What it’s Like to do a Language Homestay in Italy: Complete Cultural Immersion
One of my dreams has always been to learn the Italian language. Every since my very first trip overseas to Italy, it’s safe to say that I was romanced by the romance language. Pun heavily intended. The words flow like music, like poetry. The Italian language is just so rhythmic and passionate to me. A few years ago, I took a few Italian courses in Southern California. However, I hadn’t been practicing and forgot most of it. In my attempt to revamp my Italian skills, I looked into doing a language homestay in Italy. I figured this would be the best way to (re) learn the language I once had a fundamental knowledge of. Since I’m the kind of person to take action, I was going to make it happen one way or another! So I did lots and lots of research and chose the region of Puglia to participate in my language homestay in Italy.
What Exactly is a HomeStay?
A language homestay is a complete cultural immersion where you stay and live in the same house with the family of native speakers.
- lasts anywhere from one week to several months, depending on the program
- meals are usually prepared for you (depending on program)
- you interact on a daily basis with a local speaker
- you participate in intensive daily lessons to improve your skills
A homestay provides you with real-life situations in order to force you to use the targeted language. In my opinion, this is the best way to learn a language, daily interactions with speakers of the mother tongue.
Why Did I Choose Puglia?
To be completely honest, I googled places where they speak the least amount of English in Italy. The information I found pointed mostly to the Southern region of Italy. Since I had already been to Sicily before, I wanted to experience somewhere new. Hence I chose Puglia. And, it’s freaking gorgeous! Have you seen it? Just look at the photo below.
Where is This Puglia Place I Speak of?
Puglia is the name of the region located on the Southeast part of Italy, in the heel of the boot. It is situated on the Adriatic and Ionian seas and not very popular with outside tourists by any means. After extensive research, I thought to myself, how could I have missed this region after all the numerous times I have visited Italy? The pictures were absolutely mesmerizing and I could not wait to get there and explore it myself. This seemed like the perfect place to do my language homestay in Italy.
What Program Did I Attend?
I chose one particular Italian school called Scuolo Mondo Italia and Homestay. There were a bunch of other schools to chose from, but I chose this one based on a few factors. The teacher had great reviews, the price was reasonable, the location was perfectly situated in the middle of Puglia, and especially the fact that private classes were offered. This was extremely important to me as I tend to learn better in a one-on-one environment, where I can get the special attention that I need.
My language homestay in Italy
I had the choice of staying with the teacher, Maria, in her home in Lecce, or her family’s home in a nearby smaller city. I chose to stay in Lecce in the home of my teacher and it was a great experience. The apartment was nice and spacious, my bedroom was huge and included a desk to study, wifi, and full access to the kitchen and rest of the house. The house was also in a perfect location, less than a 5 minute walk from the historical centre of Lecce, a 10 minute walk to a nice gym, and on the same block as several markets, as well as a butcher shop. But my favourite part about the home stay was Maria’s little pug Maya. I grew attached to the cute little thing and it was hard to say goodbye. My next animal might be a pug, and I’m not even a dog person. Crazy cat lady for life!
My Italian Teacher
Maria was wonderful from the start. We chatted for 4-5 months through emails before the class started and she was always so responsive and helpful with any questions I had. When I met her, she was just so outgoing and happy that it was contagious. She made me feel right at home from the start. In terms of her teaching abilities, she was great. She had a very student-centered approach and encouraged lots of conversation, instead of just book work. Her credentials really impressed me as she passed her proficient exams in both English and German and could speak both fluently. She also holds two Masters degrees, a Master DITALS and a Master ELIIAS. She couldn’t have been more qualified and it definitely showed in her teaching style. I really had a nice time interacting with Maria and her method of teaching worked very well for me. Grazie Maria!
Pricing varies depending on how long you stay and what type of lodging you prefer. I stayed in the house of my teacher in Lecce for one week with breakfast only included + private lessons 2 hours per day and I paid a total of 375 euros. If you stay longer, the price per week is cheaper. Also, keep in mind that private lessons cost more than standardized group classroom lessons. Overall, I found these prices well below the average of costs for classes in Tuscany and Umbria (my other options I looked into for a homestay).
The City of Lecce
Lecce is well-known in the Puglia region for its Baroque architecture. Honestly, I had to look up the definition of baroque as I wasn’t 100% sure what that meant. Baroque style, according to Wikipedia, is defined as:
“a period of artistic style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, architecture, literature, dance, theater, and music. The style began around 1600 in Rome, Italy and spread to most of Europe.”[
The Church pictured below is a perfect example of Baroque architecture. Now I know!
After a day walking through the historical city centre of Leche, your neck might feel a bit sore from looking up at the towering Baroque churches and monuments. I must say they really know how to build a spectacular church in Italy. Being a predominantly catholic country, there is no shortage of magnificent churches scattered about the country.
In Lecce, they really take their riposo (siesta) seriously as the entire city completely shuts down between 1-5pm. You may find one or two cafes open in the center, but other than that, don’t expect to go inside any shop, restaurant, or market during this time. After 5, the city becomes alive again and life in the center resumes. What a relaxed lifestyle!
My favorite part about Lecce was the speciality iced coffee that you can’t find anywhere else in the region. It goes by the name of Cafe Leccese and is simply an iced espresso made with homemade almond milk. It sounds simple, but oh my gosh it might be the best iced coffee I have ever tasted! It’s worth going to Lecce just for this coffee alone. The absolute best place to get the Cafe Leccese is a cafe in the main square called Alvino Cafe. Do not miss this if you’re ever in Lecce, trust me.
Another great aspect of Lecce is its location, not far from the sea and other fairly unheard of, but truly amazing, cities. I was able to visit some of these cities including Polignano A Mare, Monopoli, Ostuni, Alberobello, Torre Sant’Andrea, and Matera. I will touch on these cities in a future blog post.
A Day in the Life
So what did my typical day consist of during my time in Lecce? I decided to do 2 hours per day of private tutoring, and upon arrival we picked a schedule for the week that was very flexible. My typical day went a little something like this: wake up at 9 or 10am, coffee and breakfast, look over some Italian phrases, relax, 2 hours of class, off to the center for a coffee (cafe Leccese of course), attempt to chat with the locals in my funny Italian accent, go to the nearby gym for a workout, go to the local market and order some fresh meat, cook dinner, book some upcoming trips, have a glass of wine, and review Italian lesson. Rinse. Repeat. Overall, the schedule was pretty relaxed and offered a lot of flexibility and free time.
Dialects of Italian
In case you are unaware, there are countless dialects of the Italian language being spoken in Italy. Stemming from a historical perspective, Italian territories were dispersed into different independent States for about 1000 years, up until the unification in 1861. As you can imagine, these dialects could almost be recognized as completely separate languages. After great efforts to unify the country with a common language, an education system came into place that would encourage all Italians to speak some form of standard Italian. The Tuscan version of the Italian language is the one most commonly spoken today, known as the standard language, and is probably what you will learn if you take Italian classes.
That being said, in my experience travelling to the different regions over the past years, it is apparent that dialects are actually still being used, especially in the South of Italy. This made it a little more difficult for me, since the Italian that I had once learned was not being used as much down South. In the past, I have used certain words that I know how to perfectly pronounce and it allowed me to successfully communicate with Italians in Rome and Florence. These same words were not as affective in the South and I was often met with blank stares. At times I felt helpless because I couldn’t properly communicate and at other times I wanted to cry. Bottom line: dialects are still being used today and knowing Italian fluently might not help you in certain off-the-beaten path places.
Don’t expect to learn Italian in one week. That’s impossible. I came in with what I thought was a solid foundation; however, I quickly realized that I had so much more to learn! My only regret is that I didn’t stay longer. I believe a full month would have gotten me to a comfortable speaking level that I had once spoken. You get out what you put into it. And I believe that if you are fully dedicated, it is possible to make vast improvement in a little amount of time. Just don’t expect to come out speaking fluently. I highly recommend having some base foundation of the language first before engaging in a homestay.
No one spoke English in Lecce. This would be very difficult for a tourist, but Lecce served as the perfect environment to fully immerse myself in the language and culture. I learned to order my coffee and food in Italian, I learned to successfully ask for directions in Italian, and I learned to order local produce in the Italian market. It was a bit frustrating at times as I’m still a very beginner when it comes to the language, but it forced me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to practice real Italian with the locals. Overall, it definitely helped me improvement my skills in a quicker time than any standard classroom teaching could have. And lets face it, who wouldn’t want to go to Italy and learn Italian? I can’t wait for the next one!
Here is a little video from my awesome teacher to show you a little more of what to expect:
Note: This homestay was NOT sponsored in any way. I paid for it out of my pocket and decided to write about it since I enjoyed it so much.