Approaching the day of arrival of a homestay trip can bring a lot of excitement, but also apprehension and stress. For those lucky enough to be in a homestay where no English is spoken, your stress may multiply. I know for me it did, as in the days before my arrival to my homestay in the Dominican Republic, my difficulties ahead set in. Dominicans speak some of the fastest Spanish in the world, and I hadn't even taken a Spanish class my last semester! If you find yourself panicking a little before departure or even after you show up, don't worry, this is normal, and I have a few tips to help get you through your first week:
Dont panic if you can't understand day 1
Learning a language is a long, multistep process. Especially if this is your first immersion experience, expect to understand very little, its okay! I had taken four years of high school Spanish and one semester in college, and my first day, I only understood about 5% of what my host mom said to me. Your most helpful phrases will be "Otra vez, por favor" and "Repite por favor, un poco más despacio". Your host fmily is not expecting you to show up fluent, after all, one of the main purposes of an immersion experience is to improve language skills. Instead of focusing on your lack of understanding, focus on what you do understand. For me, this was food and baseball. Just by asking questions about things you know a little about, you'll show, first of all, that you know more than sí, no, and gracias (which for me was a relieving feeling) and it also allows you to hear the language to start tuning your ear.
Indulge in the langage as much as you can
It may be intimidating, but try to ask as many questions as you can to your host family and the locals. This is the only way you'll improve your listening skills. Your first night, if you aren't completely wiped from the day of travel, try watching a movie you know in your target language. If you need some help, throw on the Spanish subtitles. These are also a good way of seeing your improvement, by thinking about how much of the movie's dialouge you understood. Another good way to speed up your progress is to try to keep speaking your target langauge, even when your with other English speakers from the program, or with Spanish speakers who speak English. Many times, we have been asked, "would you like this tour/these instructions/taxi ride in English or Spanish?" Try to always pick your target language (although if you don't think you'll make it home in the taxi speaking Spanish, do what you gotta do)!
Take it 24 hours at a time
The first day will be tough, there's no denying that. For me, my roommate in my homestay had a Dominican parent, so he could understand Dominican Spanish fluently, leaving me the clueless gringo. I will always remember when my host mom lead me to the bathroom, pointed at the toilet, toilet paper, and trashcan, all while fitting about seven thousand words into a 30 second block. I walked into my room after that saying to myself "I think I may have missed some critical information there". That was my first real moment of panic in the DR. I started thinking I'd never be able to catch up to that in a month. But even the next day, I noticed an improvement. If each day, maybe after a breakfast conversation with your family, you think about how much you understood today versus yesterday, you'll be amazed at the progress your brain has made just by starting to tune your ear to the language and dialect.
Bonus tip: Take an interest in the cultural cuisine. Trust me.
In the survey I filled out to get matched with my host family, I said I wanted to learn about the cuisine, as I like cooking. I didn't realize how much of a power move that was until I arrived. I lucked out, as my host mom is a fantastic cook, but sometimes host families will make American fare to play it safe with their students, so make it known that you want to try the regional cuisine, not only is food big part of culture, but this is also what your host family likely cooks the most, so it will be their best recipes, and with delicious local, fresh ingredients that you may have never tried, or never had that fresh.