So this is something I have been considering quite a bit as I have been here in France.
My situation is a bit different, so my options were slightly limited by that. However, there are several types of options available to most students and based on what kind of a student you are and how seriously you want to study or immerse yourself into a language… will depend on the type of housing you should consider. There are two main types: Student and colocation (renting a room from a native). I am going to give more of my perspective on the second of the two since that is my situation. I want to be honest about what I have experienced so that if you ever decide to study abroad you may be able to be better prepared.
The cheapest option is usually student housing, dorm-style housing with other students. I believe in my current program you are usually housed with other foreigners which… may not always be the most conducive to language learning if you are constantly speaking your native tongue with your housemates. Pro’s, it is generally cheap and right on campus, you can make friends with other local students and your social life is a lot more diverse. Downsides are that you may not have much privacy, it is not as immersive.
There is the rental option or colocation. Where you rent a room or small space from a local. This can be really good if you want the full immersive experience but caution is very much needed depending on who you stay with and their temperament. The cultural differences can really play a huge role in how your housing experience goes.
I find most of these situations are going to be with older individuals and as a result, they tend to be a bit… stinger… old school, higher chance of very wild mood swings… but they also tend to be ripping off students Rent wise.
My landlord is a wonderful woman on many levels, but she is completely ripping me off rent wise. What I pay and what I get are not even on the same level. I have heard other stories of students who had to change housing situations due to significant cultural differences such as cooking habits… specifically for the Asiatic groups… since their meals tend to have very strong odors, locals here DO NOT like that at all. They are stingy with water use, you have to pay if them if you want to eat meals with them… etc (this is not always the case, but I have heard instances of this where you pay extra to have them cook for you). It can be a bit of a nightmare. This population of people who rent out rooms to students, do it solely for the money. They get your rent plus something from the school, they are generally retired… have a lot of time and nothing really to do. They just want extra money and are not always interested in the students themselves. At least my landlord is not.
I pay 600 euros for my two tiny rooms, kitchenette, and tiny bathroom. I am supposed to have wifi, but the walls here block the single from her side of the apartment to mine, so I use a cable. I do not have access to her washing machine and therefore use the laundry mat across the way where a tiny load of laundry is 5 euros (very tiny load). We do not eat meals together, we do not interact regularly. In fact, most of the time she stays on her side of the place, I stay on my side and we just don’t talk. Benefits. I am close to my daughter’s school and my own. If I need a babysitter to go out to see a movie, as long as I come back that night, she’ll watch Evangeline.
My hope with this arrangement was to have a local to speak with regularly and interact with, and have meals with. But that is not the case. For the price I pay, I can find an apartment cheaper… with all the stuff above I just mentioned.
SO really consider your options.
There are host families who will be wonderful. I suggest looking for younger people possibly maybe even families with kids, asking around perhaps, and honestly comparing prices of places with the available amenities. ASK QUESTIONS. Do not be afraid to state your needs and then if there is a large problem, move. If you want someone to regularly speak the language with, be very specific about that. I found my place through the school. I have subsequently brought up my problems with this particular living situation with the school as well.
I am lucky enough to have a family I can go visit from time to time, but having that also allows me to see what I am missing in my language learning. If I had a family like that I could live with regularly, interact with regularly, my French would have improved much quicker and my speaking would be significantly higher and more proficient than it is. My living situation has actually to some degree stunted my french growth. So really make clear your goals. If things are not working out, look around, ask around. Talk to other students who have been around a while.
My situation is unique in the fact that student housing was not an option for me and finding someone willing to take in both my daughter and me was harder to do… I could have switched living situations but that is also hard to do with a kid and my daughter had already had enough change that adding to that would not have helped. I regret it to a degree, but you live you learn.
I am not trying to freak anyone out, but this is one of the major things that comes with studying abroad. Either through language exchange, or direct enrollment, or whatever the deal is. Where and who you live with is VERY important because you are paying for it, you are sometimes stuck with it, and there are going to be problems that arise as a result of it, like any living situation. Here there is just the added bonus of a language and cultural barrier. It is very doable and can be a great asset. In my case my situation didn’t hurt me in any way, it just slowed me down some. Makes me appreciate what I have in New Mexico.