By Sophie Boddorff, ISA Program Advisor
During my year abroad, I studied in two separate ISA program locations – Wellington, New Zealand and Berlin, Germany—and one of the factors that made both experiences so memorable was my contrasting housing situation. In New Zealand, I lived with 10 others in a house specifically designed for study abroad students, located near the university. Most members of the household were other American students, international students, and one of them was a local kiwi. We all, thankfully, developed great relationships and supported one another throughout the semester. In all, I could not have asked for a better semester abroad, and I attribute it, for the large part, to my housing situation.
However, despite my immense housing success in Wellington, I decided to choose the homestay option for my semester abroad in Berlin. There are many reasons why I decided to go down this path in Berlin, and here are the main reasons why:
Embracing the Language Barrier
As I mentioned, during my semester in New Zealand, I lived in a house full of other study abroad students, most of which were American or international students from English-speaking locations. Because New Zealand is an English-speaking destination, this was not an issue. Though in Berlin, my main goal was to improve my German speaking and communication skills. I found that my language skills improved much more quickly than my counterparts living in the apartments, as they all spoke English with each other. In contrast, my German family could barely speak English, which forced me to use the German skills I learned within the classroom.
The Local vs International Approach
During my time in New Zealand, the only way I was able to meet locals was through extracurricular clubs and activities, as I was mainly surrounded by other study abroad students. At my homestay in Berlin, however, I was not only able to witness the German culture first-hand, but I also was able to meet locals much more easily by participating in family gatherings and activities, allowing me to witness the dynamic of the typical German household. For example, I attended my host sister’s violin recital and was able to visit the inside of a German high school. Additionally, I spent the Easter holiday with my homestay family and participated in hiding Easter eggs for their younger relatives.
The Ultimate Challenge
With that said, living with a homestay family can be challenging. My family barely spoke any English, which proved difficult to communicate at times. Also, I was separated from all the apartment students, who seemed to be making lasting friendships amongst each other. Nevertheless, by the end of my homestay experience, the progress that I had made with communicating and forming relationships with my family made my experience abroad evermore rewarding. From helping my homestay sister with the pronunciation of her English vocabulary homework, to asking her to edit my German papers, to being involved in heated political discussions over dinner table, my homestay experience reinforced the importance of remaining independent, adaptable, and confident in the face of added challenges.
These pictures were taken of my snowy street the first day of my arrival in Berlin!
In all, the overall goals for your experience abroad will determine which housing situation is best suited for you. If your goal is to fully immerse yourself in a new culture, challenge your skills of adaptability, and meet locals, I would recommend the homestay option as the way to go. If you’re looking mainly to meet other international students, the apartments are a great option. Either way, both housing options are challenging in their own way and will yield tremendous results!