BOSP’s Stanford in Paris program receives mixed reviews about homestay

Sept. 21, 2015, 11:47 p.m.
(KRISTEN STIPANOV/The Stanford Daily)
(KRISTEN STIPANOV/The Stanford Daily)

Paris – the “City of Lights” – has attracted people throughout the centuries with its glittering scenery, world-renowned cuisine and warm culture. The Stanford Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP) in Paris offers students the chance to experience “la vie en rose” by immersing themselves in French culture and interacting with locals, but the program has received greatly disparate reviews from its alumni, particularly in regard to its homestay aspect.

Students in the program must have completed a language prerequisite and choose from either a fixed or arranged internship once in Paris. French internships are usually three days a week, and Stanford students are expected to adjust to the faster pace of work as well as keep up with their academic course load.

Students also have the opportunity to live with a selected host family for the duration of their stay, and the program urges participants to sign up for the homestay program for the richest cultural experience. Many of the host families are long-time partners with BOSP in Paris, and the students fill out surveys to determine with which family they are most compatible.

“‘Stanford in Paris’ hosts must be open-minded, caring and willing to help a young student adjust and thrive in a new environment,” wrote Elizabeth Molkou, the housing coordinator of the Paris host family program, in an email to The Daily. “Living with a carefully selected French family… provides the student with the unique opportunity to establish personal relationships, use French regularly and be immersed in French culture and tradition on a daily basis.”

“When students as well as host families understand that living in a homestay implies give and take, and flexibility for both parties, it usually works very well,” Molkou added.

Since students in the homestay program share breakfast and dinner with their host parents, those with dietary restrictions are recommended to stay in the International Dorms, where there is a little more flexibility and autonomy over food choice. The International Dorms house about 300 students, of which 40 percent are American, 55 percent are French and four percent are other nationalities.

The overall response to the homestay aspect of the program has had a great disparity between its positive and negative feedback. Some thoroughly enjoyed their housing experience, while others, like Allie Kosgrove ’16, had less glowing reviews.

“I kind of had a weird situation because my host family was not a host family; it was a single mom. Not that I have anything against that,” Kosgrove said. “I think it’s great, but as far as a host family that is culturally relevant and that will add something to your experience, it actually detracted from my experience. I felt like I was a burden.”

Kosgrove explained that she became uncomfortable with her housing situation and later applied to move to the dorms.

“The problem with these programs is that Stanford doesn’t have a center,” Kosgrove said. “We rent a floor and staff it ad hoc. It’s not like we partner with a local university, which I think would be so much better and is what other schools do.”

Kosgrove’s overall review of the homestay program was divided. Although there were some bright spots, such as interacting with professors and enjoying time with French locals, the housing experience left Kosgrove with mixed feelings about the value of the program.

On the other hand, students like Tiffany Lam ’16 had no regrets about choosing to live with a host.

“My expectations were that in the homestay, you’re just a lot more integrated into French culture, and you’re staying with people who are actually French,” Lam said. “I knew that I’d be eating dinner and spending a lot of time with people who were authentically French and that would enhance my experience in Paris.”

Lam enjoyed living with her host parent, a 70-year-old French woman who acted as a mentor and parental figure throughout her stay in Paris.

“She had hosted a bunch of students from other schools and countries before, but this was her first time hosting a Stanford student,” Lam said. “She was super sweet, just really nice, and she made this amazing food!”

However, Lam explained that her experience was not a typical one. While she looked forward to spending time with her host parent, many of her friends and classmates struggled with the restrictive aspects of the homestay program.

“I was definitely one of the lucky people,” she said. “There were a lot of people in the program who did not have the same kind of feelings about their host family.”

According to Kosgrave, the administration has recognized the complaints made by several students about some aspects of the homestay program, but she believes that little has been done to change its structure to better suit their needs.

The key word here is early communication. Students are encouraged to talk in detail about themselves and their life styles with the Housing Coordinator before they reach Paris,” said Molkou in a response to students’ complaints. “Their personal concerns are always addressed in a caring manner, so as to make students’ homestay experiences rich and rewarding for them once they are overseas. We know how important this experience is for them.”

Estelle Halevi, director of the Stanford University Program in Paris, provided additional statistics over email. Of the 98 students who were housed in Paris last year, 86 percent expressed satisfaction with the stays through their evaluations, Halevi said.

“Only two asked to have their arrangements changed, requests that were granted within days,” she wrote. “We know how crucial home stays are for students, and their personal profiles and wishes are always considered. Although not everyone may in the end be completely happy, I hope this helps put in perspective our attempt to create a meaningful experience for all.”

While the program offers an opportunity for Stanford students to delve into the heart of Parisian culture, Kosgrove warned against having set expectations about the experience of living with a host family.

“We’re so reticent about expressing the negatives of it because there’s this whole culture where you want to say everything’s great,” Kosgrove said. “I think that just gets taken as gospel, and it becomes reality even if it’s not reality. They [the study abroad program’s administration] put too much emphasis on the fact that we’re in another location – as if the fact that it’s exotic makes up for inefficiencies. As if because you’re in a pretty place, they don’t need to try.”

“Or maybe they are trying,” she added. “But it’s not effective to the same degree.”


Contact Niharika Bhat at niharikabhat16 ‘at’

Login or create an account