One of the first things you do when planning to study abroad is pick out your housing, whether it be a dorm room, apartment, or homestay. It’s a hard decision to make, and because I was planning on studying abroad for two semesters, I decided to try out French dorm life my first semester and live at a homestay my second. In case anyone else is struggling to make a decision between a homestay or dorm, here’s a list of benefits and considerations for both options.
The Benefits of Dorm Life
- Meeting other Study Abroad students
One of the nicest things about living in a dorm is you get to meet other students from both your study abroad program and other programs. This is a great way to meet new friends when you first arrive in Paris. These first couple of friends can help you out a lot when trying to figure out stuff like where to buy food and which sim card is the best one.
- Living with French students
Another nice thing about living in the dorms is you are also living with French college students. Because of this, you are able to make French friends who can help show you the ropes and improve your French by teaching you important slang.
- Dorm Parties
My dorm building, Anne-Marie Véder, had official parties going on during most of the weekends and major holidays. We would all go down to the communal kitchen and their would be free food and drink, games, and music. This enabled us to all get to know each other even better, plus who can say no to free food?
One of the best benefits to living in the dorms is that you are completely independent. It is just like dorm life back home where there is no curfew or many rules except to just be courteous to others. It’s a great option if you want to have complete freedom to do what you want while also being able to easily make international and French friends.
Dorm Living Considerations
- Too many Americans
Even though it is really nice to have other Americans living in the same building as you, sometimes it means that you choose to hang out and talk to them instead of the French students living in the dorm. It will take some extra effort to go up to a French student instead of sticking to your comfortable group.
While dorm life can be fun, remember that you will have a roommate. This can be a lot of fun and a good way to make a quick friend when you first arrive, however you still have to be mindful that your room is not 100 percent yours.
- Communal kitchen
Even though you are living in a dorm, there is no such thing as a meal plan in France. Instead you’ll have to cook all of your meals yourself. One thing to consider in the dorms is that you do not have your own kitchen. You’re sharing the one room with everyone else who lives there. This means that you’ll have to wait to use the stove or microwave sometimes and that you only will have small storage space for your groceries.
- Communal bathrooms
This goes along with the previous point. You will have to share your bathroom and shower room with everyone else on your floor. Another consideration about this is that the showers in the dorms are different than the showers back home. France it all about preserving water and their showers reflect that. The water does not run continuously. Instead you’ll have to push a button on the side of the shower every 20 seconds or so to keep the water running. You’ll also not have any control over the temperature. However, showering like this is much better for the earth.
The Benefits of Living in a Homestay
- Living like the locals
One of the coolest thing about staying in a homestay is that you are living as local Parisians do. You get to see first hand what it is actually like to live in Paris. You also get the option for your host family to provide you with some meals a couple of days a week, which means that you’re eating like a local too.
- Practicing your French
Another cool thing about a homestay is that there is always someone there to practice your French with. Unlike other Parisians who might get annoyed at your floundering French or would prefer to speak in English, host families know that you’re there to learn French and will put in the time and effort to help you improve your language skills. They are also useful if you have any questions about your French homework.
- No roommate
Unlike living in a dorm, in a homestay you have your own room. This means that you can decorate it anyway you want and don’t have to be worried about annoying your roommate. You just get to do your own thing.
- No shared kitchen
While you do have to share your kitchen with your host family, you aren’t sharing it with everyone in your building. This allows you to have the freedom to try new recipes and take as long as you want in the kitchen without worrying that you’re hogging anything. You also have much more storage space.
- Meal plan
If you do choose to have your host family cook meals for you a couple days a week, on those days you cannot decide to change plans and go out to dinner with your friends instead. If you know that you’re going to be busy, you have to let them know a couple of days in advance so they don’t go through the effort to cook a meal that you’re not going to be there to eat.
- You are living in someone’s home
While it is cool to experience living with a Parisian family, you also have to keep in mind that you are a guest in someone’s home. This means that you shouldn’t come back after partying late at night and make a lot of noise, invite guests over without asking, or leave for the weekend without letting them know what your plans are.
- Following rules
As mentioned above, you are living in someone’s house, so you need to follow the ground rules that they’ve laid out for you. While the rules aren’t usually that hard to follow, you do not have as much freedom as living in the dorms. As long as you’re courteous, you shouldn’t have a problem with this.
- Sometimes hard to connect with family
The last consideration you should consider before signing up for a homestay is whether you’ll comfortable living in a stranger’s home. Connecting with your host family can be challenging sometimes and it can be even more challenging if you’re a naturally shy person. It takes time and effort to build a bond and it can be extremely awkward when you first arrive.
I had a lot of fun living in both a dorm and a homestay. They both posed their own challenges, but at the end of the day, where you are staying isn’t going to make or break your study abroad experience. No matter what you choose, you’re still going to have an amazing time in Paris.
Rebecca B. is the Spring 2018 alumna in Paris, France. She is currently studying at the State University of New York College at Potsdam.
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