Unrealistic expectations can ruin your life out of home
By Glauce Fleury, Contributor
When you move to another country and decide to live in a homestay, it’s important to know what to expect to be sure it is the best option. “Students shouldn’t go into a homestay placement with unrealistic expectations,” suggests Jenny Shin, Douglas’ International Academic Advisor, previously in charge of the International Student Life Program. “The families aren’t there to be a chauffeur, or maid, or to cater to the student’s needs 24 hours a day.”
Hearing this might be hard, but useful. In this sense, Aleksandra Sorokina, a Hospitality Management student at Douglas, chose the safer path. “I didn’t know what to expect, so I just came and took everything as it was.” It’s been three months since she started living at a homestay, and she’s enjoyed most of her days.
The cultural shock, however, is usually present, regardless of how open-minded the student is. For Yuko Naito, who studied English in Canada, the shock referred to privacy. “I’d borrowed my host sister’s backpack to go camping with them and put all my stuff inside, then she opened it to look for something she had lost, without asking me first,” she says. She also dealt with their tardiness, which isn’t common in her Japanese culture. “When they said we’d leave in 10 minutes, I was ready, but I had to wait an hour for them.”
In some cases, though, the main concern is food. “I used to eat only fresh food in Russia but, in my homestay, they leave food for more than one day, so it doesn’t taste that great,” one student complains. The same happened to Judith Canos, who lives in Spain and is an expert in homestays — twice in Ireland, twice in England, and once in Canada. In some of them, the food was prepared for a few days, and just reheated at mealtime. “They didn’t even eat with us.”
Upon applying for a homestay placement, Douglas international students receive a sort of online brochure which makes recommendations, such as “students should not expect families to change their normal lifestyle.” Homestay newcomers must keep in mind that we’re human beings, with faults and virtues, and a good talk can go a long way. I learned this myself after three homestays.
Seven years ago, I dealt with unreasonable rules. My host family just changed the sheets twice a month and I was allowed to shower just once a day for no more than seven minutes. Tricky? No. I argued that habit was a question of good hygiene to me, but I heard, “Brazilians shower a lot because Brazil is hot and Canada is not.” I told them I would move, and then the rules changed.
According to Shin, students shouldn’t be afraid to discuss their problems with the family. However, if they are unsure of how to address their questions, they should see their homestay coordinator for advice. “Open communication is the key, as most problems are really minor and can be solved just by letting each other know what is bothering them,” she explains. “They should spend some time with the family rather than keep themselves in their rooms.”
After all, experts in homestays recommend this experience. “Students learn a lot, even when bad things happen,” says Canos. She believes sharing hobbies is a way to learn about their culture. Naito agrees: “it’s important to experience their lifestyle.” For Shin, the success of a homestay placement depends on the efforts made by both family and student to build a friendship.