If you are looking to study abroad in a city you have never been to, a host family is the key to the adventures you seek. There is a plethora of advantages to skipping the dorms and apartments you might be used to at your home university and choosing to live with the locals. I encourage you to ignore your initial thoughts of how moving into a stranger’s home might be weird and uncomfortable, and let me tell you why it is by far my favorite aspect of my journey studying abroad at Vesalius College in Belgium!
A True Local’s Perspective
Before I arrived in January, I had never been to Brussels…let alone Europe. I couldn’t tell you anything about Belgium besides that the official languages are French and Dutch, two languages I do not speak. So, one might imagine that it would be fairly difficult to navigate and uncover this city given these disadvantages, BUT that’s where my host moms come in.
My two host moms have been living in Brussels for more than 30 years and absolutely love experiencing the city as much as possible. They have also hosted students for that amount of time, so they know what coffee shops, bars, boutiques, restaurants, and attractions are popular among my peers. They are not afraid to tell us which places are not worth our time and they understand our budgets, so they are always suggesting the best valued places in Brussels. They are even familiar with the annual events that happen throughout the city that I otherwise would not have found out about!
In addition, my host moms are simply the cheat code to avoid looking out of place in this foreign country. They explained to my roommates and I about Belgian culture and customs which has been immensely helpful. I couldn’t imagine attempting to figure out the city’s transit, restaurant norms, and traveling outside of the country without their assistance!
The main reason I chose to study abroad was to fully immerse myself in a different culture, and what better way to accomplish this than to actually #livelikealocal! My host moms present my roommates and I with the most traditional Belgian cuisine that I would not have been able to cook on my own. As they have been travelers themselves, they are also knowledgeable of other European dishes that offer us a unique experience of diverse homemade meals. They do not hesitate to share their love of food by educating us about the true names and history of the dishes.
Another neat thing about staying with my host moms is that they made us to adapt to their style of living. I do admit this was difficult at first, but I appreciate it in the grand scheme of things. For example, my roommates and I are allowed very short showers because it is part of the Belgian culture to conserve water. We also are provided with a small fridge, yet no freezer because it is rare for Belgians to buy frozen foods as they value prepping their meals the day of.
Everlasting Support and an Unforgettable Connection
Adjusting to a completely different lifestyle and finding your place in a foreign city is a challenging, but admirable task and a host family will support you every step of the way. They understand their roles as guides and not only are prepared to answer any questions you have but will always be there for you. Host families look forward to meeting their students just like you are excited to get to know them!
After living with my host moms for only a month, I already know I have created a lifelong connection. They tell me how they still keep in contact with previous students they hosted from decades ago, which shows how strong this relationship becomes. This is an extraordinary friendship that is a once in a lifetime opportunity and has made my study abroad experience phenomenal.
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