As you have probably heard from countless people who never shut up about their experience, studying abroad is once in lifetime opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture. Now that my semester in Florence, Italy, has come to a close, I understand why people never stop reminiscing. Because I am that girl. But I'm not here to convince you to go abroad. Look at anyone's Instagram who studied abroad and I think that's all the persuasion you need. I am here to tell you to tell you from personal experience why you should stay with a host family if you are studying abroad. 

Emma Henzes

(Pictured above: homemade ravioli with homemade pesto filling)

Studying in the beautiful city of Florence, I was lucky enough to be placed in a big apartment, just three minutes away from our university. But, I was even more lucky to be placed with my host my family.  

Going to a new country, a new culture is really exciting but it's also a little scary, even if most big bad college students don't want to admit it. A host family takes away that edge.

If you are in a country with a language barrier, I highly recommend staying with a host family. I only had one semester of Italian under my belt before arriving in Florence. I wouldn't say I'm chatting it up in Little Italy with some fellow Italians, but you for sure know that I can order my meal in Italian. That's because I had the opportunity to practice speaking Italian every night at dinner with my family. And if I didn't speak Italian, "no eating" said my host mother. It never came down to this, but I also never tested my host mama. 


An Italian mom is cooking you up fresh Italian meals? Yup. Case closed. Stay with a host family if for nothing else but the food. And free wine. 

Italians are so passionate about food that every night will be a cultural experience. You learn things at the dinner table that you would never learn from a cookbook or a recipe video. You'll try the local cuisine and discover the old traditions. In my three and a half months abroad, I tried more food at my dinner table than I did traveling to eight other countries!

Emma Henzes

My favorite nights were when my family had friends and family over. My family would bring out five-course meals. Host families want to immerse you in their culture. They want you to join their family. My roommate and I have a google doc that has all of our favorite meals from our host mom, with directions to recreate her simple masterpieces in our apartment.

It's not just that the meals that are second-to-none. My host family and just about every host family I know does this for their own experience as well. My first weekend in Italy my host family took me to their beach house in the stunning Viareggio. (Pictured Below) I never felt so at home in a country I just landed in. My host siblings made sure that my roommate and I felt comfortable and had fun during our stay. They even were so kind to show us the best bars and late night food of Firenze!

Emma Henzes

Trust me...

Living on your own is fun, but you have three and a half years, if not more, of living on your own in college. Coming home to a house that smells of dinner on the stove is a treat. Or waking up in the morning to fresh espresso. And better yet, you don't have to take care of an apartment.

So you can do your frockling around the world without a care. Host families understand that you are college students who want to be independent. Host parents typically have kids of their own. They aren't trying to be your parents, but rather a cultural guide. They are kind of like the fun aunt and uncle. As long as you respect your host family and their home, they might not mind if you sneak up the steps at four in the morning a few nights a week. They will understand because Italians don't sleep and they party the break of dawn.

You might be fortunate enough to have a pet in your family. Like me. With a beautiful backyard and a big garden, brimming with pomegranates. Yes, fresh pomegranates. Not only that but fresh olive oil from my family's trees. Italians are olive oil crazy and my semester in Tuscany wouldn't be complete if I didn't see the olive oil process. Since it was my family's olives, I was able to stick my finger under the tap of fresh oil. I will probably never get oil that fresh again in my life. Except for when I use the can of olive oil they gave me as a parting present. I was spoiled what can I say. 

Emma Henzes

I am so grateful for my stay in Florence with my host family. I wouldn't have done it any other way. And now I have to go back to Italy to visit my second family.