Kristen Wang, SEAS'18

Window view from room

Evaluating Study Abroad Housing Options: Homestay vs. Shared Apartment vs. Student Dorms

Kristen Wang, SEAS'18

The type of housing you select may have a significant impact on your experience abroad, and each has its own benefits and drawbacks.

Once the initial excitement of being accepted to your study abroad program settles a little, you’ll probably be faced with some choices to make in terms of logistics. Depending on the program, one of these choices might be what style of housing you’d like to live in during your time abroad. Maybe the style of housing available factored into your choice of study abroad program, or maybe it didn’t even cross your mind until now. The type of housing you select may have a significant impact on your experience abroad, and each has its own benefits and drawbacks.

The main advantage of living in a homestay during your time abroad is cultural and language immersion. Your host family will be your first point of entry into local life, and you will likely gain knowledge of and become used to local customs relatively quickly. Additionally, speaking to your host family will improve your language skills quickly and teach you colloquial words and phrases. They will likely be part of your support system as you get accustomed to life abroad. That being said, there are some responsibilities associated with living in a homestay. Being a guest of your host family, you should respect the rules they have set for their home, and you may not necessarily get along with them right away (if time passes and you and your host just aren’t clicking, you can talk to your program and they will be able to help you figure out a more comfortable living situation). In order to get the most out of the experience, you should make an effort to spend time with and get to know your host family. The homestay experience might not be for everyone, but it can be very rewarding.

Compared to living with a host, living in a shared apartment with other study abroad students can provide more flexibility in lifestyle and feel more social. In some ways, there is less responsibility to be self-aware and to put effort into overcoming the initial discomfort and unfamiliarity of not knowing your homestay family. As a result, being in an apartment may feel more relaxing. However, living in a shared apartment may not provide as many opportunities for language immersion, as you may feel inclined to speak in English if it is more comfortable. It is easier than you might imagine to settle back into your comfort zone and miss opportunities for cultural immersion. While living with other study abroad students may sound more fun than living with a family, you will likely need to work harder to seek out meaningful interactions with locals.

Living in student dorms has similar pros and cons to living in a shared apartment; the main difference is that you may potentially be living with other local students, which may provide more opportunities for getting immersed in the community at the local university. However, there are some important distinctions about student dorms that may sway your decision as well. You may be rooming with another study abroad student but in a hallway of local students, or you may be placed in a room or suite with one or more local students. Each potential rooming situation may provide a slightly different experience, even within a dorm. You may also want to research the dorm and campus community at your university before attending. Some universities are majority commuter students and will feel vastly different from universities that have a greater proportion of residential students; university cultures vary greatly depending on the country and the specific university. Depending on your university and the housing options available to you, living in a student dorm may be a sort of middle ground between living in a homestay for the language and cultural immersion and living in a shared apartment for the social benefits.

In the end, choosing your living arrangement really comes down to a personal preference and depends on what you want to prioritize in your study abroad experience. There’s no right or wrong answer, and choosing one does not necessarily exclude you from the benefits of the other, but it does significantly affect your study abroad experience, so be sure to weigh your options carefully before making a decision!