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Personal Accounts Of A Host And A Student: Creating Home Away From Home

Are you thinking about a homestay? Interested in learning more about what day to day life would be like? Wondering why you should stay in a homestay? To address these questions, we wanted to share a little bit of what makes a homestay experience so valuable to you as a language learner. To do so, we interviewed a student as well as a host mom individually and then compared the manner in which they responded to some of the same questions. In this way, we were able to present two sides of the same coin.

The language learner: Erin, 18

Erin is an 18-year-old student from England, and has been studying Spanish in Buenos Aires for the last 3 months. After she finishes her time with Expanish in Buenos Aires, she will be traveling Latin America. I had the chance to meet up with Erin in an Expanish classroom which overlooks the river. As we settled in, Erin explained to me that this was not her first time living away from England as she has lived in Singapore and Switzerland with her family. This is, however, her first time living abroad on her own.

As we got to know each other, I was drawn into her language learning adventure in Buenos Aires: the ups, the downs, the language, the culture, and most of all her homestay experience. I asked her some questions regarding her general homestay experience which paint a picture of her everyday experience living in Buenos Aires in a homestay.

The entrance to host home elegant and timeless

Jane: How long have you been here?

Erin: Two months.

Jane: That’s great! Where is your homestay located?

Erin: In Recoleta. On Juncal, it’s a nice area, very quiet.

Jane: Do you like that location?

Erin: Yea, a lot.

Jane: How long does it take you to get to school?

Erin: So now I walk to school, and it takes me 40 to 45 minutes. The first month or so I got the bus, but then, because at first my classes were just in the afternoon so it was quite quiet on the buses, but now I have morning classes and it’s just too busy so I was like I can actually walk faster than taking the bus. So ya.

Jane: Who is your homestay parent? What are they like?

Erin: She’s called Mariana, I think she’s about 60, but she’s very energetic active, super talkative and friendly, I think she has a partner but she lives alone in the house with the students and I think she’s been a host for over 10 years or something so she’s done it a lot and she knows how to do it all.

Jane: What kind of space do you have in your home stay?

Erin: I have a room to myself, that’s for me quite big, it’s almost bigger than my room in England, I’ve got a bed, and a wardrobe, a desk, and yea bookshelves and yea I’ve got enough space to put all my stuff.

Jane: What kind of food did you have at your homestay, was it mostly Argentine?

Erin: Yea, I really like her food actually because Im vegetarian and I thought maybe it could be an issue in Argentina um but she’s super active and I think she’s quite into eating healthy and it’s always really fresh like vegetables and rice and pastas like I love her food like genuinely, so Im very happy with the food. She cooks very healthy.

Jane: Do you think you will continue your relationship with your family in the future?

Erin: Yes I’d like to think so, since I’m traveling after, I’d like to send her postcards and stuff like that and if I ever come back I would love to get coffee or something.

The Welcoming and Joyful Host: Mariana

homestay buenos aires

Mariana has hosted many students, and wants to ensure that their time in her home is always enjoyable and safe!

After getting to know Erin, I was intrigued by her experience with Mariana, so I arranged a visit to get to know her. Coming from busy downtown Buenos Aires, arriving in Recoleta was like a breath of fresh air. I arrived in the neighborhood just as kids were getting out of class, bakeries were putting out fresh baked goods and the elders were taking their afternoon coffee.

Mariana greeted me with the customary kiss on the cheek and welcomed me in to the building. As walked up the three flights of stairs to get to the apartment, I noticed that while Mariana is small in stature, her presence is large, and very Argentine. Given that she speaks little English, the interview was done in Spanish, and translated to English for the convenience of the reader.

Jane: Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Mariana: I’m from here, from Buenos Aires, from this neighborhood. I’ve lived in this house for about 40 years now. I’m an architect, and I refurbish old houses and apartments.

Jane: How long have you been receiving exchange students?

Mariana: More than 10 years, maybe 11 or 12.

Jane: Erin told me there are three rooms? How is that organized?

Mariana: There are three rooms and two bathrooms. Meaning two rooms share a bathroom and the third room has the luck of having a private bathroom. That’s the luxury room, the luxury experience. So the distribution of the students is great, they are really comfortable, because they have their area, I hear them laughing, or they watch their shows together, and becoming friends. First they pass each other contact, then they meet up at a bar or they run into each other on the way home from the dancing at 5 in the morning haha. Or if something happens to me and I need to get in to contact with them; I can contact one and they are sure to let the others know which really helps me out.

Jane: What kind of questions do students tend to ask?

Mariana: They ask me a lot about if it is safe. Where it is safe to go, stuff like that. And questions about night life as well, where there is good nightlife and where they can have fun. I know where my past students have had fun so I always just recommend those places because I know they will have fun there. Then sometimes they ask about the history of Argentina, the political history, you know, it’s not so simple here at all.

cozy at a homestay

Similar to Mariana, the living Space of her home is warm and inviting.

Creating a Home Together: Two sides of the same coin

Given the opportunity to speak to both Erin and Mariana, I felt like I gained insight into their home, and their shared, yet separate lives. There were several questions in which their answers reflected each other in their experience.

Safe and Sound

Jane: What made you decide to stay in a homestay instead of the other options available?

Erin: I liked the idea of the homestay because it was great if someone could tell you about the city obviously knows about that place because they have lived there most of their life.  And I didn’t like the idea of sharing a room with someone in the residence for like 3 months, so that’s why. She (Mariana) was she was so helpful at the beginning, and she would go out of her way to make sure I know what I was doing and that I was safe.

Jane: Why did you decide to host international students?

Mariana: When I first started my son was still living here and it was really nice because my poor adolescent son was living with his mom at 18 and he still couldn’t move out of the house and it was like a bonding experience for us making sure the girls (international students) were safe and happy. He used to go pick them up at the dance club at 5 in the morning and I would be like are you really going and he would be like, of course, didn’t you see their mini skirts! And so he was like a brother to them and he helped me watch after them.

More than a guest

Jane: Did you develop a good relationship with your homestay family? How would you describe that relationship?

Erin: Yea, i think because there’s three students now, we all eat dinner together and talk like an hour after and just sit and talk at the table. Real good.

Jane: Did you trust her like if you ever had something bad happen?

Erin: Yea 100%. Once I was a little bit sick and she could tell and I could tell she went in to mum mode and she’s like oh she provided me with some medicine and like was really caring and i feel like you could genuinely tell her if you have anything. I really didn’t have any problems with it because here im still quite independent and it’s not like its family as in she doesn’t tell me what to do in that sense so no ive not had any issues adapting to her lifestyle.

Jane: What is your relationship like with the students?

Mariana: It’s not formal if its formal it’s no fun. But the relationship, look they aren’t visitors, but neither are they my niece that came to live here, its like on the border with a guest but they aren’t a guest in a hotel, I’m not a hotel, there’s like a middle point and I don’t get in their lives in the same way I get in the lives of my nieces that came to live here, and when they (the nieces) come here it gets so chaotic, even worse than my sons! No, I don’t get in their (the students) lives, but they always treat me with much respect and love. They are always very loving.

When Cultures Combine

Jane: What was surprising about the cultural differences?

Erin: mmm, maybe at the beginning, I think the language was the biggest shock yea because i went in to her house and all I could say was hi and thank you, but after like 2 weeks all of that was over. And like in her house no i don’t think there was anything that was super shocking. In the city I think just cuz it was like, i think just cuz it was, at first I was very very cautious when I was out and staying safe because in my head south america is just like so dangerous or that’s what everyone tells you at least in europe and so I never had my phone out and I was just super super cautious then i sort of started to realize that it’s not super dangerous, you sort of have to have your whits about you but it’s not like you can’t go out, especially in my neighborhood. I’ve never felt unsafe in my neighborhood.

Jane: Do you see the students experience any culture shock when they come?

Mariana: Yes there are different cultures in Buenos Aires let’s say there’s a little bit of everything. But when they go to Salta or they come back from Mendoza, Salta leaves a big impression on them because there is such a big difference. In salta there is still that mix of the incas which arrived in Salta and you see the mix which here in Buenos Aires you don’t see as much or in any of the big cities you don’t see it as much. Here you see Italians but you don’t see the original towns like in slata it’s a very culturally different place. The food is different, everything.

Communication is Key

Jane: Did you have Spanish before you came here?

Erin: No nothing. She doesn’t speak English at all. Yea haha, for practicing, it was great, it was very tricky at the beginning because I speak literally no Spanish, so at the begining it was a lot of like sign language and google translate.

Jane: How do you speak to the students when they first arrive?

Mariana: I speak very little English, so I speak like helloooo so that way I have to speak (Spanish) very clear and I have to speak like subject, verb and predicate, and I speak clearly, and not to speak like how we speak normally, poorly, but I think I I learned how to speak proper Spanish with them (the students). And well the dictionary is there on the table but the kids have their cell phones, but they almost never bring them to the table. We look for synonyms and I look for a way to explain it and for things like fruits and vegetables which have different words all over Latin America we find a picture because we have to!