Tips for Writing the Perfect “Dear Family Letter”
Because Greenheart Travel programs focus on language and cultural immersion, many programs – like our Teen Summer Language Camps, Teach English in a Homestay, and High School Abroad programs – travelers stay with host families.
Whether you teach in a homestay in Thailand, study Italian in Florence or go to high school in Spain, living with a host family is one of the best parts. They may be strangers at first, but sooner than you know you’ll be eating breakfast in your pajamas, going to the supermarket and watching movies with them.
Living with a new family is often an adjustment, but every day you’ll learn more about each other’s quirks and personalities. Even before you arrive, you’ll show them a taste of your personality through a “Dear Family Letter.” If you’re not sure what this means or what to write – don’t worry!
Here’s everything you wanted to know but didn’t want to ask about writing a letter to your host family:
What’s a ‘Dear Family Letter’?
A ‘Dear Family Letter’ is a short introduction to who you are, and why you want to live abroad. When you are matched with a family, they’ll receive this letter just as you’ll receive a letter from them. This is the first way they learn about you and it’s your chance to show them you’re ready to be part of their family.
Kathy Clancy, Teach in a Homestay in Italy, France, and Argentina alum, says one of the most important things for her to demonstrate in the letter is her desire to be make the family a priority and develop strong bonds with them.
The families I stayed with wanted a ‘friend’ and someone they believed would follow the flow of the family (make them a priority), and not someone who was in the program just for their own experience.
- Make it original! Avoid copying and pasting from a previous homestay letter or other applications.
- Letters usually run about a page in length.
- Write them as best you can in the language of the host country. If you’re linguistic skills are a bit rusty, no worries! You can always provide an English version to accompany your letter.
There are four main parts to the host family letter:
1. Background on You
Think of this section as an elevator pitch about your life.
- Where did you study?
- What did you study?
- Where are you from?
- What’s your family like, and how do you spend your free time?
- What is your personality like?
- What do you like about other people?
- What are you most passionate about?
- How do you incorporate that in your life?
- What’s something amazing you’ve done in your life?
- What do you hope to do in the future?
- Write things that would make great conversation starters. For example, Clancy loves to cook, so she wrote about it. “This made it easy to talk about the types of cuisines the host family would serve and American foods they would like me to make,” she says.
- Keep it positive unless you’re discussing a negative situation you overcame.
2. Why You Want to Go Abroad
Have you traveled before? Did you have a great host family experience before, and that’s why you’d like to do it again? What inspired you? What about their country intrigues you?
• If you’ve read, watched movies or listened to music from their country, let them know! They’ll be happy you’ve already taken an interest in their culture.
3. What You Hope to Gain During Your Program
Maybe you hope to share your love of the English language. Maybe you’re a history buff who wants to learn about Argentina or you’d like to climb mountains in Chile. Perhaps you’d also love to become conversational in French, train for a marathon or learn photography. Whatever it is, let them know!
- The more specific, the better! It’s good to say, “I’m interested in learning about the culture,” but it’s even better to explain that you’ve loved French cooking ever since you first watched Julia Child, or you’re an avid exerciser and want to see what group fitness classes are like in a different country.
- Include an activity you’d enjoy doing with them, or a favorite hobby you’d like to share with the family.
4. Show You’re Excited to Meet Them
Let them know how much it means that they want to welcome you into their family! Remember that it will be just as much an adjustment for them as it is for you. Showing your appreciation and excitement early will set the tone for your stay.
- If you’re doing the Teach English in a Homestay program, tell them some fun ideas you’d like to incorporate into a lesson.
Why is a ‘Dear Family Letter’ Important?
Through your letter, your family gets a better sense of why you’re a great fit for their home. It gives them a way to plan for your visit. For example, if you mention you love to play violin, they might have a family friend who also plays the instrument and they’ll connect you with a local (and you can make friends while on your program).
Plus, it’s a great ice breaker! You’ll Skype with your family before you depart. Already having that letter helps the family dive right into getting to know you.
The host families are thrilled to meet and get to know Greenheart Travelers, so a ‘Dear Family Letter’ is a great opportunity to make a good first impression and get them excited for you to join their home.