Advice for Homestay Students

 In many ways, you are likely to find that life in a Canadian home really isn't that different to what you're used to at home. Like everywhere, people have children, jobs, hobbies, sports, relatives, and all that goes along with those things. Cultural customs may seem superficially different but again, you will no doubt come to agree that people no matter where they live truly are a part of one global family.

What you will observe in homestay is the very essence of regular Canadian life.

In this booklet, we have distilled our many years of experience to provide you, the new homestay visitor, with a reliable guide to getting the absolute most out of your experience. One thing we have learned is that the homestay guests who put the most back in to their host family relationship are the ones who get the greatest enjoyment. Your host family is eager to learn about you and your country, but don't forget they are also immersed in full lives. Make the effort to show your interest and you will be rewarded.

Host families provide more than just room and board; they become friends and guides in a new culture. A successful experience is rewarding for both students and families.

Good luck with your studies and enjoy your time in Canada!


Adjusting to a new country: Culture shock

 Culture shock is a well-documented condition known to travellers encountering new situations. No one thinks they will experience it, but almost everyone eventually does. It is a normal phase of learning to live in a new culture. Because it can cause frustration, here is a little more information about the classic stages of culture shock:

STAGE 1: INCUBATION The new arrival feels euphoric and is pleased by all the new things encountered. This time is called the "honeymoon" stage, as everything encountered is new and exciting.

STAGE 2: CHALLENGES A person may encounter some difficult times and crises in daily life. For example, communication difficulties may occur such as not being understood. There may be feelings of discontent, impatience, anger, sadness, and feeling incompetence. This happens when a person is trying to adapt to a new culture that is very different from the culture of origin.

STAGE 3: NEW UNDERSTANDING A new feeling of pleasure and sense of humor may be experienced as one starts to feel a certain psychological balance. The new arrival may not feel as lost and starts to have a feeling of direction. The individual is more familiar with the environment and wants to belong. This initiates an evaluation of the old ways versus those of the new.

STAGE 4: BALANCE The person realizes that the new culture has good and bad things to offer. This integration is accompanied by a more solid feeling of belonging.

STAGE 5: RE-ENTRY SHOCK This fifth stage occurs when a return to the country of origin is made. One may find that things are no longer the same. Perhaps this is partly why it is said that travel broadens the mind.

Many factors contribute to the duration and effects of culture shock. For example, the individual's type of personality, previous experiences, socio-economic conditions, familiarity with the language, family and/or social support systems, and level of education.


Dealing with Culture Shock

  • Be constructive.
  • Don't try too hard.
  • Include a regular form of physical activity in your routine.
  • Pay attention to relationships with your host family and your new friends at school. They are your support network.
  • Find ways to live with the things that don't satisfy you 100%.
  • Maintain confidence in yourself. 


What you need to know

Though you are paying for your room and board, remember that the household in which you are living is neither a hotel nor your own apartment; it is a private home. Your hosts will treat you as a new family member, so you will need to discuss the rules of the house as soon as you move in. Here are some general guidelines:

BE OPEN AND COMMUNICATE: Don’t be shy! The most important thing to remember is to talk to your host family and ask questions if you aren’t sure about something. Sometimes you may not understand each other the first time. Don’t be embarassed to keep asking until your host family understands your question and you understand their answer (and vice-versa). Your host family will be pleased to help you in any way they can.

MEALS: Your homestay includes three meals per day if you have chosen the Full Board option and two meals (breakfast and dinner) per day if you have chosen the Half Board option.

You should learn your host family’s meal routine and be on time for meals. If you are not going to be home for dinner or don’t need a lunch that day, tell your host family.

Make sure to ask your host for foods you like and also try to be open to new tastes. Students sometimes like to cook a special meal in their own country's style, and homestays are often happy to provide the ingredients for such an occasion. Talk about it well in advance. It's also a great way to show appreciation to your hosts.

It is not a good idea to place personal food items, even a soft drink, in the refrigerator or cupboard without asking permission first. If you are on Full Board, your host family is expected to meet all of your food requirements and so they may think that you are not getting enough to eat or do not like their cooking. If you are on Half Board and wish to make your own packed lunch in the kitchen, you must also be sure this meets with your hosts' approval.

PLANNING TO TRAVEL?: If you are going away for the weekend or are not coming home overnight, you must tell your host family. Otherwise, they will worry about you just as your own family might in that situation. It is easy and cheap to make a telephone call.

TRANSPORTATION: Your host family will be happy to show you how the transit system works. Useful fare and schedule information is available on the Net at

Use your time on the bus to improve your listening and reading skills. Remember why you have chosen to live in a homestay: to improve your English skills and learn about dealing with people from different cultures.

HOUSEHOLD COMFORTS: Unlike in some countries, Canadian homes have their own hot water heaters which are not designed to provide unlimited hot water at one time. If you take very long showers, you will use up all the hot water in the house and there will be none left for anyone else. Ask your host family about the best time to take a shower or wash your clothes.

TELEPHONE: Before using the telephone, especially for long distance calls, ask for permission. The telephone in your home must be shared by everyone who lives there, so if you talk on the telephone for too long, you may cause inconvenience to your host family. For long-distance calling, most students find it convenient to purchase a pre-paid telephone card, which they can use everywhere.

Generally, it's a good idea to make sure you understand the "ground rules" for any household matters, and the telephone is no different.

INTERNET: Your host will be able to provide you with a password for the WiFi and let you know if there are any bandwidth restrictions.

helping out: You are responsible for keeping your own bedroom neat and tidy, so remember to make your bed. The bathroom, particularly if it is shared, should be left as you found it. Your host family may also appreciate your help with small household jobs such as clearing the dishes from the table after a meal.

Make sure that you know how the kitchen works — what goes down the drain and/or garbage disposal, what is thrown out and what is recycled. Learn where the utensils and dishes are kept, and always clean up after yourself!

LAUNDRY: Ask how to take care of your dirty laundry and how to operate the washer and dryer. North American appliances are often of a very different design than you are used to.

SECURITY: When you go out, remember to lock the door behind you. Your host family will provide you with a key to the house. If there is a security alarm, they will show you how to use it.

CHANGING YOUR PLANS: If you are planning to move or leave your host family, you must tell them at least four weeks before the day you are planning to move.

PARTICIPATION: Talk to your family about your daily life. They can be very useful helping you to "decode" any cultural mysteries that you encounter. Remember: although host families have full and often busy lives, they genuinely do want to help you out.

During your homestay, you will likely be invited to take part in family activities. If for some reason you cannot participate in an event to which you were invited, tell your hosts in advance, and thank them for including you. At all times be considerate of their plans and try to join them whenever possible. Remember — homestay is not a hotel! Active participation in your hosts' activities will enrich your experience.

AN ACTIVE LIFE: Your studies may be very demanding and so you may require a lot of study time at home. Your family understands this. They will, however, also be concerned about your welfare if you spend too much time in your room or don’t seem to be enjoying yourself — especially if it is nice weather outside. Vancouver folk are an outdoorsy bunch, and you may seem very strange indeed if you choose not to enjoy that aspect of life in the city. You should plan your weekend activities in advance and maintain a healthy balance between work and play.

INTERNET: You host family can provide you with the password for their WiFi network so you can connect your devices.

CELLULAR PHONES: Please do not use your mobile device while dining with your host family as that is considered as rude in Canada.

Smoking: Few places in the world have quit smoking the way Canada has. And within Canada, there are few places that are more smoke-free than Vancouver, known for its health-minded citizens. So if you are a smoker, you will have to be careful not to give offence.

In most homestays you will not be allowed to smoke inside the house. Some families will allow you to step outside to smoke. Please be respectful in disposing of your cigarette stubs etc.

Remember that "No smoking" means ABSOLUTELY NO SMOKING inside! If you answered on your homestay application that you are a non-smoker, your hosts will expect you not to smoke in or near the house.

DRIVING: If you plan to drive, be sure that you have a valid driver's license from your own country or an international driver's license. For insurance reasons, it can be very difficult to acquire a rental car if you are under the age of 25.

FACILITIES: Your host family is required to provide all the basic furnishings in your room. A bed (including linen), a desk, a chair, a lamp for reading. Vancouver Family Homestays makes it clear to families that they are responsible for your comfort. As with any house there are inevitable minor things, such as light bulbs and bathroom fixtures, that occasionally need attention. You should not hesitate to mention these things to your hosts. They will be happy you have assisted by alerting them to the necessary maintenance.

HERE TO HELP: If you have any problems with your homestay, let us know. We are here to make sure you enjoy your stay in Vancouver and we are happy to help ensure satisfaction.

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