Homestay: a home away from home

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By Josephine Malenga
Degree: PhD in Human Resource Management
Campus: Auckland

Why New Zealand?

Where is that?

How far away is it?

Will you come back?

All these are questions I have had to answer to family members and friends on why I would choose to study in a place so far away and cut off from the rest of the world. And each time I explain it, I get the same look that is a mixture of confusion and what I would say is pity. But for whatever reason and time period, here I find myself; thousands of miles away from home separated by a vast sea and over a day’s plane trip.

It has definitely been an interesting and sometimes challenging first few months – from the numerous times I have gotten off at the wrong bus stop and had to navigate my own home in one piece to the many strange (to my ears) terms of otherwise normal sounding items (like jandals instead of sandals, lollies instead of candy, tramping instead of hiking). However, navigating this new land has been made far more enjoyable thanks to my homestay family.

I would recommend any international student, especially one who’s never been too far from home to stay with a homestay family in the initial periods of their stay; unless you are a social butterfly and can literally make friends with anyone. Sadly, the introverts like myself will have to make use of this living experience in efforts to avoid being a hermit for the duration of our stay.

A homestay family is helpful for various reasons:

  1. You get in essence a second family that can help you with the ins and outs of settling in a new place, meeting people and the general tips that only a local would know. My homestay family has been so helpful from the day I arrived; with advice on what bank to open an account with, how to save money by getting a bus card instead of using cash, as well as taking me around the city and visiting beaches and the like. I can honestly say that half of the things I have done with my host family are things I would not have done otherwise; and for that I am thankful.
  2. You can never feel too alone. Like I said, I am an introvert, and left to my own devices I will most likely spend nights at home with my laptop watching a movie or series on my own – but it does get lonely sometimes. The good with a homestay is that the family would most likely have had other students stay with them before so they know that it can get lonely and hard for international students, and ideally they are equipped to deal with that. By now my host is aware that I am a homebody, but she is always inviting me out to dinner with her friends and making sure that I don’t feel like an outsider; and that goes a long way during the rare times that I crave the company of others. And as a result, I have opened myself up to the idea of meeting and interacting with new people even on my own.
  3. Food. Need I say more? As a student, sometimes you tend to forget that a nutritious meal is a necessity for normal body functioning. So in order to avoid prolonged periods of munching on chips and noodles, a homestay family allows you to have home cooked meals. Just ensure that any dietary requirements (like allergies, lactose intolerance, veganism etc.) are discussed beforehand.
  4. In my opinion it is a cheaper and more flexible option than on campus accommodation. This largely depends on the location you choose and the terms you agree with the homestay, but there is flexibility that may not be possible if you chose on campus accommodation, and you can always negotiate as your relationship with the family progresses and find creative ways to save a little extra money.

Disclaimer: I have been fortunate enough to find a homestay family that fits closely to my personality, eating habits and general lifestyle; but not each family is created equal. It is your job to do as much research and probing as possible to ensure that the family you pick are a good fit for you. And if not, you should not be afraid to move and find a better option – after all, you will be living with these people for a long time, you might as well at least like them.

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