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
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.
My 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.
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.
We 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.
One of my mistakes (baka gaijin moveright 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
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.
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.