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Language Study Abroad

Language School Homestays

Host Families Welcome Nonstudents

You don’t have to study at a language school to stay with a language-school host family. In more than 10 years of traveling the world by homestay I have studied language abroad only once, but I have found homestays in several different countries by connecting with language schools.

Earlier this year, I planned to travel through El Salvador and wanted more cultural immediacy than just the typical backpacker hostels afford, so I tracked down SalvaSpan Spanish School on the Internet and inquired about a potential homestay without studying Spanish at the school. The program organizers replied quickly to my email and arranged for me to stay with Maria Luisa Amaya’s family, one of the program’s most popular host families.

Maria Luisa lived on a mostly residential street just north of San Salvador’s historic center. Over the course of my stay, she brought me to church with her, picked up pupusas at the market for me, and invited me to watch TV with her.

Toward the end of my stay, I met Sorayda Martínez, the Spanish instructor and homestay coordinator for Salvaspan’s San Salvador language programs. “We would love more people like you to come stay with our host families,” she said. “You know neither we nor the families profit much from these homestays, but I think the families really like the cultural exchange.”

In Mexico City, I arranged two months with a host family affiliated with the Universidad LaSalle’s exchange program. I then arranged to spend nine months with a host family during a research fellowship in Lisbon, also by connecting with a Portuguese language school. Later, in Cusco, Peru, a language school helped me include a brief homestay along with my visit to Machu Picchu.

None of the institutions advertise their homestays to nonparticipants in their educational programs. However, all responded favorably to my inquiries.

How It Works

As Sorayda Martinez says, both the language schools and the families profit modestly from homestay fees. Families also enjoy the cultural exposure that comes from having a foreign student in residence. Costs for an à la carte homestay with a language school range from $15 to $30 per night and $100 to $200 per week. Travelers seeking such an arrangement should send the program coordinator an email such as the following: “I am seeking a host family in Mexico City for the period June 1 to June 15. I do not intend to enroll in the language classes, but if any of the host families in your network are available, I would be willing to pay whatever nightly or weekly fee you feel is appropriate.”

In addition to short-term language schools, semester abroad programs can also be helpful resources during their off seasons, when they have high inventories of available host families. Likewise, it makes sense to contact volunteer and cultural exchange programs to see if they might consider placing an independent traveler in an ad hoc homestay.

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