its way to Sevilla, the capital of the region, and from there to the surrounding areas where it is now ubiquitous. Tapas increase in size and quality as more drinks are ordered, so expect the waiter to really spoil you after a few rounds. That, or move from place and place and sample your way through an entire neighborhood!

Spain, Granada by Hannah Farrar 'View through archway' summer, 2015.JPG
Photo by Hannah Farrar

The World’s Sport

A stay in Spain would be incomplete without seeing a football match between two teams in the world’s toughest soccer league. Players worldwide aspire to be picked up by any team in La Liga, meaning even the teams at the bottom of the division will give teams from another league a show. Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico de Madrid are Spain’s top winners, and it’s definitely worth seeing one of these teams play. El Clásico is going to absolutely destroy your budget, though—luckily La Liga is rife with other heated rivalries. Arguably deeper than the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid is the Seville Derby between the city’s two teams, Real Betis and Sevilla FC. The matchup divides the city. Sevilla FC has had more European League appearances, giving it a wider fanbase across Spain and Europe, while Betis is historically the people’s team, especially emblematic of the working class. Whichever team you pick, you can be sure you’ll learn some colorful language from the many chants each team has for the other.

Arte Madrileño

Need an affordable weekend art fix? Look no further than Madrid! With over forty art museums, ranging from trendy galleries to world-class locales rivaling the Louvre, Madrid will surpass the expectations of even the most hardened critic. Hit the mains first, starting with the Prado. Peep at Goya and Velázquez before heading over to the Reina Sofia to see Guernica and other Picasso works, as well as famous cubism by artists like Juan Gris.

If you are an art and architecture guru, make sure to check out the City of Arts complex in Valencia and of course Barcelona for Gaudi.

Know the Way

A great way to start or end a semester in Spain is with the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, an ancient pilgrimage route that sees thousands of visitors a year. While walking for several weeks doesn’t appeal to everyone, there is no better way to experience the Spanish countryside. The path is actually significantly longer than the chunk that runs through Spain, continuing on through much of Europe—sounds like the beginnings of a unique trip idea to me…

Island Hopping East and West

 

SPAIN, Mallorca - by Chris Fenton, 'Sunset Cloud'.jpg
Photo by Chris Fenton

Turns out Ibiza isn’t the only island in the Balearics. Palma de Mallorca has everything that the other islands (and mainland) have, but with the benefit of more space, more beaches, more natural parks, and more things to do. Want to go further? The Canary Islands, off the southwest coast of Morocco, offer tons to do, with access to Spain’s highest mountain, Teide, and the national park that contains it. Even better, it’s only a quick hop to Agadir to start a new journey through Morocco!

Exchange Spotlight: University of East Anglia (Norwich, England)

By Bryce Patterson

I arrived a little past dark in early January, 2014. The taxi ride to our apartments in the city center took us, a cluster of international students, through rainy streets, past rows of classic British duplexes, along pieces of the medieval wall that surrounded the original village, and down through cobblestone streets to our complex on the banks of the river Yar. It was too dark that night to see the spire of the cathedral, the iconic centerpiece of the city. Jet-lagged and exhausted by hours of travel, I crashed and burned within minutes of entering my apartment.

With my circadian rhythms several time zones behind my physical surroundings, I was up before the sun and shrugging on my rain jacket. Within an hour of exploration, I learned two things. One: always look upwards while walking. The glass store-fronts of much of the city are not especially awe-inspiring. Not awe-inspiring, that is, until you take the time to look up. That’s when you realize that the building that houses your grocery store predates the founding of the United States, often by hundreds of years. In Norwich, England, most things do. Thrift-shopping in the city is a religious experience for a history buff like me.
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Follow the Locals: Traveling on a Dime in India and China

By Hannah Farrar

My name is Hannah Farrar and I am a program manager at Education Abroad. I came into the office as a student peer advisor for my senior year, before graduating with a bachelor’s in International Affairs in 2014. I have had the privilege to travel quite a bit throughout my life, but the two month trip I spent post-graduation travelling China and India with my father was one of the most formative.

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Photo by Hannah Farrar

It was an experience that pushed us both far outside our comfort zones and one that taught us immeasurable lessons. But there are books and websites full of stories about the value of travel. Truth be told, if you are reading this, you likely already have the itch to go, so I probably don’t need to sell you on that. If you are at all like me, you probably grapple with where to go, the question of if never crossing your mind.

One of the main obstacles many of us face – and the one that may very quickly make your dreams seem impossible – is the number in our bank accounts.

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