Semester: Fall 2019 of my Senior year
Program: Study Abroad
Major: Education, Japanese
Semester: Fall 2019 of my Sophomore year
Program: Study Abroad
A typical day while doing a homestay?
A typical day of mine would start off with me waking up at 7:15 to give myself enough time to eat breakfast and get ready for the day. For breakfast, we would usually have a bread roll with butter, an onigiri, or rice ball, and on very rare occasions, cereal. We were also offered sweetened black coffee or tea with our breakfast. Luckily, I got to eat breakfast with my host sisters almost every morning! I loved that my host sisters often started off the morning by singing Disney songs in Japanese and English, dancing around the living room, and playing Pirates of the Caribbean. After eating breakfast and getting ready, I would catch a bus around 8:15 to get to the train station. During the one and a half hour long commute to school, I would either study for a quiz/test or listen to music. Everyday after I hung out with my friends and finished my classes, I would message my host mom to let her know that I was on my way home. My host mom made an incredible mountain of food for my roommate, Rebecca, and I, every single day! Rebecca and I are certain that we had a new, delicious dinner almost every single evening! On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I had an evening class so I would miss dinners with the family. However, my host mom was kind enough to make time for me, keep me company, and ask me about my day. I loved those late night dinners because I had the opportunity to have heart to heart conversations with my host mom and we were able to have quality time with one another. After dinner, I would study and get ready for bed.
Favorite meal With the host family
I enjoyed every meal with our host family because our host mom was an amazing cook! She made something different for dinner almost every night of the semester. I kept a daily journal throughout the semester and wrote down a lot of the food she made for us. Some of my favorite meals we had during the semester include: curry rice, different kinds of ramen (shoyu and miso), taco rice, fish with miso soup and natto, udon, soba, clams, and oyakodon. However one dinner that really stands out in my memory (excluding the fun party dinners we had) is the night we had gyoza. Gyoza is one of my favorite Japanese foods, so not only did I really enjoy it, I also had the fun experience of making the gyoza with two of our host sisters. Our host mom made the filling and we stuffed the gyoza wrappers and folded them together. Something about helping them make a meal for all of us to eat made me really happy, which is why it’s one of my favorite meals from when I was there.
Best excursion with the host family
One of my favorite excursions was when my host family brought me to Yokohama Bay. We started off our adventure by picking up some delicious bentos from the food court to eat at our picnic. My host parents were even kind enough to take the time to show me some famous Hawaiian shops and restaurants which reminded me of home! After we ate our bentos and had a picnic together, we enjoyed playing different games and sports together at the park. I loved the fact that I was able to exercise, laugh, and play with my host family at the park! My two youngest host sisters also guided me through the iconic Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohama. I was amazed at how familiar my host sister was with the museum! She was like my own personal tour guide! After exploring the museum, my little sisters and I shared a delicious strawberry shaved ice dessert together. Then, my host mom showed me around various shopping buildings and a beautiful seating area that overlooked the bay.
Favorite memory from your homestay experience
My favorite memory is not a single memory but all the little moments and interactions I had with my host family members. Little things, like reading stories to my youngest host sister (because my room had all the childrens books) or suddenly being swept along to Costco to go shopping, still stick with me now— a year later. These kinds of things made me really feel like a part of the family and brought a little bit of extra happiness to my day. I especially liked my nightly conversations with my host mom; we always talked about a wide variety of things. It was also always nice just being able to share my day with her and see what she thought. She always did her best to teach Sophia and I new vocabulary and share bits of Japanese culture with us. I remember one time at the end of the semester Sophia and I were having a conversation and our host mom was listening in from the kitchen and she told us she was amazed at how much our Japanese had improved! So yes, basically any downtime I had with my host family is an important memory to me.
A challenge you faced and how you dealt with it
When we first moved in with our host family, I was unfamiliar with the bus and train schedules and was easily intimidated and confused. During the first week, I missed the last bus home and wasn’t sure how to walk home, so I had to ask a woman if she could help me call a taxi. Although I was extremely afraid and nervous at that moment, the woman helped to call me a taxi and I got home safely that night. I became a lot more cognizant of the bus and train schedules and paid more attention to my surroundings. Additionally, I became more diligent about communicating with my host mom about where I was at and when I would be home which held me accountable to be on time.
How has this experience changed you?
Thanks to staying with a host family my ability to speak Japanese greatly improved, and I was also able to learn a lot about Japanese culture through spending time with them or through lessons from our host mom. I got to see life through another perspective and experience a different lifestyle! I also got much better at communicating with others since that’s a very important part of staying with a host family.
However, one of the biggest changes is that I now have another family (even if we’re now in different countries) and a lifelong friend :) Sophia and I are already thinking about our next trip to Japan so we can relive all these memories, see our host family again, and have new experiences!
Some advice for a student thinking about doing a homestay
Be prepared to learn a lot of new things and make mistakes. Give yourself the time, grace, and patience to adapt to the culture, rules, and societal expectations. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re curious, confused, or unsure about a particular rule or custom in Japan. At the end of the day you will always learn or see something new! Also, don’t dismiss things or experiences before you try them! Being a sponge will help you to grow and make your homestay experience a lot more fulfilling! Don’t forget to take a lot of photos and write down your favorite memories so that you can remember the experiences!
Also, if there are things on your Japan bucket list, ask your host family to try the activity together. It would be a great opportunity to bond with your host family and cross things off of your bucket list at the same time!
If you are assigned a roommate, try studying or practicing Japanese together. It will benefit the both of you and impress your host family! Rebecca and I had a wonderful experience living together in Japan because we both helped one another, explored Japan together, and had our own agendas. We studied at different cafes on the weekends, went to a Kabuki performance, and ate the best cheese gyoza in the world! I am so grateful that I got to grow, learn, and share such a special experience with Rebecca through my homestay!
I would recommend going into the experience with an open mind. If you’re going to stay with a host family you’re going to have rules that you have to follow, and they might even seem a little restrictive for a college student, but it’s important to remember that you’ll be immersed in a different culture. I’d also say make sure to balance your time between schoolwork, social life, and your host family! Staying with a host family is amazing because you’ll have so many opportunities for new and unique experiences, but in order for that to happen you have to make time for your host family.
Finally, if you do end up doing a homestay, keep a daily journal! Every night after dinner I would write down a few things I did that day, what my host mom made for dinner, something funny or interesting that happened with my host family, etc. and I’m so glad I did. There will be so many little moments and details you won’t want to forget. This experience was one of the best semesters I’ve ever had, and a year later I still go back and read my journal all the time to relive the feeling.