Leaving your home country to live abroad can sometimes be scary. But for these students, they had no idea that their experience would be such a nightmare.
Polish Host Mother Locked Him Inside?
“So I was on exchange in Poland in the mid-1990s. Crazy host mother (it was just us two) would lock me inside the apartment when she left, take the phone with her so I couldn’t make calls, throw my clothes away when I was at school because they were too colorful.
Worst was when she left for three days and locked me in the apartment with no food, no phone, and no running water. I found some nuts on the counter and tried to eat them. That’s how I found out I’m deathly allergic to chestnuts. Full of anaphylaxis. Right before I lost consciousness, I shoved as many Benadryl as far down my throat as possible.
Came to two days later feeling like I was dead. She had come home and not even checked on my lifeless body for over a full day.”
Her Host Student Went On To Become A Murderer?
“We had a student stay with us who eventually went on to be a notorious murderer.
At the time in small-town South Africa (mid-1980s) my parents were part of Rotary and regularly hosted students, mostly from the US. Most were pretty cool and kept to the ethos that came with being an exchange student – helpful, polite etc.
Not Darcie. She was a total jerk. Stole things and tried to blame the maid. Came and went at all hours. She was encouraged to leave and went to another household, where she didn’t last long either.
Eventually, she began spending a lot of time with a local obstetrician. Tongues wagged. Darcie began telling people she wanted to be an obstetrician too and that the experience she was picking up was helping shape her future plans. The doc even let her attend live births.
She left at the end of her year and it was pretty much assumed that would be the last we’d hear of her. Nope. Four years later the FBI showed up in town and questioned the doc. Turns out she needed a baby to keep up a lie she told a boyfriend who wanted to bolt, so Darcie killed some poor woman and did an excellent job of removing her baby, skillfully tying off the umbilical cord. So it seems she learned a few things during her time in SA after all.”
Drama With Money!
“I was on a high school exchange program in Russia. When I got there, I realized that my host parents didn’t really want or have the money for a host student, and they weren’t interested in learning about other cultures. The reason I had been taken on was because of my host sister, a girl who was 15, very shallow, and obsessed with boys and drinking. I figured that she was still young and hoped she’d grow out of it, and I figured that if I worked hard and tried to learn Russian my host parents would warm to me.
Halfway through the year, I had to start paying for food, which is totally against the rules. In a hotel-like situation it’s not bad, but when you are living with a family, it alienates you and makes you feel like a stranger in what is supposed to be your home, which is pretty hard.
Seven months in, I had to go home to the US for a month for a personal situation, and I found out that my host sister had stolen around $1000 from my credit card (and I don’t have a ton of money else than that).
I switched host families when I went back, and luckily my second host family was really great and I had a good time for the last three months.”
Grandpa Crossed The Line
“I’m from the US and went to study abroad in Chile back in 2011. I had a great host mom. My friend’s host family was also great too however stuff started getting weird towards the last month of my stay.
Her host family consisted of an older couple (not married), probably late 60s early 70s. Both were widows and I don’t know why they didn’t remarry.
Anyway, the grandpa started being really affectionate with me. At first, I thought it was just the Chilean culture, as people show affection differently. He’d give me multiple kisses on the cheek and comment how I had the body of a ballerina. I didn’t really think much of it.
One night I slept over at my friend’s host family’s house. I wake up in the middle of the night because I had to pee. As I am walking to the bathroom (which was right outside the bedroom door), Patricio (host grandpa) is up for whatever reason. He’s like, standing in the doorway of his bedroom whispering my name while walking towards me. I told him I just needed to go to the bathroom. He starts kissing me on each cheek and then starts to basically make out with me using his tongue and all while rubbing my body and almost getting down to my butt. I pulled away and was like, ‘I just want to go to sleep!’ He finally was like ‘oh okay.’ So I go back to bed and I get up the next morning and told my friend everything that happened. She felt so bad because she said she heard something in the middle of the night but didn’t really make much of it. I told her it wasn’t her fault anyway. I was really shaken up by the whole thing though and went back to my host mom’s house and told her everything that happened. It made her SO angry this happened to me that this man essentially violated me. We contacted the university I was studying at and my friend wound up moving out of that house and my host mom took her in to stay with us for the remainder of our study.
A couple weeks later we met up at a cafe with just the original host mom of my friend. She was always a super nice older lady and I never had a problem with her. My friend and I explained everything. I later found out she separated from Patricio due to this. Overall, studying abroad was AMAZING other than that.”
Getting Passive Aggressive Over Clothes?
“I studied abroad in Rio, which was awesome, apart from the fact that my study abroad program required students to stay with a host family for the length of the program. My friends and I had a few bad stories…
Apparently once I was brushing my teeth too loudly, so my host mom passive-aggressively turned the volume on the TV all the way up. Came out of the bathroom to tell her to turn it down and she erupted into a Portuguese tirade.
Host mom unplugged everything in my room the moment I left it. If I needed to charge my phone/laptop, I had to stay in the room, otherwise, she’d barge in and unplug it.
I had a chair next to my bed that I occasionally laid clothes on. Host mom hated this and would leave passive aggressive notes on the chair asking me why clothes were on it.
A friend of mine lived with an elderly lady who would make him put everything he had on him, including shoes and his backpack, in plastic bags as soon as he entered the apartment.
Another friend was put in an apartment with no running water and tried to move to a different host family. Host mom ended up physically blocking her from leaving the apartment and only stopped when the police were called.”
All She Wanted Was Food
“Didn’t live with a family, but was supposed to study in Germany for a year. Stayed one month.
I showed up in Bielefeld, Germany (don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t exist – it does, and it effing blows), called the flat owner/manager who told me that the room I’d confirmed with her months prior wasn’t actually booked. Neat. So I stayed in a hostel that was full but had converted its gym to a sleeping area with lots of cots, but with no locks or lockers for my belongings. They had a really neat indoor koi pond though.
I managed to find a grocery store and some food to eat after nearly 48 hours of hardly anything and no promise I’d have a place to live. Eventually, the flat manager got it sorted out, but I was required to pay a much larger deposit than I was prepared for with the limited amount of cash I had on me at the time. Still, it was a place to sleep and get settled.
A Polish girl living in the same flat helped me locate the city train, and a random Greek stranger taught me how to use it to get to the university – between both of us fumbling through what little German we could use, it worked somehow and I got to orientation. I was informed that my German education coordinators for my program were on holiday for the next week or two. I had no access to my rent/food/education stipend and at that point I had about 40 euros to last me until my coordinators showed up, or my family could wire me money to the bank account I was to set up.
While at the bank setting up an account, it was in 2008, and that’s where I was informed that the world suddenly had a lot of financial problems. My money took longer to transfer to the account than it should have, and I was getting really desperate for some help.
I’ve never been so debilitatingly depressed in my life. I stole cookies to eat from my other flatmates that I rarely ever saw. I was losing hair and weight, which I didn’t have much of to lose in the first place (was about 125 lbs when I left for Germany, was 104 when I flew home a month later).
Many people told me to stick it out, that it was just culture shock that I was depressed, and that it would get better. While I wish I would have been able to stay for a year, it would’ve been much easier under better circumstances. I got screwed, and I’m glad I left. I’d like to go back as an adult and experience any part of Germany that isn’t Bielefeld.”
Host Sister’s Secret Diaries?
“Italian, spent a school year in the US to learn English. Host sister and her best friends believed that they were the reincarnations of the devil, they kept all sorts of secret diaries and stuff, the super crazy chick even said she has this ‘mysterious’ scar on the back of the head where the bullet came out or some stuff. For Christmas, I got subtly threatening Christmas cards saying not to dig where I was gonna find something I didn’t like.
They may have been just kids (17-18 year old kids) doing weird things, but from their diaries, etc it really felt like they full on believed it. The super crazy chick had spread the rumour that she could speak German despite having never studied it, so of course me being somewhat fluent at the time tried to talk German to her – she just opened her eyes up real wide and kept saying: ‘Please don’t make me do it, don’t make me, you wouldn’t like what happens, don’t make me do it, stop’…what the actual heck?”
They Had Different Expectations For The American Girl…
“I was a foreign exchange student in Central America.
Host sister and I shared a room; she decided it was ok to take my clothes, use illegal substances in our room, and hide the evidence in my drawers, then rat me out to her mom (my host mom) for breaking house rules. Host sister also demanded I hang out with her friends and got mad at me when I wasn’t ‘cool enough like an American should be.’ Host mom also got the crazy idea that I was trying to flirt with her husband and solicit him (which I did not) and blamed me for her husband going out and getting a mistress. They eventually contacted the foreign exchange program demanding I be removed from their house and placed elsewhere. It was a really weird few months.”
The Stalker In Finland…
“I had a fan. Like a legit, stalker-fan. Well, I guess a couple.
I went to Finland for my junior year (16-17) and not only had a neighbor in his mid-20’s tell people he wanted to sleep with me just because I was from California (and eventually tried to corner me at a house party), but a crazy fan. One night I went out to the local dance club and ran into my first host sister, so I was visiting with her outside and all of a sudden I am tackled by this guy and he asks if he can take his picture with me. I didn’t know what to say, so I agreed and he took it with his phone. My host sister went on to introduce him as her classmate and told me he was a huge fan.
Apparently all year he had asked when he could come over to the house to meet me and when the newspaper had interviewed me for an article, he memorized everything in it. He started quizzing me about it then and there. It was a bit strange.”
“This past summer I stayed with a family in France for four weeks on an exchange. How the program was set up is that I would host a French exchange student for four weeks, and then live with his family.
When he was here, everything was fine and dandy. I could tell he resented the American lifestyle, but he seemed fine.
That all changed when I got to France. While it was supposed to be an English exchange, my host-brother and family refused to speak English to me, despite most of them being fluent. I had only taken a year of the language. It was torture.
But it got worse as time passed. Two weeks in, as we’re touring Italy, I discovered that my host-brother has planted all these nasty rumors about me to my host-family and that they hate me. My host-mother, a psycho, spent one afternoon yelling at me and accusing me of not using French enough, even though that was never the plan. I was so confused and lonely, with absolutely nobody to talk to.
I couldn’t have been happier to come home.”
The Horrible Roommate In Spain
“Oh boy. I have many because my roommate was absolutely horrible. I was in my third year of Spanish at my university and went to study abroad in Spain. My roommate had finished one semester and decided that she spoke well enough to go (she didn’t) so there was a big communication gap between her and our host mom. Sometimes, I would try to clarify things because our host mom was clearly confused and understood no English at all. This was something that my roommate had told me she was appreciative of until she flew off the handle and told me that I didn’t need to speak for her and she could do it for herself. Okay, fine. So I stayed out of the conversations between them even when there was confusion.
My host mom didn’t like my roommate one little bit. My roommate would constantly come in at 2 or 3 in the morning or sometimes not come home at all some nights. Like one time she took a shower at like 2 in the morning and our host mom was furious, but my roommate just yelled at my host mom saying she should be allowed to determine her own schedule blah blah blah. By the way, my roommate was the oldest student on the trip at 25, I was 20. She acted incredibly immature. She kept her side of our room a mess and then when she misplaced something, she would yell about our host mom stealing her stuff until she found it and realized she was the one that lost it.
My roommate and my host mom got into screaming matches daily by the end of the trip. I just kept my mouth shut. My host mom told me on many occasions that my roommate was the worst student she has ever had and she had been doing this for a little less than a decade. She would say she acted like a child, that her 8-year-old grandchild acted more mature than her. Mostly, I had to agree.
I got caught up in it one time because our host mom was missing a bag that she kept in my roommate’s closet. She couldn’t find it anywhere and started blaming my roommate for taking it. She started yelling at me asking if I knew anything. I didn’t. It was horrible.
The trip was made so much worse by my stupid, immature roommate.
The last week of the trip, my host mom called our teachers that were there with us and the head of the department at the college we attended to complain about her. She ended up not getting the credit for the trip because of that and also because she was an hour late to her first class almost every day.”
The Host Mother Who Shouldn’t Be Hosting
“I was a foreign exchange student in France during high school my senior year. My host family had 4 kids aged 9, 13, 14 and 16 (or close to that). They also hosted another exchange student at the same time from South America who was 17, let’s call him Robert.
I didn’t mind all the younger kids, they were fun to play with and I ‘helped’ them write for their English classes, it was fun. However, my host dad worked in another country bordering France and was only around every other weekend which left my host mom to take care of 6 kids all the time.
My host mom got pretty stressed out after a few weeks, but I could tell it was really important to her that people see she was capable of handling it. At home she didn’t hide her frustrations at all, she would get pretty red in the face and upset at her younger kids and yell. Sometimes she would slap the kids (only her sons), it was off-putting but it didn’t seem too extreme. I felt bad for her and we got along but I wondered why she put so much on herself.
About a month in, I was brushing my teeth in the morning and I hear my 13-year-old host brother yelling. Robert and I ran out of the bathroom and saw my host mom putting him in a cop-lock and pushing him up against the wall as he screamed and cried. It’s something that’s well ingrained in my memory. She wasn’t even phased when she noticed we were watching with our jaws on the floor.
After we got to school Robert and I were talking about what to do about it, I told him I’d ask my French friends if physical punishment is normal. After asking around I got a lot of nos and decided I needed to talk to the regional leader of the exchange student organization.
The leader was a cold witch and everyone seemed to think so. She was an older woman in charge temporarily for the year while the younger lady who usually ran it was working abroad. I called her and told her that we were pretty scared and didn’t feel comfortable. She told me that it was just part of French culture, I said that’s not what my French friends said, she said they were wrong. She told me that Robert and I needed to be culturally understanding and that we were having a hard time adapting. She said we needed to be more grateful that we had a nice family with kids and left it at that.
Robert and I weren’t satisfied, but we didn’t know what to do. I thought, ‘Ok, this can still workout, maybe it was a one-time thing.’
After I’d made the phone call, I noticed my host mom had been acting very coldly towards Robert and me. She didn’t get mad at us and yell or ignore us completely but she wasn’t interacting with us like normal. This just made us feel more uncomfortable, and I had my suspicions that the wicked-hearted regional leader had told my host mom about the call.
About a week later on a Friday night, I could tell my host mom was acting very strange, she seemed really stressed out, frustrated and disconnected. That night for dinner was rice with tomato sauce (usually she made great food) and she told us we weren’t eating at the table and we could feed ourselves. I saw her sit down with a bowl and I noticed she grimaced with pain. I was eating in another room when I heard her scream louder than I’d ever before and my 13-year-old host brother ran past me yelling in fear. My host mom walked into the room and her face was beet-red, she was filled with rage. She looked at me briefly, said nothing and went upstairs to where my host brother was hiding. My host brother ran back downstairs with my host mom close behind and eventually, she got a hold of him and took him outside into the garage. Soon after he came back inside crying. Three hours or so later my host dad was home even though he wasn’t supposed to come home that weekend, after talking to his wife and my host brother for a while he told Robert and me that my host brother had called him and everything was fine, he told us our host mom had severe back pain sometimes and had to take heavy medication for it. I have no clue why it never occurred to them we might want to know that.
I called the regional leader back and told her Robert and I were scared and we wanted out. She said before they start looking for new host families she would meet with us and our host parents to talk it over and clear things up.
The meeting was just a few days after the garage incident. All of my host siblings, Robert, my host parents and the leader were there. I was asked to explain why I was uncomfortable, so I told it all as I knew it and insisted it wasn’t normal in France. My host mom knew I was right, and she started crying pretty hard. Robert didn’t say much, he was having a harder time with it than I was. I felt bad for my host mom, but at the same time, I knew I needed to lay it all out to make sure we got out of there. My host dad told me he was sorry that he let his wife take on too much, my host mom kept crying, my younger host siblings looked confused, my 16-year-old host sibling looked worried, Robert looked scared and the cold-hearted leader lady looked angry at me. It was the most uncomfortable 2 hours of my life, but it was decided we’d be leaving after there were new host families for us.
Just two days later Robert told me we needed to talk, one of his friends’ families had decided to host him for the rest of the year. He said he’d be leaving Friday and he was really sorry to leave me there.
After Robert left it was awkward. My oldest host sibling was acting cold to me and my host mom just about didn’t speak to me. I was there for two long and lonely weeks before I finally found a classmate who was eager to host me temporarily until I found a family for the rest of the year.
The day I moved out there was a really somber atmosphere. I was glad to leave but I felt bad for my younger host siblings. My friend came to pick me up, and as I was leaving my host mom started crying. She waved goodbye as we drove away.
The experience helped me get better at dealing with really awkward situations. In a way, I’m almost glad it happened.
Afterwards, I found a new host family that was just amazing, I still go see my host brother from that family every year and we have plans to travel together long term after we’re done with college.”
Assuming He Was Rich Because Of His Nationality…
“I was a foreign exchange student in Cataluña, Spain. I was stuck up in the flat most of the time and most of the times we left the apartment was for my host brother to drink or do something illegal.
My host brother and his friends refused to speak in Spanish and would always speak Catalan; additionally, my host brother and his friends kept berating me for cash because I’m apparently a rich American (I’m middle class at best). One time we were at a public pool and they kept pestering me for cash. I decided I was going to walk the 5 km home, I told my host brother I was leaving and he thought I was joking. When I turned up at the flat an hour later my host family and the program coordinator were very angry at me and I got lectured on how I should stay with my host family at all times.
Apparently, I can fly 3000 miles on my own, but can’t go outside. What a load of bollocks. If I go back I’m staying in a hostel and not going through a program.”