It’s that time in the semester—polite conversations and surface-level discussions are getting old. You may be feeling like living with a host-family was a mistake and wish that you could move in with your friends who are staying in a student residence. But, don’t give up! While living with a host-family can be challenging, awkward, and uncomfortable at times, it’s worth it. Here are a few tips to get past the small talk and build a stronger relationship with your host-family.
1. Pay attention to what they’re passionate about, whether it’s hobbies, ideas, dreams, or past experiences. Ask questions about those topics. My host-mom was in her fifties and traveled a lot during her younger days. She loved geography, and so if I were ever at a loss for a lunch conversation, I would just ask about her trips to China or Argentina. It was a guarantee conversation starter.
2. Ask about local news and politics, and what their views on them are. Asking these questions shows that you have an interest in their country, and their own personal opinions. By listening to their perspective, you are acknowledging that their ideas matter and hold weight, and they’ll probably reciprocate and ask you.
3. If you’re struggling with basic errands, whether it’s finding a store that sells stamps for letters to send home, or buying train tickets, ask for help. Let your host-family know that you’re having trouble, and more likely than not, they’ll be happy to help. Remember—they signed up to have an exchange student live in their house, being kind and helping out is part of the deal. Plus, they’ll personally take you to the place, and this can be another bonding opportunity.
4. Ask about previous students who stayed with them. They’ll probably discuss students they liked and didn’t like and give reasons as to why. This can be a clue for how you can act and engage with them for the rest of your time there. I remember my host-mom explained how one past student would slurp his meal. It drove her nuts, and from then on I knew that table manners were important to her, and I followed suit.
5. Stay in for the night and watch their favorite television show or movie with them. I remember one Saturday night my friends bailed on our plans. I was bummed, but my host-mom had mentioned at dinner that night that her favorite movie was on TV and she was so excited to watch it. I ended up watching the movie curled up on the couch with my host-mom while all my roommates went out. It was a simple night for me, but having my company meant a lot to her.