Host Family, Apartment or Dorm? Picking a Place to Live

by Annisa Budiman - Posts (4). Posted Monday, January 28th, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Where would I find my new home in the US?

When I started this year at school, I knew my ideal living situation couldn’t last much longer. I had come over to the U.S. with my parents, and had lived with them for most of my education, but now they were moving back to Indonesia and I had only a few months to figure out where to live for my final semester of university.

Finding a new “home sweet home” was not easy. Each time I thought I had a plan, my attempt failed and I was back to the drawing board. I explored a lot of different options, and learned a lot about the pros and cons of each.

I’m happy to report that I did find a place to live. But which option did I choose? Find out at the end!

Option 1: Living with a Host Family

Moving in with my parents’ friends from the Indonesian community here was my first thought, and the obvious choice. It would be a lot cheaper than getting a place on my own, it would be safer, and it would probably be the easiest option as well.

But I could also foresee that it would come with some serious potential problems.

Could I live in someone else’s house, with someone else’s family, and someone else’s rules?

For example, in my culture, it is not appropriate for a young woman to be out past sunset, and there are still people who go strongly by that rule. As close as I am with my parents’ friends, they are still my elders, and I would be compelled to follow their rules in their home. So being a full-time student, working a part-time job, and having three internships could put me in a sticky situation.

I didn’t want to start unnecessary problems with a host family because of a schedule that requires me to be out from morning till night, and I couldn’t imagine myself changing my workload to accommodate my new living arrangements.

I asked a friend who chose this living option how she felt about her choice. She said:

Living with a host family is a much more economical choice, but privacy is hard to get. The best tip to make your stay more enjoyable is to obey the host family’s house rules so there are no problems that come up. If you have a lot of free time on your hands, try your best to not stay at home. Personally, it makes me feel even more homesick and it is so boring just staying at someone’s house.

I also thought about living with a local host family from a different culture.

I am very open to living with people from different cultures and imagined it would be easier to negotiate our differences from the beginning. But let’s be real, having a lot of diverse people under one roof can also become too much to handle.

Nevertheless, I decided that this would be a good option and pursued the idea of living with my neighbor, since we know them already and it would be convenient. Unfortunately my neighbor is already hosting another wandering student and time became too tight for my parents and I to find another family, housing location, and situation we could agree on. So this option was out the window.

Option 2: Renting an Apartment

Next I looked into renting my own apartment. To me this sounded like the most perfect option, but it’s also the most complicated one. You would not believe how much it costs just to be eligible to rent a space to live! From my own experience, the requirements were to prove you could afford the place by having a salary or a bank account of tens of thousands of dollars, to have references from the previous place you lived in, to pay hundreds of dollars for security fee, and a lot more.

It doesn’t stop at the application. When you actually get the place you have to pay for parking, pay the utilities (as if the rent every month wasn’t high enough!), and sometimes even pay a fee for the dog you don’t have.

Am I ready to go it alone in an apartment?

Many of my friends have chosen to rent an apartment alone because it offers the best environment to support a student’s lifestyle. You have your own space, you can create the best study situation for yourself, and you don’t have to be responsible for other people’s comfort.

Plus, I feel like this living experience also helps you grow as a person through being independent and taking care of your own needs.

But I ruled out this option because being an international student has become a financial burden and I don’t want to add to that by living on my own, especially since I’m only here for six more months.

An opinion from a friend who is living in an apartment alone:

Living alone was really hard for me from the beginning. I needed time to adjust taking care of my daily needs myself. I was so accustomed to having my parents take care of the things I take for granted such as laundry, paying the bills, preparing daily meals, and even just filling in the Brita jug. I had to learn to manage time and money between studying but also taking care of my apartment’s cleanliness and its utilities. Everything had a deadline. My parents and I decided to have a monthly expense report that could help me keep track of everything and it made my life much more easier.

I could move into a place with roommates instead, and for a while this was what I planned to do.  I even thought I had my living situation all sorted out.

I already had a great group of people put together. My parents approved, we knew we could be tolerant and understanding towards each other’s schedules and needs, and we already had a system worked out for when we moved in together.

But in the process of preparing to move in it was already hard to communicate and get everyone on the same page. We had one person who hadn’t handed in their financial status, another who hadn’t reported their previous living arrangements, and then all our hard work went down the drain when we missed our deadline to complete the applications and move in.

It was a really tricky situation to balance guarding other people’s feelings and being tolerant to their situations, while also needing to be harsh and get things done. I realized that rooming with friends could actually make or break our friendship.

In the future, I will know that rooming together needs a lot of preparation and a common understanding between everyone.

Option 3: Living In a Dorm

The colleges I’ve attended never had the option of living in a dorm, but from what I’ve heard from friends I wish they had.

Dandan's roommates

Living in a dorm like this could be a great situation. I never had the option.

Here’s what my friend had to say about her experience living in a dorm:

So far, dorming is fun because you get to spend time with friends and there’s always something going on. It’s also convenient because it’s close to classes and other university facilities like the library, gym, and dining hall. On the downside, there are always distractions! So, sometimes studying in the dorm is kind of hard. 

Tips and tricks: Get to know your roommate but don’t get too close. Look for people in your floor with the same classes/majors and form a study group because it’s convenient to just study down the hall rather than hassle looking for a meeting place, especially during winter. Also, know your resident assistant because he/she is a great resource. For me my RA is an econ minor so he shares many inputs like which classes to take and who’s the best professor to take and all those other things.

Since you are living with other people be courteous and clean. For example: when friend is sleeping don’t put on music and don’t leave stuff in the bathroom.

Option 4: Living Under A Rock?

It’s not an option.

The Decision 

I spent a lot of time and stress thinking about these possibilities and what to do when my parents left.  By the time I got to the idea of “living under a rock,” I felt like I was out of options. To live with another family and make all the compromises to your lifestyle is tough. To rent an apartment, whether alone or together, requires a lot.

But finally, after considering my needs for a place that would be conducive to my busy schedule, make it easy to get everywhere I need to go, and fit my budget, I have decided to take the first option after all and stay with my parents’ friends.

I know they will have some different customs, and while some we might agree on, others will leave us mumbling under our breaths. To create a positive living experience, we must be open to those differences and have “the talk” first so that there is no misunderstanding and we can establish open communication.

Luckily, I will have the whole basement to myself and even my own bathroom, so I cannot wait to start living there. Oh, the bittersweet taste of independence.

One Response to “Host Family, Apartment or Dorm? Picking a Place to Live”

  1. adek says:

    Wow, this page is really interesting. Now, I know what happened there and what will I choose if I have the same situations. Luckily I am still in my country (like your homeland) and want to go there if there is information about scholarships.
    And I would like to know your email anisa :)

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