It was about seven months ago that I called my host parents for the first time. I’ll be honest and say it was extremely awkward. I wasn’t sure what to say to the people that I’d be living with for nine months. I don’t actually remember what was said, but I know I stuttered out of nervousness, and that the phone connection was terrible.
A week or so later, I Skyped them for the first time. It wasn’t a long conversation, as I was still quite nervous and they had a plethora of people running around. I only talked to them directly one other time, for about fifteen minutes with all of their family around, and all of mine. Needless to say, we didn’t exactly know each other well before we met at the airport. Yet, they still managed to help me relax and feel at home.
When I first met them, they were quick to hug me and make sure I knew I was welcome in their home, and they were happy to have me. This and the way they repeatedly told me that it was “my house too”, and that I should treat it as such, helped me feel less homesick and happier here while studying in Ireland. I have been extremely lucky with my host family, as they are sure to include me in everything and we all get on well.
Not all students are as fortunate, and many have issues and complaints with their host family. However, I feel that it is natural to feel uncomfortable in your host family sometimes. You’re in a new place, you don’t know what is and isn’t acceptable at first. The things you might have done in your own home aren’t things your host family will do, and vise versa. And I think there are some things you will never feel comfortable doing with your host family.
For example, I don’t like to come downstairs in my pajamas here. At home I’d wander all over in my pajamas, but I just don’t do that here. In pretty much every aspect of my life here I feel safe and comfortable around my host family. That’s what’s important. My host family has gone to great lengths to ensure that I am at home here and at ease.
My family and friends back home were also incredibly helpful with my transition. Many people wrote encouraging notes and letters to me before I left, about how proud of me they were, and how much they were going to miss me. I took quite a lot of these with me and used them to decorate my room. Especially in the first few months, when I was particularly homesick, I would read over these letters and notes and would feel a little bit closer to home. I’ve found that even just having these things around me helps me deal with my homesickness.
1) Try and be apart of your host family. I know it isn’t easy, but it’s important. It’s as simple as spending time in the areas they spend a lot of time in, like the living room or kitchen. Don’t be afraid to take part in celebrations or casual conversations they have.
2) If your family is one that has regular meals together, try to be at home for them. Family meals are a big part of both my family here and at home, so this was not only a way to help me with homesickness, but also helped let me get to know my host family better.
3) Help out. Heaven knows I’m no saint when it comes to keeping my room clean, but I do try to keep it generally straightened up. Some host families may request you do certain chores, others may not. Either way, offer to do the dishes, or set table. It’s your home for however long you’re there, and it’s important to take care of it. Your host family is a big part of your study abroad experience, so do your best to enjoy your time with them!
Kayla Trowbridge is 16 years old and lives in Zionsville, Indiana. Her goal during her study abroad program is to “create relationships that will continue throughout my life and develop a new understanding of the Irish culture.” Follow Kayla’s adventure in Ireland on her blog post updates throughout her program.