• One of the best ways to learn a local language while studying away is living in a homestay.
  • Experiencing a language within your host’s home gives you a unique window into the local culture.
  • Practicing a language with your host family helps build comfort and confidence when using it outside of the home.
NYU homestay student Devyn doing a handstand in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Homestays offer the unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the local language. In fact, many NYU students decide to live in homestays while studying away to learn the hosts’ language. A few students shared their homestay experiences learning, growing, and perfecting their language skills with us. Here’s what they have to say:

Homestay student Fiona sits behind a music stand and microphone. A member of her host family’s music ensemble stands beside her. They’re practicing.
Fiona practicing with her host family’s music ensemble.

Embrace a New Community

Fiona Cantorna, an Environmental Studies and Spanish dual major at the College of Arts and Science (CAS), lived in a homestay because she “wanted to be more connected to the Porteño (Argentine) community.” During her stay, she found just that. Her host family was a part of a weekly music ensemble, and Fiona had the chance to join them in making music. You can even watch them perform.

“My homestay was instrumental in improving my Spanish,” Fiona says. “It provided a casual environment to practice my listening and speaking skills in which I learned Argentine vocabulary (‘lunfardo’) and even picked up the local Rioplatense accent! Through my host family, I also met local friends whom I spoke Spanish with and become more connected to the culture and community.”

A French homestay host enjoys dinner at his mother’s table.
Chloe’s view while she enjoys a meal with her host’s son, Xach.

Find Home Away from Home

Chloe Bouquet Brown, a Gallatin School of Individualized Study student, lived with host Mina and her son, Xach, in Paris’ 10th Arrondissement while studying away. Though she loved exploring the city, it was her time at home “laughing, sharing stories, and eating Mina’s gourmet cooking” that she enjoyed most.

“My French transformed enormously throughout my year with Mina and Xach,” Chloe recalls. “They pushed me to practice French around the house. It was difficult at times, being tired from classes and yearning for home. But, in the end, my confidence grew with their positive encouragement in the sanctity of the homestay. I interned at a local art gallery and could ask them about professional terminology and French work customs. My homestay helped me excel in both fun and professional situations in Paris.”

An NYU student of color standing in front of a canal in Venice.
Justin visiting Venice while studying away at NYU Florence.

Learn the Local Lingo

Justin Strong, a Business major at the Stern School of Business concentrating in marketing and management and organizations, lived in a homestay at NYU Florence because he knew how it would impact his Italian. His homestay host wasn’t the “typical nuclear family.” Rather, it was one woman with two adult daughters who had recently moved away but visited often. He built a close connection with the family and learned a lot about Italian culture from them.

“The homestay experience was phenomenal for my Italian,” Justin shares. “I told my host mother that I didn’t know any Italian, but I wanted to speak and learn as much as possible. Throughout the semester, we persisted in Italian and it really paid off. Soon enough, we were having conversations in full Italian. I was really grateful for the homestay experience. By the end of the term, I was chatting with numerous locals without needing to switch to English.”

NYU student Sam eating dinner with his housemate and host family.
Sam eating dinner with his housemate and host family.

Dive Into New Cultures…and Cuisines

Sam Husemann-Erickson, a CAS Politics major, says he decided to live in a homestay “not only because of the lower cost, but also because it was an excellent way to improve my Spanish and get to know Argentine cuisine and culture in depth.” His hosts were a retired couple who helped him navigate Buenos Aires. They loved to cook, and his host mother even kept track of the recipes he liked. She wrote them all down at the end of the semester so he could take them home.

“I already spoke Spanish upon my arrival, but I noticed a marked improvement as I stayed there,” Sam explains. “My host parents were more than happy to teach me Argentine expressions and more natural ways to express myself. Our discussions over dinner and breakfast were a great way to practice my Spanish throughout my stay.”

NYU homestay student Devyn on a bridge over a waterway in Paris.
Devyn standing on a bridge over a waterway in Paris.

Converse with Comfort and Confidence

Devyn Costello-Henderson, a Vocal Performance major concentrating in classical voice at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, had studied French for years before studying away at NYU Paris. But she couldn’t pass up the chance to improve her language skills. Her host family, an older couple with three adult children and many grandchildren who visited often, made her feel at home. By the end of her stay, she says, “They truly felt like an adopted family.”

“Staying in a homestay forced me to become comfortable speaking the language,” Devyn continues. “I didn’t feel the need to speak perfectly, but I was still able to communicate well with the family. My host family loved to chat with me, and it was very helpful to listen to their everyday conversations in French. I found I was quickly able to understand almost everything they said, even if my own vocabulary was not as complete. We could have fluid conversations in French without me needing to pause often to search for words. I still made mistakes, but I had a higher comfort and confidence level speaking the language.”

Kelly McHugh-Stewart is a Senior Writer and Strategist for NYU’s University Relations and Public Affairs Office of Marketing Communications, where she seeks out and enjoys telling stories that help people understand the world through a new lens. Kelly holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School and a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Kansas State University. Her reporting and personal essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Reader’s Digest, CNN Opinion, and Sports Illustrated, among others.