Choosing between a Homestay and Student Residence
When I studied in Spain I was given the opportunity to choose between a homestay and a student residence. While each study abroad program may be different in terms of the housing options offered, I think these are the two most common possibilities so I’d like to share my thoughts with you on the two options and explain why I ended up making the choice that I did.
First and foremost, it’s essential that you understand what these two options mean in order to get the most out of either experience, so let’s consider them in turn:
A “homestay” is an immersive experience into the Spanish family life as it incorporates you into a local family’s home. You almost always receive someone who becomes like a madre (mother) to you and maybe a padre (father), hermana (sister), abuela (grandma), etc as well. This options gives you the chance to get to know family traditions and typical customs of the Spanish people. You’ll have more direct contact with locals of different ages and perhaps form bonds strong enough to (respectfully!) ask the older generation about their experience with Franco and the Civil War, their opinions on current politics, bullfights, etc. This option tends to come with more Sunday family meals and authentic experiences with local Spanish celebrations.
A student residence, however, can be a great option if you want to get a more immersive experience into the student life in your city. You will obviously be surrounded by more young people and you are bound to get invited to more parties and salidas. While the people in your homestay are likely to explain the roots of a local celebration (usually religious), these young people will clue you in on what currently happens at the event (usually lots of drinking). The opportunity to talk with Spaniards about their opinions regarding history and current events will also arise, though with more exposure to the younger generation.
Clearly, both options are great ways to form relationships and learn more about Spanish culture. Something to keep in mind, however, is that the “campus life” you may be used to in the United States is not very common in Spain. Most universities consist of historic buildings spread out in different facultades, with student residences sprinkled throughout the city. These are not usually the “residence halls” that you may envision, but rather normal shared apartments set aside for the university to rent out to students.
Additionally, young people who go to university in/near their hometown live at home and so you won’t find them in the residences. Instead, these often fill up with students from other regions of Spain or Erasmus students (study abroaders from other countries within the EU). This can be incredibly interesting as you may have the opportunity to come into contact with people from all over but I recommend talking to your program about the trends in student residence placement. Namely, ask them if you are more likely to be placed with Spaniards, other foreigners, or Americans. Keep in mind that there is often a tendency for students from the same country (or at least countries sharing the same language) to stick together rather than branch out. If the residence is likely to be full of more English-speakers than Spanish-speakers, that is something you should know ahead of time in order to make an informed choice based on what you want.
When it came time for me to check one box or the other, the decision was clear. A homestay fulfilled my personal expectations. I wanted to get to know Spanish culture (and specifically the local Alicante culture) more intimately. I wanted to be challenged to speak Spanish every day and not be tempted to abandon that intention because I was surrounded by a lot of cool English-speakers who might not share the same goal (although I talk about how this priority has shifted in my current life here). I wanted to experience the nightlife, but it wasn’t essential for me to get invited out every night of the week. Basically, I was more intrigued by the nuisances of a Spanish home and upbringing than the university culture.
Of course, you may feel differently and, if so, I recommend you try out the student life! Both options have a lot to offer so I encourage you to think about what it is YOU want to get out of your time in Spain. I personally didn’t meet that many young people outside of my program, so that was a down-side of choosing the homestay. However, I feel like what I gained outweighed that loss because I am someone who needs to feel a sense of home and “sanctuary” to balance out all the newness. But maybe you crave constant activity and excitement, in which case a residence may be a better fit. Whatever you decide, go with what feels right TO YOU― not what anyone else tries to convince you is ‘best’―and I guarantee it will be a worthwhile experience!