Students who study abroad often gush about all of their experiences, including the ups and downs of housing. Homestays are a particularly unique component of studying abroad, that offer students the opportunity to live with people from that area and develop a deeper intercultural exchange. As the first homestay student for the CIEE program in Haifa, Israel, I felt some pressure to have a good experience and set up a good system for future abroad students.
My worries were fruitless – I could not have asked for a better experience. Over the spring semester, I lived with four people: my host mom, host dad and two host sisters. We were all nervous about our first meeting, seeing as we had only spoken through Facebook up until that point. But we clicked immediately. Living with my host family was the easiest transition of the abroad experience. I was immediately welcomed into the family – we went on trips together, I got the most amazing meals from my chef host dad and I spent almost every evening dancing with the girls.
The language barrier was insignificant, because our connection didn’t depend solely on verbal communication. We laid on the beach, attended birthday parties and went bird watching. My host mom and I would stay up too late every night gossiping and sharing stories about our lives. They taught me so many useful phrases in Hebrew and I helped them to practice their English.
It’s difficult to emphasize just how amazing this experience was, but hopefully this end-of-the-semester scenario sums it up: both my host family and I made collages for each other, followed by my host mom’s mother reading me a note, in both Hebrew and English, about how I had become part of the family. It was an experience that developed my understanding of Israeli culture, kept me busy during my free time and gave me a second family.
Living in a homestay is a chance; but, it’s one worth taking. Which is why I interviewed my host mom, with both of us answering the same questions, to give some more perspective on my time with my host mom, Liron, and her family.
What made you choose staying with a host family?
Staying with a host family was never really an option for me – it drove my decision of where to study abroad. I have always felt that living with a host family could provide a more integrated experience, especially for someone who can get caught up in doing school work. I saw this as the ideal way of branching out and integrating into Israeli society while abroad.
How did you feel on the day of your arrival to Liron’s house?
Before arriving at Liron’s house, I was incredibly nervous and overwhelmed. I had just landed in a new country and wasn’t sure exactly what to expect with my host family. However, immediately upon meeting them, I felt welcomed and at home. They had roses waiting for me (it was Valentine’s Day) and my two host sister’s had drawn me ‘Welcome’ signs.
What was your funniest moment together?
Over the course of my time abroad, we have all picked up this habit of calling each other “genius” whenever someone says something smart. For instance, if Liron can’t remember an English word during a conversation and my host dad, Amos, knows it, we all cheer “Genius!” and immediately start laughing. At this point, we have all been declared geniuses many times.
Can you tell one experience you had together that was meaningful to you?
Toward the end of my time abroad, my dad came to visit me and of course, he had to meet my host family. We all went out to dinner at a restaurant with a band. At one point, I was dancing with my host sisters, swinging them around and laughing. I looked over and both my host family and my dad were videotaping us and we were all laughing. It was a perfect moment.
How would you sum the experience of living with a host family?
My host family was the best part of studying abroad, without a doubt. They brought me to a Haifa soccer game, took me on a family trip with Liron’s parents, showed me around the markets, cooked me delicious meals, and always made me feel at home. I could not have picked a better family to stay with during my time in Israel and leaving them is hard, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world!
What made you want to host an international student?
I saw a post on Facebook and I thought it would be very, very nice to have a student and a person that we don’t know. And we love to have guests and so we wanted the student to have a wonderful time in Israel and get to know as much as we can.
How did you feel on the day Mikala arrived?
I was very excited and also my girls, my husband, and all of the family. She entered the house and she was so shocked that we felt like we really wanted to have this big project that we are going to succeed after she will be with us for three and a half months. The only thing that mattered to us was that she would feel at home and have a good time.
What was your funniest moment together?
I want to answer exactly as Mikala answered. We can both have the same answer, since they are the same questions. Genius!
Tell me one experience you had together that was meaningful to you?
The most meaningful experience was when her father came. He was not going to sleep at the house and sleep in a hotel, but then he changed his mind and decided to stay here. It was very, very meaningful to have her and her father in the house. It was the feeling to have them both here, so he could see and feel where she lived. We got to know him and it was very good – for all of the family.
Was it a difficult adjustment for you and your family?
Not at all. It was, from the beginning, because we came ready for the whole experience. We were prepared and just wanted her to feel at home. Mikala got along with my girls well, came with us to family dinners, and went on trips with us, so she was a part of the family right away.
How would you sum the experience of hosting a student at your house?
It was an extraordinary experience and we all want Mikala to stay.