Typically when studying abroad, you have three housing options: an apartment, a homestay, or student dorms/residencies.
For some students, the choice will be really easy. For others, it will be difficult. My two best pieces of advice would be to ask alumni about the housing they chose, why they picked it, and what they liked and disliked about it. Then carefully consider what type of experience YOU want, and what will make you happiest and most comfortable.
Here is some information about these housing options:
I already wrote about my homestay experience in detail, but a quick recap of why I recommend this option:
A host family may typically be an older, unmarried or widowed woman. It could even be a small family looking to supplement their income.
I chose a homestay for the following reasons:
- I had to be financially conscious and homestays were the cheapest option for my program. Three meals were included each day, as well as one load of laundry per week (which I didn’t do myself).
- It was the best way to become immersed in the culture and language. My host mom didn’t speak a word of English, and she frequently told me about events happening in the city. I also liked asking her about her life and it was a way to learn more about the Spanish culture.
- I also liked having that comfort knowing that if I ever were sick or injured, or had some other emergency, my host mom would be able to help me and know where to go.
Keep in mind that with a homestay, you may lose a lot of freedoms. If you like to cook meals for yourself, or if you’re particular about doing your own laundry, a homestay is not going to work for you because you probably won’t be allowed to do those things. (Take this with a grain of salt; the rules vary by program.) If you like to hang out with friends in your living room, you probably won’t be able to do that either without prior permission (this varies by culture). So if you’re looking to throw a lot of parties and have people sleep over, this is definitely not the option you want to pick. Basically, in a homestay you’ll be living with a family and taken care of as if you’re a part of the family, and it is expected that you will respect their rules.
Apartments grant the greatest independence and freedom. You don’t have a curfew; you are free to come and go as you please; you can have guests over; you can party and drink freely without having rules in place. You will be entirely responsible for taking care of yourself. The only one you’ll be answering to is your landlord. You get all of the same perks as living in an apartment back at home during college.
HOWEVER, consider other extra costs that your program may not cover if you live in an apartment, such as: furnishings, laundry, internet, utilities, and food. From what other students told me about their apartment experiences, some had big apartments and REALLY great locations in the city center, and they loved the independence. Others thought it was at times lonely if they weren’t very close to their apartment mates.
I’m guessing that living in dorms provides the same benefits as in the US. There is the potential to meet a lot of local or international students living in the same building, and it will be easier to make friends since you’re constantly around other people. You will get the “true student experience” of living in the dorms, which may or may not be located on campus or nearby, such as: joining organizations, parties or other events, etc.
Extra costs: You should check with your program regarding what is included. Will you have to bring your own bed sheets, towels, etc.? Is there a meal plan included? Utilities?
Although this is not as common, I have heard of programs using hostels for housing. This is more likely to occur during a short-term program. A girl I know stayed in a double room on one of the residence floors of the hostel with everyone in her program, considered long term residence.
Again, it’s important to find out how your individual program will be handling the housing in terms of rules and lifestyle. Each housing option comes with its own level of independence and cultural immersion. Consider what type of housing will work best with your personality and requirements!
If you have lived in an apartment or dorm while abroad, leave a comment please and let me know how the experience was :)