Living with an American Family

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A Guide for Foreign Students

What to Expect in Your Home-stay

Our hosts have been carefully selected. We are sure that you will find them sympathetic, warm and helpful. They are friendly, caring people who are interested in knowing more about you and your culture. You should ask them if you do not understand something and you should tell them about your plans for the day. It’s great English practice and they will be happier knowing where you are. We will be checking with you often about your homestay so that if there are any problems, we will talk about them and try to solve them.

There is no “typical” family in the USA. You may live in a traditional family with two parents and children, or there may be a husband and wife, but no children. Most of our hosts are single women with grown children. We also have some households with two women or two men living together, some of them with children. The parents may both have full-time jobs outside the home. Many families in Northampton have diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Social Activities

Social activities mostly occur on weekends. On weekday evenings, families often watch television together or work by themselves doing homework, surfing the internet, or reading. Many people have evening meetings for school, work, church, or other organizations. You may be your host if it is appropriate.


Meals such as breakfast and lunch are light, informal meals in the U.S.A., particularly during weekdays, and family members usually choose and prepare what they will eat themselves. Dinner is the main meal of the day, and families usually eat together. The dinner hour is usually between 6:00 and 8:00.

  • If you have chosen a home-stay with meals included you can expect to have dinner with your host and have food provided with which to prepare your own breakfast and lunch.
  • If you have chosen to prepare your own meals, your host will help you to shop for your food. There are several food stores within walking distance of ILI.

Everyone shares in clearing the table and washing dishes. You can offer to help, and ask your host how they share the work. You may ask for more food if you are still hungry. If you are asked if you would like more, and you do, say “yes” the first time—you may not be asked a second time.

Your host will want to know what you like and do not like to eat. Tell them if there is some food you cannot eat. You are not expected to enjoy all foods, but it is polite to try things once.

Tell your host if there is a special food you miss. Often, your host will be able to get it for you. Offer to cook a meal from your country occasionally.

If you are not planning on joining your host for dinner, make sure that you tell them. Do not be afraid to call them, they will appreciate it! You need to eat a balanced diet to stay healthy. If you are not getting enough to eat or you feel that the food is not healthful, you should talk to your host.


Many Americans have pets, especially cats and dogs that are often allowed into every room in the house. If you have allergies to animals or the presence of a pet makes you uncomfortable, let the Home-stay Coordinator know beforehand.

Helping with Household Tasks

In most American households, men, women and children share housekeeping and laundry chores. You will be expected to clean your room, do your own laundry and clean up after yourself or help with other chores as asked.


Smoking is generally not allowed inside buildings. Please ask your host for guidance about where you can smoke.


There are 145 houses of worship within 16 kilometers of ILI representing many religions of the world.

Alcoholic Drinks

People less than 21 years of age are not allowed to drink, buy or carry alcohol in Massachusetts. It is illegal to buy or give alcohol to anyone under the age or 21.

Before Departure

It is customary to leave your bedroom and bathroom as clean as it was when you arrived. Don’t forget to dispose of all trash and to take all your belongings!

After You Leave

It is customary to write a “thank you” note to your host after you leave. This note thanks your American hosts for their kindness and hospitality. They will enjoy hearing from you occasionally and it gives you another opportunity to practice your English!


Contact Amy Ben-Ezra, Home-stay Coordinator
E-mail: Phone: 413.586.7569 x100

Some Social Customs

Like all people, Americans have unique social customs. A few are mentioned below, but it is not possible to list them all. By observing and asking questions, you can learn about others. TIME: Americans expect people to be on time. If your class is at 9 A.M. you are expected to be there, ready to begin at 9. To come late is considered rude. This is true of most social engagements as well.

Informality & Greetings

American dress and lifestyle can be very informal. People often use first names with each other. A handshake is the most common form of greeting (especially between men) and acceptable in all social situations. Just extend your hand, usually the right one, and say ‘hello’ or “pleased to meet you”. A typical response to “How are you?” is “Fine, thank you, and you?’


Americans make statements such as “You must come and see us” or “See you later.” This kind of friendly statement is not necessarily an invitation. An invitation specifies a time, date and place. It is polite to respond with either a “yes” or “no.” A “yes” answer requires you to attend unless you call to cancel. You can always decline an invitation, it is polite to say “no, thank you”. It is considered impolite to accept an invitation and then not go.

References: NAFSA: Association of International Educators, International Student & Scholar Series: A Guide for Foreign Students,Washington, D.C. 2010