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When I had to choose my housing for this semester, I wasn’t sure what type of accommodation I wanted to live in. I’ve always been interested in the idea of living in a homestay, yet at the same time moving in with another family is an intimidating prospect. To make my decision I read through the details of each housing option, spoke with a few alumni of the program, and decided on an apartment.
I chose a shared apartment because it seemed more social, and I felt I might have a bit more freedom. I was okay with the idea of having a roommate, and I knew that an apartment would be a great way to meet other students right away. I was also hesitant about the homestay option because I wanted to be able to meet my future host family before move-in day, which unfortunately wasn’t in the realm of possibilities. I had tons of pressing questions that I just didn’t seem to find answers to: how big of an issue would the language barrier be while living with an Italian family? Would I feel isolated from the other students?
The apartment I was placed in is gorgeous – spacious, bright, and in a lovely central location in Milan. My roommates and I got along well from the very first day, and I felt welcomed into and included in the program immediately. About a month in however, I chose to move into an available homestay accommodation.
I chose to switch my housing accomodation because I wanted a more immersive Milanese experience and because I wanted to get to know a real Milanese family and lifestyle. Now that I have lived in both an apartment and in a homestay for about a month each, I’m sharing my experiences and impressions of the two, in hopes of helping out a future study-abroad student select the housing option that’s best for them!
Living in a homestay and in an apartment are very different but both are incredible accommodations. A homestay is definitely a greater cultural experience: living with a family has encouraged me to learn Italian familial norms, forces me to converse almost exclusively in Italian, and exposes me to different aspects of Italian culture almost every day. After only a month in my homestay, my language ability has improved much more rapidly than while I lived in an apartment. I enjoy a homemade Italian meal every night, watch the news in Italian, and hear about the daily lives of my host family. I feel much more connected to the reality of life in Milan while living with a host family.
My earlier worries about feeling stifled if I chose to live in a homestay were quickly put to rest. My host parents are very understanding if I choose to eat dinner out with friends instead of dining at home, as long as I let them know my plans. They encourage me to travel around and are always eager to hear stories of my trips once I return. Most of all, they are continually welcoming and hospitable, and make me feel very at home. For me, living in a homestay is the perfect balance of settling into Milan while still being able to explore the amazing countries and cities around me.
In my opinion, living in an apartment is ideal for students who really want to live with other students. Coming home to an apartment of friends at the end of the day meant that evenings were always fun, whether you were cooking together, studying together, or unwinding with a movie. However, it was easy to feel removed from the city itself. Although I enjoyed living in my apartment, this was the reason I ended up switching into a homestay.
The best housing option for you truly depends on your own expectations for your semester abroad: what are your priorities? What kinds of experiences will you remember more fondly? How important is it to you to learn and speak the language? While a homestay has been an incredible experience for me, it may not be so for someone else. In the end, what is most important is that you choose what will provide you with your best experience abroad, not someone else's. Whether you experience that in a homestay, an apartment, or something else – only you can decide.