Initially, choosing to live in a Homestay was a no-brainer for Shannon. But with time, she started to doubt whether she wanted to rank it first or second on her housing application. It ended up being her first choice, and now, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Read about Shannon’s experience of living with hosts in Glostrup — the passion she shares with her host mom, her independence, understanding the Danish concept of hygge, and more.
DIS: Tell us about your Homestay – who are they and what makes them special to you?
Shannon S.: My host family consists of two parents and two cats in Glostrup. Gert and Jannie have two adult children who live together in the city. With a quieter, emptier home, they said they missed having someone young around and chose to host to fill that space!
They are both high up in their companies, so they work pretty long days, but like to come home and distance themselves from it. Jannie is the CFO of the DSB 7/11s and Gert is an IT Consultant. Gert is outgoing, talks quite a bit, and loves to poke fun at other people, while Jannie is calm and caring. Gert is in a rock band and a wine enthusiast who likes to break out a bottle when we BBQ outside or to celebrate the weekend. Jannie loves to hike and is planning to do a week-long trek of the Camino in Spain next year.
Their children, Nadja and Nicklas have been really welcoming as well. Nadja is a lawyer and Nicklas recently graduated with his Masters in finance. They both studied abroad in Australia and have traveled enough to pass on a few helpful tips.
My family is special to me because their personalities are a little opposite and make a really balanced home. They go out of their way to think of me and make sure I’m adapting well by leaving breakfast for me out on the table in the morning or letting me pick a birthday meal and letting me invite friends. Their goal is to make me feel at home, and it has been successful.
DIS: Why did you choose Homestay?
SS: The Homestay option was originally my first choice. Everyone I talked to about studying abroad made a Homestay seem like a no-brainer. I didn’t really think it through and kind of assumed that it was the correct and most popular choice to make. However, after submitting the housing application with Homestay at the top, I saw some of the DIS videos and blog posts about other options and realized that it was a big decision and there were very different options to consider.
After talking with my parents and looking into the options, I changed my housing application to list Homestay second behind a Kollegium, and I included the Rented Room as my third choice. The number one priority for me was living with Danes and not only other American students. I wanted my living situation to be at least somewhat culturally immersive. The reason the Homestay became my second choice was a concern for my independence. I realized I had just moved out of my own apartment at school – something I came to really value. I enjoyed having to cook, clean, and grocery shop for myself. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to quickly adapt to living in a family house and sacrificing some of my independence I had gained while at school. I spent the summer at home with my parents and felt a little suffocated by rules and timeframes.
I also thought about the nights I really enjoy at home: sitting on the patio or by the fire with my family, talking, and playing games. I thought about how having a support system to come home to, especially in a place I don’t already have long-term friends nearby, would mean a lot. I remembered that this would be the most culturally immersive option and might be the quickest way to feel at home in a new country. That’s why it remained one of my top choices. I realized that many families would respect my independence. When I found out I was placed with a Homestay, I was actually a little relieved to know I would be welcomed into a home when I arrived, and I’m happy it worked out!
I mentioned my concern over independence in my housing application, and I think I was perfectly matched to accommodate it. My host parents spend many weekends away at the summer house and leave me to take care of the cats or head out on my own adventures. There is a reasonable balance between weekends celebrating family birthdays together and being home alone to do whatever day trip or exploration I want to without reporting back, which has worked perfectly for me.
DIS: What is the biggest cultural difference so far you have discovered between your Homestay here and your family back at home?
SS: I honestly don’t think I’ve noticed a “big” cultural difference yet. Maybe I came in with enough of an open mind that nothing has struck me as very different, but it seems we have much more in common than differences. I have noticed small differences regarding clothing and food. I knew to expect some of it, but it’s still been a little surprising to see them show up in conversation. For example, Jannie and I hiked 10 kilometers near the summerhouse and then met Gert for lunch in the town we ended our hike. Jannie wore normal clothing (black jeans) to hike simply because we would be dining in public at the end, so I joined her.
We’ve also discussed food culture and how strange some of my habits seem to them. For example, I bought peanut butter to make PB & Js for lunch at school and they were shocked I would eat jelly at lunch instead of breakfast and have a sandwich without meat or vegetables on it. I’ve been less surprised by their eating habits compared to mine. To prepare dinner, Jannie and Gert both cook, clean, and shop depending on who is home the earliest. I’ve even taken on a night each week to make dinner. They also have a rule that whoever cooks dinner, even if two people equally cook, does not have to clean up afterward, so duties are divided equally within the same meal.
DIS: What is something you or your hosts initiated in this first week together that was a good icebreaker to get to know each other?
SS: One day after dinner, we settled down around my laptop and I showed them a few pictures from home. They included friends and family, a few photos of my college, and photos I took earlier in the month in the Rocky Mountains. That helped us realize that my host mom, Jannie, and I both really enjoy hiking and led to two hikes the next weekend while we were at the summerhouse. The visuals really helped break the small bit of language barrier we do still have and helped them get to know me and where I come from quickly.
It’s a tradition we kept when I or they came back from a trip to another country to share the experience visually.
DIS: What is your favorite small moment you’ve shared with your family so far?
SS: My favorite moment was not an activity or memory made, but a realization. It happened when I finally understood what hygge is. All students here and many other non-Danes have heard of it, but it is a little bit harder to comprehend because no English word truly compares. My family tried using “cozy” and “chilling” as translations, but hygge is meant more for situations with other people, and I tend to think of both cozy and chilling as more independent and quiet activities – maybe curled up in a blanket reading a book.
One night, we grilled outside at their summerhouse. I went on a hike with Jannie that morning to a bird preserve, bought fresh apples, went into town for a beer, and met Jannie’s parents for lemon cake and coffee. The day ended with a meal by candlelight in the chilly air and really great conversation. I felt completely content with where I was and wasn’t thinking about anything other than the moment I was in. That was when I looked around and felt like I was with family, not just ‘hosts.’
DIS: Tell us one thing you would recommend to a future student considering choosing a Homestay?
SS: Going in with a completely open mind — from the second you receive the email that you’re placed in a Homestay — is the best way to be able to adapt. After filling out the housing application, do not dream of particular attributes or houses or any details about your family because not everything will be what you expect or necessarily want. If you have a preconceived idea, you might start out your experience let-down or disappointed, but if you show up prepared to accept almost anything, it will be exciting.
Forcing myself to stay open to everything helped me adapt and feel comfortable with all the amazing, but new things I was presented with much quicker than going in with expectations. If you are able to do that, the Homestay option is incredibly rewarding from the very start, where you meet a family who has gone out of their way to make you a part of their home.
DIS: What things do you appreciate that you wouldn’t necessarily have in other housing options?
SS: I love coming home to dinner, whether I’m cooking or my host parents are. It’s a great tradition to sit down and talk over dinner. Whether I have a lot of homework or not, I get to take a break from electronics, the stress of school, and other hectic parts of life to enjoy food and company each night.
I’ve also loved the chance to see what daily life in Denmark is like. I get the chance to accompany my host parents to family birthday parties, celebratory dinners, and even the mundane shopping trips. I’ve met more people like my host parents’ family and extended my network beyond other Americans and the DIS staff.
Are you thinking about living in a Homestay for your semester with DIS?