Susan Braun taught public school in Indiana for eight years before taking a break to raise her own children. She was awarded a Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Study Scholarship, and used both to study European royalty while visiting sites in Germany and England. She’s the author of “Not So Happily Ever After: The Tale of King Ludwig II” and also wrote 6 lesson plans on Queen Isabella of Spain!
Right after I finished high school, I planned a tour of Germany for myself. On a whim, I decided to add on a one-week homestay with a local German woman, and this experience ended up affecting me far more than I had imagined when first signing up.
I’m eager to encourage anyone who is thinking about an immersive home stay experience to get out there and do it. You will find yourself blessed with irreplaceable memories – and maybe even a couch to crash on 25 years down the line!
Seeing Life From a Different Viewpoint
Staying with Hildegard was an adventure. The company that arranged the homestay told me she was a man and a professor. When we actually met, we had a laugh over that — Hildegard had never been a professor, and she was definitely not a man. She had spoken German all her life and knew only the English she’d learned in school 30 years earlier. I was fresh off of a few years of high school German, but I was in no way fluent. Still, over the week, I was amazed at all that I picked up as we tried to communicate with each other. We tried speaking slowly, playing charades, drawing pictures — anything that might work. In those days, the internet had not yet come along to make things easier.
Each morning, Hildegard packed me a sandwich for lunch that struck me as decidedly strange: bread and butter with sliced radishes. Yet when noon came my hunger got the better of me and I ate it — and found it delicious! She took me to some of her favorite spots in town: the English Garden, the Olympic Park (where she worked). It was wonderful to not have to navigate on my own, but simply to follow beside someone who knew the area well. When I ventured out on my own, she helped me navigate the bus and train schedules, which could prove challenging for this small-town girl.
Hildegard’s house was not what I was used to, either. There was no air conditioning, although I visited in the heat of summer. But I drifted off to sleep quickly each night on the wonderfully soft feather comforter on my bed. Her kitchen had a very small refrigerator, similar to what I’d used in college. She rode her bike or walked to the grocery store each day. I followed along, discovering German foods I enjoyed, and laughing to see a yogurt boast about containing “at least 20% fat!” It was a memorable trip.
The Journey Continues…25 Years Later
The years flew by, and 2019 found me returning to Germany, this time with two of my own daughters and other relatives. When I discovered that we’d spend a night in Munich, I contacted Hildegard (she and I, along with her sister and brother-in-law, had stayed in touch by exchanging Christmas cards each year). She immediately offered us a room for the night and we planned to meet in Munich’s Marienplatz, where Hildegard said she’d be waiting for us, holding a rose.
When the big day arrived, we exited our train in a pouring rain. I worried whether I’d recognize Hildegard. Would she even come out in this weather? But sure enough, there she was, under a store awning with a rose from her garden. It seemed no time at all had passed as we visited in her home that evening. I recalled, as I followed her throughout town to church after church, just how nice it was to follow a native rather than needing to consult my phone for locations.
It was a huge treat for my girls to spend the night in the same room I’d slept in 25 years prior. And on our final morning, what a feast Hildegard prepared for our breakfast!
A delicious German breakfast
Should you do a homestay?
It should be no surprise that my answer is YES. ACIS offers many opportunities, and if you want to experience a city or a country like a true local — or improve your language ability greatly — or eat like the natives do — or perhaps even make a friend for life — why not try one?
“Our homestay was an amazing experience. The people in Rio Grande Abajo are extremely welcoming. It was so much fun immersing ourselves in their culture!” – Mary S., Group Leader on the Río Grande Abajo Homestay and Service itinerary
“What I loved most was the amount of culture that they actually experienced. The homestay allowed my students to get to know individuals and really see what their lives are like. That’s priceless!” – Kristine, Assistant Group Leader on the Samara Beach Spanish Language itinerary
“As the French teacher of these students, I am blown away by their confidence in using French by the end of the trip. Their listening comprehension improved significantly. Additionally, students received rich but succinct information about cultural, linguistic and social history.” – William H., Group Leader on the Language Immersion in France itinerary.