host family

4 Crucial Tips for Dealing with a Difficult Host Family

Living with a host family might be even more difficult than living with your roommate from freshman year.
May 4, 2018
9 mins read

Roommate horror stories float around college campuses frequently, implanting outrageous fears and rumors that you forget about until your roommate does one weird thing, and it all comes rushing back.

Bad host families, on the other hand, never get any recognition. Because it’s often more difficult than living with a roommate, living with a host family opens the door to an entirely different set of problems.

Although heavily romanticized, living abroad with a host family does not always turn out as good as it’s cracked up to be. On top of this, difficulties, such as language barriers, culture shock and isolation make it that much more difficult to adjust to life abroad, with or without a difficult host family. No matter how difficult your host family becomes, you can take action in different ways to make your abroad experience as positive as possible.

1. Adjust to their routine.

Adjusting to your host family’s schedule, even if you just make time to eat dinner with them, will enhance your study abroad experience (Image via ILA France)

When you don’t get along with your host family, usually your first instinct includes immediately hiding away in your room. But in reality, hiding away just creates more conflict. Instead, try to adjust to their schedule.

On days that you don’t have other commitments, ask when you should be getting up, eating meals and spending time with the family. Making an effort with your host family will, in turn, cause them to make more of an effort as well.

Additionally, getting into the family’s routine allows for an easier adjustment into their lifestyle. With difficult host families, the best approach often includes creating as little conflict as possible.

By refusing to adapt to their schedule, you unintentionally give them another thing to become bitter about. So, get out of your college sleeping-until-noon-on-weekends routine, and crawl out of bed a few hours earlier. Don’t worry; the pain won’t last forever.

2. Initiate conversation.

On the list of things you never want to do when coming into a new home in a foreign country, making casual conversation usually reaches near to the top. But sometimes, host families do not want to make that reach either.

If you find yourself struggling to bond or to get along, try simple human contact. The effort not only makes your host family feel like you care; it also allows you to communicate with them easier if you experience a language barrier.

Easy questions — such as “How was your day?” and “What did you do today?” — create an easier conversation to follow. The small-talk also creates an opportunity to get better at their language, as just sitting and listening to them talk around you probably won’t improve your fluency.

Also, if vocabulary you aren’t comfortable with hits you, ask them to explain it in their native language instead of translating it yourself. Doing so will get you thinking more in the language and develop your skills faster. If worst comes to worst and the conversation goes terribly, then at least you can say that you tried.

3. Attempt to learn about your host family’s culture.

If you’re living in another country, studying the culture and visiting notable sights is a must, and it might spark a better relationship with your host family (Image via Study Abroad)

Culture shock hits hard, and when it does, sometimes nothing seems better than curling up in bed and watching “The Office” while scrolling through your very American social media. While comforting for a few days, binge-watching Netflix does not provide a long-term solution.

Instead, realize that many opportunities to soak up good ole’ American culture will arise, but the opportunity to live in a foreign country may only happen once. Embrace it while you can.

Ask your host family about local monuments, traditional food and unique traditions. Trying their customs will not only educate you about your temporary home, but it will also make your host family feel as though you find interest in their lives, even while you live your own.

Even if your host family doesn’t quite land a spot on your list of favorite people, at least learning about their culture creates a better and more stimulating experience for you.

4. Give yourself some space.

In the best of times and in the worst of times, always prioritize self-care. Recognize that even if your host family doesn’t understand or temporarily becomes angry, your own mental health comes first. Remember to schedule time for yourself.

If your abroad program requires you to spend a lot of time with family, allow for at least one hour at night before you go to bed to relax by yourself. If your program allows for more freedom, try to go explore the surrounding area by yourself. No matter how much your host family aggravates you, you will always feel better and more rejuvenated after taking time for yourself.

Constantly being surrounded by people who you don’t know very well can be emotionally draining, especially when it involves a culture and language that you did not grow up with. Allow time for you to recharge.

After all, spending too much time with a family that you don’t necessarily get along with just further damages your relationship, as well as your emotional stability. Remember that your own family more than likely resides halfway across the world, so you can’t rely on your mom to remind you to take care of yourself.

While following the above tips can improve your stay with your host family, sometimes you just have to live with it. All experiences, the good and even the bad, will teach you something. Living abroad and almost completely isolating yourself from your American life will probably become one of the hardest things that you ever did. But, it will also become one of the most valuable.

When times get rough, just remember that sometimes, people will not like you. If you put in a valiant effort to get along with your host family and it still doesn’t work out, learn from that. Make the best of it. Travel on your own, try to meet other people and do things that don’t require spending time with your host family.

Remember that living abroad does not last forever, and before you know it, you will be back in your comfortable dorm room, probably watching “The Office” there, too. While you might not remember this experience as your favorite, you will remember the experience, so don’t allow yourself to make it something that you will regret later in life. You got this.

Rebecca Crosby, American University

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Rebecca Crosby

American University


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