How does it feel to step into another family? To become a part of their routines, join their everyday life, and ultimately, create traditions and memories together. First things first: When arriving to a new country, the first thing you want to feel is invited in.
While studying at DIS Copenhagen, Thomas, Vanderbilt University, lived with a Homestay in Humlebaek, a town north of Copenhagen.
We sat down with Thomas to hear how his hosts welcomed him, made him a part of the family, and how his perspective on Denmark and study abroad transformed:
DIS: Tell us about your Homestay – who are they and what makes them special to you?
Thomas M.: Oh boy, where do I begin? I could talk endlessly about my Homestay but I’m sure anyone reading this would be asleep after the first few minutes. I’ll give a condensed version.
My Homestay is made up of a mom, a dad, three kids, and one diva of a Bernese Mountain Dog. The kids are ages 17, 16, and 13 and have to be the funniest and most mature teenagers I’ve ever spent time with; trust me, when I was 17, I was nowhere near as poised and talented as the youngest of my host siblings is at 13. Throughout the semester, the entire family continuously surprised me with their genuine care and kindness. There was never a day where I felt uncared for or unwelcome.
Every day when I got home, our Bernese Mountain Dog would run to the door and stick her head between my legs waiting eagerly for belly rubs and butt scratches; this was her way of greeting you – I told you she was a diva.
My host mom and host dad are extremely hard working, down-to-earth, and inviting. Immediately upon arrival I was included in all family activities and treated as an adult. My Homestay is special to me because they gave me an understanding of how I want to raise my own family. In our daily life, one thing was so clear: family is the most important. Family life was not perfect by any means – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. My experience living with Danish hosts showed me exactly how important family is, occasional argument and all. I will always be thankful for my Homestay family and the love they showed me over the semester; I hope that I showed them love and taught them something in return.
DIS: Why did you choose to live with a Homestay?
TM: I chose to live in a Homestay because I wanted to venture away from the beaten track.
It seemed like every person I talked to about DIS living situations was wary of living with a Homestay. The most common responses I received when I told people I was interested in living with a Danish family were, “but what if they are restricting and don’t let you stay out late?” and “won’t you feel isolated if you live so far away from everyone in the city?” While these are genuine worries that should be considered, I experienced no sense of restriction by my host parents and I never felt isolated living about 35 minutes outside of the city by train. My Danish family treated me as an adult and gave me the freedoms that go along with that. In terms of isolation, I enjoyed having the option of either being in the city or outside the city. When I wanted to meet up with DIS friends, I could take an easy train ride to see them. When I wanted to rest or do homework, I could stay outside Copenhagen and relax in my extremely hyggeligt Homestay village.
I also chose to live with Danes because I had never been to Europe before my study abroad experience; for this reason, I wanted to live with some native Europeans so they could advise me on how to get around Europe, where to go, and what sights to see. Finally, I further chose to live with a Homestay because I wanted to maximize my abroad experience and engage with Danish culture: try the food, stumble through the phrases, and get to know the people.
DIS: What are your favorite day-to-day experiences you shared with your host family members?
TM: My all-time favorite day-to-day experiences were the meals we had at home. Breakfast was characterized by Sunday Morning Coffee Playlist #3, a gentle and relaxing combination of hygge songs. If Bob Ross had Spotify, this would have been his playlist.
I enjoyed breakfast because it brought the family together – bleary-eyed and groggy – for coffee and corn flakes. Few words would be said at breakfast but a general sense of warmth and coziness emanated from every corner of the kitchen where we ate. Every morning, before whatever tasks or surprises the day would later throw at us, we could always count on sharing a brief moment of warmth at the breakfast table. Dinners were similar but there was usually more talking involved. Highlights/low points of the day were often discussed, upcoming plans were hashed out, and almost always, lighthearted jokes abounded.
DIS: What’s it like having host siblings? Did you enjoy being their big brother?
TM: In my housing application, I actually wrote that I would prefer to live with empty-nesters who had no children at home. After this experience, I am so glad I was placed in a big family with three teenagers. The kids made the experience so much fun and really shaped my enjoyment of the semester. Having host siblings is a blast and a half. Hearing about Danish parties, watching your host siblings play soccer, and comparing teenage life in Denmark to teenage life in America was always enjoyable. I enjoyed being their big brother but honestly, I never really felt like the oldest in the group. Maybe it was because all three of my host siblings are taller than me or maybe because I am the youngest in my real family and I never really learned how to be the older brother. Whatever the case, I always just felt like their equals in age and maturity; after a few weeks, I really just felt like one of them, no older and no younger.
DIS: What is an experience you’ve had with your Homestay that you couldn’t have had if you lived in another DIS housing option?
TM: About two months in, my Homestay family and I went to ride my (brace yourself) Homestay cousin’s, girlfriend’s, competition horse. I had never ridden a horse before and I was extremely nervous to hop on the back of a 600 kg animal. Once I was on the horse, however, I really enjoyed the entire experience! I don’t really think I could have done this in any other DIS housing option.
DIS: What is an example of a Danish cultural insight you have gained?
TM: I have come to understand that in Denmark there seems to be this sense of taking part in the communal good. Danes look out for each other, help each other, and are very friendly to each other. Maybe it is a sense of patriotic community that is fueled on by the fact that Denmark is a small nation sandwiched between Germany and Sweden.
This observation comes from the constant experience of seeing people help elderly people onto the train, going out of their way to help another person in need. I also watched countless times as people helped pick up the front wheels of strollers when their owners tried to push them unsuccessfully onto the train or when passengers would eagerly give their seats to elderly or disabled riders. Interactions between strangers were often extremely friendly and jovial; to an untrained eye, it might seem that these people speaking over the phone or in-person were lifelong friends.
DIS: What advice do you have for future students who are considering living in a Homestay?
TM: Be detailed in your housing application. You want the placement team to have as much information on you as possible (sleeping, partying, traveling, living, and interaction preferences, to name a few) so that they can make the most informed decision and place you in a Homestay where you will fit as perfectly as possible. I was specific about the living preferences important to me in my housing application, and I was placed with an amazing, perfect-fit family.