Tips for Living with a Host Family
If you are going to study abroad in Japan, there is no better way for your language ability to simply skyrocket than to stay with a host family. Simply put, I would say it was one of the best decisions I made while planning to come to Japan. I’ll say right now that if you are planning on staying in a dorm as opposed to a host family: don’t do it! Most likely you’ll be stuck in a place with a bunch of other white people who’s Japanese language ability might be better/worse than yours, but you’ll never be exposed to as much of the language surrounded around them. Now, I understand circumstances in which someone could only stay in a dorm, but I will tell you now to highly, highly consider staying with a family. Not to say that all those white people will not help you out when you need it, but the point of this whole argument is that you’re going to get more out of your language studies by staying with an actual family.
So, if my above argument was persuasive enough, here are some tips I have for staying with a host family. Mind you, these are simply from my experience and that many host family experiences are going to vary from person to person. It’s not always going to go 100% perfectly, which is sort of the point of why I’m writing this. Regardless though, these are my tips for making it the best experience possible.
1) If by any chance you get to know them earlier, be sure to find out more about them: This was something that I didn’t actually do, but I sort of wish I would have. Now, mind you, when we were told who our host family would be it was a simple PDF of the members names, address, ages and email. Not much, really, but I sort of wish that I would have just sent another email introducing myself. We were already required to send a small introduction to the host family, but I’m really curious as to what would have happened if I contacted them again before hand. It wouldn’t have been something bad by any means, but maybe just to set up a relationship with them earlier. Really, you don’t have to, but I can only imagine it would have been positive to send them something earlier, maybe to get to know what they like, where the live, etc. It would also be a great way to get specialized gifts for them!
2) Realize that there are going to be issues that arise. Learn from them and work on it. This is only really me speaking from an American standpoint and this is going to delve more in a societal realm. Half of the point of studying abroad is getting to understand people vastly different from yourself, which in theory is a very positive thing, but there are going to be instances where cultures and languages clash. This example is going to make me sound very spoiled, but it’s the situation I dealt with (and still sort of going through) nonetheless. My host family has been very, very generous when it has come to giving me things, especially when I didn’t need them: new socks, train tickets among other things that were and are sort of out of nowhere. It got to a point that I just felt so guilty about mentioning anything that I wanted (that I specifically said I was going to buy myself) because they would get it in a flash before I would even have the chance to get it myself. This specifically happened after my host-brother-in-law bought me a fairly expensive gift in Kyoto that I just told them I was going to be looking for myself. After a solid hour or so of me being stubborn I said it was fine for him to buy it. ”I want to buy you things because I want you to have a good time and memories in Japan,” he said, to which I replied that I didn’t need material things to have a good time over here. I talked to my host sister afterwards, about this and other situations like it, in which she said it was a simple difference in cultures. ”In Japan, to be more dependent just means that you appreciate what your family does for you. It means you appreciate the love behind it,” to which any hardcore conservative American would be very much against. I’m not the before mentioned political stance, but there is still a bit of the sentiment that “well, if I can’t provide for myself, it means I’m weak and taking advantage of them.” This was kind of a drawn out example, but the long and the short of it is to realize that they will happen, especially when you least expect it. Yes, Japanese people talk with their mouths full, which is against most American standards. Yes, Americans will blatantly say if a food is bad if it is bad, while Japanese will continue to say “おいしい。” These are but a few example of the WHOLE WIDE WORLD of American-Japan cultural differences. Now that you’re aware, just try to make the best of it.
3) Depending on your language level, you’re going to be treated as a child early on.I really do feel I should add a disclaimer to each one of these points, as many of these are just my experiences and are going to greatly vary from person to person, but if I’ve found anything here is that the host family treatment is really going to vary depending on your Japanese language ability. Take me, for example, who only took a year of Japanese before coming here, so, really, the most basic language ability at best. Without being very properly able to speak more than a 5 year old, at times it felt like my family was doing just that. Yes, many of these things are in Japanese such as the microwave, television and stove, but they are work just about anywhere in the world. They’ll be shocked the first thing you try to do by yourself because from what they understand, you don’t understand, which in a lot of cases holds water, but if you’re a grown adult you feel you have the capability doing. I had been living by myself for the last year before coming to Japan, so I became very independent (and I would make the argument I was very independent even before I moved out). However, I had to readjust living with the family, especially with a family that was of a different language background than mine. If you’re Japanese is great: show them! Show that you are able to understand all of those kanji on the washing machine, but if you’re like me, just understand that the thought process is that they think that you won’t understand. Most Japanese have the mentality that foreigners don’t understand Japan or anything Japanese in the first place (“People use Chopsticks in America!?! You guys know what Sushi is!?!”), and this is simply an extension of that.
4) Help out when you can, but not too early. If anything, Japanese are one of the most hospitable people I have ever met. Really, they will go out of their way just to make sure it works for you. There is even a Japanese word and concept for this, but unfortunately it escapes me at the moment. So, they will treat you like a guest and just take it for what it is. They are doing what they have been to raised to do for everyone else and it’s not bad for you to not doing anything for a while. Even in America, if it’s your first time at a friend’s house you’re not going to help wash the dishes and do their laundry. Just be the guest. After a while though, when you get to know them and their routines, then be sure to pitch in. Many people do not get to the level of being considered an actual family member, but if you are lucky enough to be looked as a member of the family, be sure to act like you would back home. Help with stuff after dinner; help them clean when other people are coming, etc. There will be that will between being a guest and being a family member for everyone, so just also being realistic about what you are comfortable with and how the relationship between you and your host family is evolving.
This is quite a lengthy post, so I’ll leave it at here. I’ll probably write an extension to this, as it is a very big topic. However, I will direct you to this website that does a very good job at showing what it’s like living with a host family, even if some of the concepts may not seem like much if you read them now. I remember reading through the whole website before leaving and thinking “this certainly won’t happen to me!” but many of the situations did. So, give it a look.
Thanks for reading. And possibly to be continued, I got finals and stuff to do you know.
And only one week left here…
posted 1 year ago