Thoughts on doing a homestay



Staying with a family of strangers is hard.

Heck, sometimes living with your own family is hard! And they know you and love you.

Now you find yourself in a strange home, in a strange land, where you don't speak the same language (although all sides are trying to accomodate each other).

Here are some thoughts on making your homestay as enjoyable as possible, for you and your hosts.



Starting out can be especially awkward. But everyone wants to be at ease, and you may find people (including yourself) trying too hard.

Here are a few things that can get you going

  • You have omiyage (gifts) to give (they may not want to open the gifts in front of you, or they may ask if it's OK to open the gifts now).
  • If you have pictures of your family, home, pets, school, etc. this is a good way to show them who you are
  • Show interest in their home and family, ask questions



Even for those who have been studying the language, actually living with a family may raise communication issues that surprise and frustrate you and your hosts.

Having a dictionary can help. So can paper and pencil, even charades.

It's important to have patience and a sense of humor.


The long haul

Six nights can fly by if you're having a good time. It can seem an eternity if things are not going well.

This is why we advise you to have some tools in reserve ...

  • If one of your gifts is a game the whole family can play (I think of Jenga, but a toy store can make good recommendations), offer to show them how the game is played
  • Bring a deck of playing cards and teach them "Crazy 8s" or "Go fish" (maybe review the rules yourself before you leave; how do you say "Give me all your threes" or "go fish!" in Japanese?)
  • We had a great time when our Japanese friends taught us one of their card games
  • If you have musical talent, teach them a song or ask to learn a song in Japanese
  • If you have drawing talent, sketch them or something in their home
  • Plan ahead for times when you can, basically, entertain or share some talent
  • Offer to help out
  • If there are young children, entertaining them can be an excellent way to feel part of the family.



You are an honored guest in your host family's home. They are making great efforts to make you feel comfortable and at home.

You will be offered to take the first bath of the evening. You will probably have a comfortable space in a house that might not have a lot of spare space.

In return, you should be appreciative of the efforts the family is making on your behalf, and you should show them that you think they are terrific hosts. Be as graceful and gracious as you can be.

Use lots of

  • "ii desu" - it is good
  • "oishi desu" - it is delicious
  • "domo arigato" / "domo arigato gozaimasu" - thank you

If you feel like complaining, try laughing at yourself instead. If you can't see the humor in the situation you are not looking closely enough. You are on a fantastic adventure in an exotic, far away land where people you barely know are trying to please you. What a deal!

So of course things are different from the way they are at home. That's the point of the trip. You will see things that seem non-sensical to you, but believe me someone staying at your house would also observe non-sensical behavior. Some of this is just tradition, but it may be rooted in some long-ago context you can't imagine.



You will make mistakes. You cannot help yourself: often you will not even know that you have made a mistake. Or even though we gave you some pointers, you will forget at just the wrong time.

It will be OK. Your host family will overlook and forgive all the little errors you make. After all, you are a foreigner and can't be expected to know how civilized people are to behave.

If it comes to your attention that you have made a mistake, then it's time for "Sumimasen" or "Gomen nassai" - I am sorry. And if necessary offer to fix any problem you may have caused.


Problem solving

Your host family is doing everything it can to ensure you have a wonderful stay.

If you look at it from their perspective, long after you've gone it will still be known in their community if they were good hosts or not. It is important to them that your stay be successful.

If things are not going well, it's important to talk to Gail or Chris early in the process. We can work with [an error occurred while processing this directive] and the family to turn things around. But the earlier we find out about any problems, the easier it becomes to fix them.