Sonia Shiri’s study, The Homestay in Intensive Language Study Abroad: Social Networks, Language Socialization, and Developing Intercultural Competence, provides a new look at the benefits of homestay-based study abroad programs. When you hear people talk about homestays, its typically in the form of former participants gushing about how great it is, and how much it helped them in their language studies. However, the few previous studies that exist paint a somewhat more clouded picture, with some claiming that homestays only offer students the opportunity to practice banal conversation and not being conducive to deeper cultural immersion. Shiri’s study takes a closer look at homestays in Tunisia, to see what benefits they offer participating students. The goal of the study was to address the topics of the composition of, and interaction with, the social network of the host family, student reflections on the homestay experience, and the perceived and actual linguistic gains from the homestay. To this end, students took a post-program online survey, as well as pre-and post-program Oral Proficiency Interviews. The results of the survey and OPIs appear to show that homestays positively effect a student’s study abroad experience, including providing them a deeper cultural immersion, and increasing their language competence. The data showed that the homestay experience provided students “access to a broader social network,” with 61% of the participants paying several visits to peers’ host families. 77% of the students responded that “Having a homestay made me feel more connected to the local community.” Contradicting the previous concerns, 74% of the students thought that their conversations with their host family grew in both complexity and length over time, while only 26% reported that their conversations became repetitive. Perhaps most telling, students in this homestay program gained an average of 2.6 sublevels on their OPIs whereas students in comparable programs that didn’t incorporate the homestay component only gained 1.5 sublevels on average. Shiri concludes that:
Overall, the homestay was a positive experience that al- lowed rich and frequent opportunities for learning and practicing primarily the local dialect, gaining a better understanding of diglossic language use, and language socialization into Tunisian society, all of which were facilitated by having opportunities to perform day-to-day activities; engage in more abstract discussions; and witness and participate in family chores, daily routines, leisure activities, social functions, and traditions
Shiri’s findings present important evidence in making the case for study abroad, and in particular, homestays. Evidence like this helps to legitimize the field by providing hard data to support claims on the benefits of these programs, rather than relying on anecdotal evidence. One thing that isn’t touched on as much, but I think would be very interested to see, is homestays’ effect on global citizenship. Shiri points out the benefits of these programs on global competence, but doesn’t get into global citizenship. Nel Noddings points out that “We really cannot care for people at a great distance without some means of direct contact.” Shiri’s study showed that 91% of the students in the homestay program responded that they intend to keep in touch with their host family. It would seem to me that this continued contact born of the homestay experience would increase the participating students’ caring for their host family and community, and an increased sense of global citizenship. I think it is important to investigate this further.
Noddings, Nel. 2005. Global Citizenship: Promises and Problems. In N. Noddings (Ed.), Educating Citizens for Global Awareness (pp. 1-21). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Shiri, S. (2015). The Homestay in Intensive Language Study Abroad: Social Networks, Language Socialization, and Developing Intercultural Competence. Foreign Language Annals, 48(1), 5-25.