Author: Casey Bremer
Location: Viña del Mar, Chile/Granada, Spain
What advice would you give to students (we have one who is concerned about this that will go abroad in the Fall concerned about accommodations?
I was concerned about accommodations before going abroad, but I learned that it really isn’t as stressful as I had thought. The people I lived with were very kind, and gave me a true glimpse into the country’s culture. I wouldn’t stress too much about the accommodations. Your host family just wants to make sure you’re enjoying your experience abroad. Plus, they usually have years of experience hosting students so they’ve seen it all. They give you home-cooked meals, do your laundry, and take care of you when your family back home can’t. For example, I got bronchitis during my semester in Chile and my Chilean host mom went with me to the clinic, talked to the doctor, and helped me get the medicine. Without her, I don’t know if I would have known what to do, or how to talk to the doctor at the clinic. I’m so thankful she took care of me, because getting sick while abroad can be scary! One really important thing students should know is that communication is really important. If you don’t want to eat certain foods, tell your host family and they’ll stop giving it you. If you’re having issues with the host family, tell your program director and they’ll do their best to resolve the issues. It might be hard or embarrassing to talk about the issue, but saying it once will be better than living with it for the whole semester. Just make sure to communicate!
How does setting up accommodations work (what’s the process)?
The process was super easy. VU and the host institutions do a lot of the work for you, and you just need to put in your preferences and restrictions. For example, I told the program directors that I’m vegan/vegetarian and they worked with the families to tell them what I can and cannot eat before I get there so everyone is on the same page. Before you go, there is usually a survey to help find the best fit with students and family. For Granada and Viña del Mar, it was a pretty seamless process and everything worked out really well.
Is it something you should be ashamed of? Were you ashamed?
I’m not really sure what you would be ashamed of. I loved living with a host family in Spain and Chile, and my accommodations at the YMCA in Valparaíso were really great as well. It’s an easy way to get even more immersed in the different culture, and the people you live with are great resources for information about the country and the town you’re living in. Although it might be uncomfortable or awkward at first, I think living with a host family is the best way to experience a semester abroad. It’s also a great way to improve your language skills!
Will you have anonymity and privacy when you tell personnel that you need accommodations?
Yes! Of course, it varies depending on the program. However, in all three of the VU study abroad programs I’ve participated in, the personnel that I’ve worked with are very accommodating. The grand majority of the people working with VU and the other institutions really just want to make sure that you’re safe and you’re enjoying your time abroad. They will do whatever it takes to make sure you feel comfortable wherever you’re living. Privacy can be a big concern, but everyone I’ve worked with has been discreet and only share what is necessary.
Will it stop you from having fun and making new friends and experiences; how does it work abroad? How is your experience?
Absolutely not! No matter where you live, you’re going to have an incredible semester, meet interesting people, and have lots of fun! In my experience, the host families just want you to love the country and enjoy the semester. They don’t mind if you come home late, or skip a meal to go out with friends. They only want to make sure you’re safe. The only frustrating thing is that I couldn’t have friends over to my house (although it depends on which program and the family you live with). However, instead of having that ruin the experience, my friends and I used that as an excuse to go out and explore the city more! I think that no matter what, accommodations won’t stop you from having fun or from making really great friends. And if it does, tell your program director or someone at VU and they’ll work with you to improve the situation! Regardless of where you live, your semester abroad will an unforgettable experience and you’ll meet people that will become some of your closest friends.