Living with a Chinese Family 101
Living with your own family can be tough, but living with someone else’s family doesn’t have to be! China Study Abroad has carefully screened and selected our host families to offer our students the best possible homestay experiences. There’s no better way to meet local people and really get a sense of what Chinese culture is.
Still, it can be a bit unnerving living with a host family, so we’ve gathered a few tips from our students and host families. What seems like common sense to Chinese people, might be anything but for you.
As the old adage goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." Follow this advice (bearing in mind the obvious fact you’re not actually in Rome) and you'll ensure a harmonious stay with your new family.
Most of the time, it boils down to two things: respect for others, and the Chinese concept of “face”, which is a mix of reputation, appearance, and opinion. Be respectful of your host family and their way of life, and don’t put yourself in situations where you might offend or embarrass anyone.
Before you arrive
Bring your new family a small gift and present it upon arrival. It is a traditional gesture that Chinese people do when arriving at someone’s home for the first time. Chocolate, local snacks, or wine are simple gifts that are always appreciated.
For safety reasons, please ensure you lock the door when leaving your apartment, even when only leaving for a short amount of time. It’s also a good idea to keep the apartment locked when inside – ask your host family about their habits.
Chinese people like to be punctual, so when they have arranged things for you (such as dinner plans or outings), aim to be on time or even early.
Please don't bring strangers or unknown guests into the home unless you have asked permission from your host family first. It’s usually ok to have visitors; you just need to let your hosts know in advance so they can be prepared.
Be respectful with your personal attire around the house. While you may see the local Chinese men bare their bellies trying to avoid the summer heat, be sure to cover up when walking around in the apartment. Avoid prancing about in your underwear or skimpy clothes as it will make your host family rather uncomfortable!
“If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it!” As you will probably see throughout your time in China, Chinese people tend not replace things like appliances if what they have is still functioning fine. Please take this into account before complaining about the condition some appliances may be in.
Chinese people can be a little apprehensive when it comes to sharing personal items, such as toilet paper, towels and common bathroom items (such as body wash, shampoo, etc) so be sure to stock up on these items. The family may have a new towel prepared for you on arrival, so make sure you stick to using just that one.
When using a shared bathroom to shower, it is polite to ask if anyone would like to use it soon or even before you, if you plan to take a while. Be sure to think of others in your living space!
Use toilet paper sparingly when in China! The Chinese plumbing systems are not the same as what you may be used to, and more often than not, they will not be equipped to handle toilet paper being flushed on a regular basis. You will probably find a bin placed next to the toilet, so dispose of all the paper there to avoid blocking the toilet! Having to call the plumber every few weeks could get very embarrassing for you and may upset your hosts!
If you like to cook for yourself from time to time, ask your host family where you can stock up on ingredients (supermarkets, foreign goods stores) and where to place them in the kitchen. Avoid using your family’s food in the fridge without permission.
Keep yourhost family’s kitchen tidy if you decide to use it. This simply means washing all the dishes you use in a timely manner and giving the area a quick cleanup.
If you have items in the fridge, make sure you keep an eye on their condition. Don’t let your food spoil or go moldy!
Food and Drink Etiquette
Your host family will be providing you with breakfast and dinner from Monday to Friday. Remember, these meals will be authentic Chinese dishes, so don’t be disappointed when there is no cereal and milk in the mornings! Your host family may ask what types of food you prefer, so be sure to take the opportunity to let them know any particulars – just keep in mind they are including you into their daily lives and home cooking routines.
It is expected you will be home to eat with the family during these provided mealtimes and to be punctual. While you don’t have to be present for every single meal, attend as many as possible and alert the family in advance when you think you may not be able to attend.
Most families will have big water dispensers installed in their homes for drinking (as it’s not recommended you drink water from the tap). Water from the dispenser is for the whole family to share, so if you are about to finish the water, alert your host family that you need more water to be ordered. You could also use the opportunity to practice your Chinese and call the waterman to order yourself!
Electricity Usage Etiquette
Remember to switch off all lights and appliances when you are not using them. Chinese people dislike the idea of wasting power (and as a result, money!), so please be aware. Always switch off the air conditioning when you leave the house.
Your Chinese host family may offer to do your washing for you, but don’t expect it! Ask your family how to use the washing machine, where to hang your clothes and which washing detergent to buy.
You can smoke in the family home if your hosts give you permission. Otherwise you can simply smoke outside the apartment in the stairwell or foyer area. If you want to be placed in a non-smoking homestay, let your program advisor know during your application process.
When you move out
When the end of your homestay time has come, it’s a nice gesture to take your hosts out dinner to say thank you. You don’t have to go for an expensive meal or banquet but treating your hosts at the end of your time is polite and respectful and will show how much you appreciated your time staying with them!
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