How often do you get welcomed into a new family to share their home for months at a time? What about in a part of the world you’re not familiar with? For me, I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. In my first blog post I mentioned my apprehensions going in to a Homestay. These soon dissipated. Here are some of the reasons why being in a Homestay has proven to be such a rewarding and unique experience for me.
1. Cultural immersion
The biggest reason why I chose to live in a Homestay was for the cultural immersion. Indeed, I didn’t come to Sweden to meet more Americans – I can do that at home (though I have also made many American friends!). As I spoke about in my post on blending in with the Swedes, there is a noticeable lack of small talk here in the public sphere. So, you might ask, how do you meet and truly get to know Swedes? This is a question I’m still figuring out. However, a great place to start is to live in a Homestay, because you already have them as a cultural network. On top of that, you have their family members, neighbors, and friends. Taking part in a Swedish kräftskiva (check out Abby’s blog for more on that!) at a neighbor’s house was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences I felt so lucky to be included in.
2. Living the language and culture
I take intensive Swedish Language & Culture at DIS. Living in a Homestay means I get to practice using the cultural cues of a typical home. My host siblings help me with my Swedish homework, and I help them with their English homework. Explaining English isn’t always easy! I understand so much more now of everyday conversation in Swedish, and I’ve made it through several sales transactions without revealing that I’m not a native speaker.
While part of the reason many of us study abroad in Stockholm is because most people speak English, this doesn’t mean we should ignore the language. The Swedish language is fascinating; like all languages, it frames time and space and makes me see my own American-English mindset differently. I’ve learned so much in my Swedish Language & Culture class that I get to discuss or observe in my Homestay. For example, the Swedes have a concept of frydagsmys, meaning “cozy Fridays.” This is time to relax, mark the end of the week, spend time with family, eat junk food, and watch TV. While not everyone takes part in this tradition to its full extent, it could just mean having something as simple and comforting as tacos for dinner. Frydagsmys is another aspect of Swedish culture, like fika, that will make me miss this country so much.
3. Home-cooked meals
One of the best parts of living in a Homestay is the food. Back at college, I’m on the meal plan, so I rarely spend time preparing my own meals. When I do make myself something to eat, it usually involves a microwave and as little prep time as possible. Luckily my Homestay hosts cook great meals, often from scratch – and they don’t even have a microwave! From äppelkaka (apple cake), to Swedish brown sauce, to lingonberry jam, I feel like I’m getting the true Swedish experience. Who knew there was a Swedish tradition of eating soup and pancakes for dinner on Thursdays? I certainly didn’t. The pancakes are much thinner, served with fruit preserves and homemade whipped cream. Thicker pancakes – the kind I’m used to – are called American pancakes here. How fitting…
Also, as a vegetarian abroad in Europe, I was really concerned about not being in a veggie-friendly family. My Homestay hosts have proved extremely thoughtful in finding meat alternatives and trying new recipes. They’ve even helped me to find one of my new favorite foods – Oumph! Don’t let the strange name dissuade you; Oumph, made from soy protein, comes in a variety of seasonings and has a texture surprisingly similar to meat. It’s produced by Food for Progress Scandinavia, which focuses on sustainability in food. Besides Oumph, many of the vegetables we eat come from my host grandma’s garden. One day she stopped by with homemade bread, banana muffins, and a large basket of fruits and vegetables. You could say I’m pretty satisfied with the food here, and the love and care it’s prepared with.
4. Exploring off the beaten path
Some activities I’ve shared with my Homestay hosts include biking into Stockholm, traveling by boat to an island in the archipelago, going to the historical town of Sigtuna, and visiting an art museum called Artipelag. Experiencing these things with them gives me more of a local’s perspective of Stockholm; they point out things that aren’t on the typical tourist agenda. At Artipelag, we skipped the touristy museum café and instead had a lunch picnic and fika by the water. In the archipelago, we went to a secluded, ‘secret’ beach that was nicer than the one most people headed to. Biking all the way into Stockholm from our home in Sollentuna was also quite the adventure, giving me insight into how active the Swedes actually are.
5. Comfort zone rejuvenation and realignment
I’ve spent the past two years living in a college dorm; as much as that can grow to feel like home, there’s nothing quite like waking up to the smell of coffee waiting for you or coming home to a family who genuinely wants to know how your day went. In my Homestay, I have three younger siblings – 16, 13, and nine. I’ve never had a younger sibling, so this has been a unique and exciting experience. I have my own free space, but there never is a dull moment here. Being so far from home, it’s reassuring to have people who care about my well-being, who give me the space I need, and who do whatever they can to make me feel at ease. One day my host mom asked me what food I missed most from home; I said peanut butter. That night there was a jar of peanut butter in the kitchen.
Moral of the story: if you’re on the fence about choosing a Homestay, my advice is to take the risk! Arrive as a stranger, live as a native, and find ditt andra hem (your second home). It might just be one of the most rewarding parts of your study abroad experience.