Life in a Homestay

Rodney McGary | Machida, Japan | Spring 2015

A quintessential part of studying abroad for some would definitely be doing a homestay for the duration of one’s program. After all, you get daily exposure to the language and an up close perspective of life in the host country.  Homestay may not be everyone’s cup of tea as I’ve learned in conversing with other students at Obirin who chose to stay in the dorms instead. A couple of common concerns from those who chose dorms over homestay were worries of having a curfew and having to do chores. It is true that some host families will impose a curfew, which may bog down your social life a bit, but in my experience there was no such thing. As for chores and cleaning up, that’s just a part of living in a house, it shouldn’t be an issue at all. Homestay situations and environments can vary greatly. You could end up in a house that’s thirty minutes or more from school. You could end up in a brand new house with an elevator in which you have an entire floor to yourself. You could end up in a modest house with small children and a dog. My point is that when choosing to do a homestay, it’s important to be open-minded and flexible in order to get the most out of it.

View of the front of a white and dark gray two-story Japanese home.Student's homestay bedroom with a desk, dresser, and bed.When I received my homestay assignment, I had no idea what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a nice house that was located just minutes from the school. One of my initial concerns was whether the interior (furniture included) of the house would be accommodating to my height (I’m over six feet tall). Lo and behold everything was all right, I never bumped my head on anything. However, I did notice that dinner table chairs, tables, and sofas in the house were unusually low to the ground, but it never posed a mortal threat to me so I’m not complaining. I ended up getting situated with a two-person family consisting of an older married couple that spoke next to no English. To my surprise, there was also another international student in the house as well from a mainland university. Honestly, it was nice having a fellow countryman there with whom I could share experiences and converse freely.  This was especially welcome since the host family had no children in the house.  Lucky for us, our host family did not impose a curfew, as that would have been a bit inconvenient and restrictive to social activities. The rules of the house were nothing excessive or unreasonable. We just had to make sure we cleaned our rooms once a week, took care of the garbage on the designated days, no showers past midnight, and other small requests. In general, things went swimmingly well. However, I think it’s worth noting that you’re almost certain to run into a problem, either due to miscommunication and/or cultural differences. For instance, both my homestay brother and I caught heat for improper washing of the winter futons as neither of us were familiar with futon cleaning at the time. Nonetheless, that episode was not an evictable offense as my mother later told me that there’s always been some issue that has popped up with prior international students who have stayed there so it wasn’t a big shock. This couple seems to be veteran in hosting international students, so I’m sure they’ve experienced a lot and know how to handle situations. With them not speaking English, it made us make use of our Japanese. I found it quite convenient that a couple of my textbooks and other useful materials were already in my room courtesy of the previous occupant.

A homemade Japanese meal of croquettes, salad, rice, and miso soup.

A homemade Japanese meal of curry rice, salad, and strawberries.One of the best things about doing a homestay is all the awesome, homemade food I got to eat! For nights I was in the house, dinner was either provided or we took a trip to a local restaurant. Breakfast at my homestay usually consisted of salad, a cup of yogurt, and a juice of some kind. Dinner varied greatly from curry rice to yakisoba and quite literally every other Japanese food you could think of. Eating with the homestay family was always a treat and economical.  One more thing I’d like to highlight is that staying in a residential area in which locals will at least see you regularly enough can potentially afford you the opportunity to get to know your neighbors, thereby opening up a whole new box of possibilities. For instance, my host brother and I ended up befriending our neighbor who also attends Obirin. She lives with her mom, little sister (also a member of a budding idol group), and little brother. Every so often we’d link up to cook, eat, and play video games together. There was even one time my neighbor and her mother took me into Yokota Air Force Base, something that only people who have base access can do. If given the opportunity to do a homestay in Japan again (or any other country for that matter) I’d definitely do it!

Student sitting around a small table with Japanese friends eating hotpot together.