One of the biggest challenges and most rewarding aspects of studying abroad is getting to know and become comfortable with your host family—and to have them feel the same way about you! It takes time and happens gradually, but if you both put in the effort, you’ll leave with a new home and an extended family waiting for your return. Having a host family was one of the most nerve wrecking aspects at first—what if they don’t like me? What if we don’t get along? What if it’s horrible and I feel like I can’t be at home? Though they were all valid questions, you just have to be open and honest with your host family and slowly start to get to know one another.
You might not be instant friends with them, especially if you’re from completely different generations on top of being from different cultures. It might be hard to communicate if there’s a big language barrier, but you have to try. The more effort you show in getting to know them, the more they’ll come to appreciate you and want to be open with you. It’s the same thing as meeting a stranger in America: slowly start to teach each other about yourselves and as time goes on, you’ll (hopefully) be more comfortable and become better friends. So don’t get into the nitty gritty details right away—especially with Italians, who are known for wanting to keep their privacy with people they don’t know well. Maybe the first night focus on talking about yourself: why are you studying here, what your family’s like, things you don’t like to eat, etc. But also try to get them to engage as well, by asking them questions too or giving them room to interject. Even if it’s frustrating and you don’t know what to say, just remember that in a week or less all of your efforts will pay off.
To further help your relationship with them, you need to be considerate and respectful. Don’t let garbage and clothes pile up around your room. Italians pride themselves on keeping things neat, and many other home stays elsewhere—even if the family doesn’t care about organization—would appreciate you being able to pick up after yourself and not make a mess out of their home. You are a guest in their house first and foremost, and no matter if you become a new family member by the end, you still need to respect their rules and boundaries. Though they don’t set a curfew, be conscious of the time you come home and the amount of noise you make when you return. Also be aware of how much time you spend in the bathroom, how much/little you eat of what they make you and how you interact with any friends they have over or pets they have. It’s not that you’re being tested per say, as much as you should be respectful and aware of how you’re acting in someone else’s house.
After time, you and your host family will grow to be more accepting and understanding of the others’ behaviors and likes or dislikes. You’ll be able to talk freely and fall into their habits of how long to spend in the bathroom, a normal serving size at dinner or how neat you should keep your bedroom. The more you integrate yourself into the culture and try to learn from your host family, the happier all of you will be and the better experience you’ll have. So just jump right in and learn, experience and grow. This opportunity is all about you and your hosts learning from one another, so why not make the most of it?