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Many of you know that I studied abroad in Kobe, Japan for 10 weeks during undergraduate. What many of you do not know is that as part of my trip I had to spend a homestay weekend with a Japanese family. Right from the get-go, the idea of staying with a bunch of strangers who didn’t speak English at all was a bit terrifying. I was afraid. Luckily, this homestay ended up being one of the highlights of my trip there. It was phenomenal.

Prior to the Homestay

charlie_nervous_breakdown_tshirt_by_applescruffgirl-d4jsm3j

Before the homestay actually started, I was pretty nervous. Not only was I nervous to spend the whole weekend with a family of strangers, I was kinda scared I’d pull a baka gaijin and really embarrass myself.

The whole rest of the trip, I was using Japanese and English about equally. I’d use Japanese mostly during the day while we were out talking to people and visiting the local university, and then at nighttime I’d speak English with my American friends back at the dorm. This weekend I’d be using Japanese non-stop.

This all seemed very intimidating to me. I wasn’t super confident in my Japanese and I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with the family so great and wouldn’t have the opportunity to get to know them so well. Plus I hadn’t had much experience talking to people that weren’t my age or younger (outside the classroom anyway) so I was nervous I might not be polite enough.

Luckily for me, all of my fears were dispelled after the very first day with the family. They were absolutely delightful.

The Family

dinnerMy homestay family consisted of two girls, one in college and one in middle school. Their parents were young and lively and they had an adorable little Italian Greyhound named Turbo. The girls’ names were Ai and Yuu. I think the father of the family was a diabolical naming mastermind. Telling my English speaking friends about my homestay with “I” and “You” brought on much hilarity and confusion.

turbo

They were a very attractive family. Even the dog was super cute. I really got along well with all of them and they were really open, friendly, and awesome. I’m sure part of this had to do with them wanting to make a good impression and show the foreigner a good time. Plus, it was only for a weekend, so I’m sure that even if they weren’t so fond of me, they would have faked it until I was out of their hair.

I got along really well with all of them and it was nowhere near the nightmare I feared it would be. I couldn’t have asked for a better family to homestay with.

Homestay Activities

ai-yuuWe did so many things! I mean, we did a lot of things during my whole trip in Kobe, but this homestay weekend was jam packed with awesome Japanese activities. I got to ride a train up a mountain and then ride a boat back down it, eat at a fancy sushi restaurant where I ate a whole fish and almost choked to death on some squid, play in the park with Turbo, and a lot of other awesome things that I’ll never forget.

Doing all of these things with my American friends would have been fun, but sharing them with the Japanese family that took me in for the weekend was special in a different way. It felt like the most Japanese thing I did over there. I really felt welcomed by them and all the stuff we did together really helped us bond. Even just doing stuff at their house was special.

turbo-park

One of my mistakes (baka gaijin move right here) was failing to make use of the bath in their house (I did remember to bring a gift though). Their home was really nice and offered a cool mix of modernism with traditional Japan. Unfortunately for me, the silly American, I declined to use the bath the whole time I was there and just used the shower instead. They weren’t surprised, as I was an American, but I still wish I would have taken that opportunity.

Another awesome thing that happened the very first day was what the father gave me during the first dinner. Apparently he went to the grocery earlier that day and bought a single can of Budweiser for me to have with dinner. It was hilarious, and kind of silly, but I really appreciated the gesture and it let me know that this homestay was going to be a great one.

How a Homestay Helps Your Japanese

immersion“Dude, we’re so immersed right now.”

If you’re looking for the best way to immerse yourself, homestay is a great option to consider. You’re going to be around and have to interact with Japanese people all day whether you like it or not. Even if you live in Japan, if you live by yourself, you can escape the Japanese environment and look up stuff on YouTube or whatever and gobble up some English. Ain’t nobody got time fo dat if they’re living with a Japanese family.

At homestay, you’ll be taking in and spitting out more Japanese than you’d ever thought you would. You’re not going to have anybody else there to translate or help you out when you get confused of have trouble expressing an idea. It’s super great for learning practice and I know my Japanese ability and confidence really skyrocketed after my homestay. And my homestay was only a weekend. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if my stay were longer.

english-scared-turtle

However, after that one short weekend, I was pretty mentally worn out from the constant barrage of Japanese, but then again I just wasn’t used to that much exposure without some sort of break. When I came back to the dorms after the weekend and was reunited with all my American friends, it was legitimately weird speaking English again.

Homestay is a great way to throw yourself into the Japanese environment. You’ll get to do a lot of cool things, meet some awesome people, and have friends for life. I know that I’ll always have a place to stay in Japan thanks to this homestay. And even though our correspondence has been sparse this past year, I know that I’ll never forget the family or the experience. It was amazing.

If you ever have the opportunity to homestay in Japan, take it. You most definitely will not regret it.


So tell me, have any of you ever done a homestay in Japan? Was it as great as mine or was yours less than stellar? Would you be interested in doing a homestay if you haven’t already? Share your thoughts down in the comments!

  • http://twitter.com/Riechanster Riechan

    how can you find a host family?

  • John

    While I’ve not looked into it much myself, I’m sure there are programs available online that could help you out. I’m sure you’ll find something! :D

  • John

    This is about the closest post we have for that as of right now:

    http://www.tofugu.com/2012/05/21/how-to-be-a-baka-gaijin-in-the-house/

  • Amanda

    I did a homestay program for my junior year of high school, 2007-2008. It was just like you described, but it continued (non-stop Japanese) for 11 months! It is really, truly exhausting at first – and there are so many miscommunications – but you learn so, so fast. I was lucky to be in Hokkaido where almost no one spoke English well, so I was forced to learn Japanese quickly. Because of that, I got so acquainted with the culture and language that some people asked me if I was half-Japanese (I’m super white :P). It really is the best investment you can make if you’re going to be studying abroad!

  • kiki

    You can try : http://www.homestayinjapan.com
    Two years ago, I had a homestay with them in Okinawa and it was amazing.
    Very nice host family, I could improve my level in Japanese.

  • http://twitter.com/memedai Meme Dailan

    Thats Tofugu for you. I think Apple’s ad phrase could be used here. “There is a Tofugu article for that.” :)

    Thanks

  • Jacinda Wilson

    I did a 10 month exchange program back in 2007. Prior to leaving Australia we were asked if we wanted to do homestay. I actually said no because it was a month long homestay in this situation.

    Fortunately when I was in Japan (and flunking all my tests) the arranged for the host families top meet up with us (at one of their time-honoured horribly awkward meet and greet type parties). I finally agreed to stay with a host family as I was promised if it was awkward I could go back to the dorms.

    So the one month of staying with my host family (which began in August) ended up lasting through till December…. I had the best host family of all the ones (not by my choice – they chose me) A lot of the other girls got host families that were purely interested in practising their English. Mine gave me the choice and included me on their bi-annual weekend stay at Mt Fuji. My host dad had always wanted to climb Fuji san to the point he’d bought the hiking shoes, the hiking bag, the headlamps, you name it. It broke my heart when I told him my intentions of climbing Fuji and he asked me to use his stuff so if he never made it to the peak at least his stuff had (fortunately he decided to climb it a month after I had). Honestly I could continue on – but the main thing staying with my host family did… After 4 months of scraping by or flunking my Japanese tests, I started aceing them and to this day my Japanese ability remains strong even with lack of use.

    If you ever get the opportunity, DO IT!

  • Jacinda Wilson

    My mum said some of the e-mails I sent back to her from Japan were a bit gramatically interesting … :D

  • Jacinda Wilson

    Phew, glad it wasn’t just me with the brain hurting thing! Plus I fell asleep in front of the TV a few times….and that was after 4 months of having already been in Japan….

  • Divyaa

    I’m going for a weeklong homestay next week and I can’t wait! :D

  • Yuki

    Thank you for posting this,it’s really informative :D
    So I’m gonna be home staying in Tokyo for one month and I’m freaking out right now,what did you do when you don’t understand or get confused of something that the host family said??I’m really worried about that part…

  • http://kobayo.com/ Takeru

    How do you apply for homestay? Does it have to be done through school or uni?