Back in 2015, I spent a semester in Chengdu, Sichuan, China studying Chinese for four months, so living Taipei isn’t my first time studying abroad. But honestly, these two experiences could not be more different. In Chengdu, I lived in a dorm and spent most of my time with my fellow American classmates, whereas in Taiwan, I live in a hostel and spend most of my time with locals. I definitely think I did it right this time around!
While preparing my move to Taipei, I had arranged in advance to stay at Homey Hostel for two months to give myself sometime to settle into the city and figure out the best ways to secure housing. In my mind, this reduced the stress of trying to find housing and settle a contract from abroad, and the free tours that the hostel offered would give me a good social and cultural introduction to the city. Once I got here however, I found that I absolutely loved living my life at a hostel. Two months turned into three as I extended to the end of my first quarter, and then three months quickly became six, since, as I reasoned, I’m settled in here already, why move out? Now I’m five months into my six-month stay, and with my end quickly approaching, I feel as if I have a great input into the pros and cons of long term hostel life.
Here are the greatest benefits of living at a hostel while you study abroad!
#1: You don’t have to deal with the hassle of signing a contract on an apartment if you’re only living there for a few months.
So you’re planning on studying abroad, and everything is falling into place – except where you’re going to live. Many study abroad programs do have dorms available on campus for international students, but if you don’t want to limit your experience by living on campus, that means you will have to do a bit of work to find a place to stay off campus. In some places this might be easy, especially in smaller university towns that are used to students flowing in and out. But in larger cities, you may be hard pressed to find a land-owner who is willing to sign you on for the mere three to four months that make up a university quarter/semester.
Living at a hostel, on the other hand, doesn’t require you to sign a lease and often has flexible terms that can allow you to extend your stay as long as you want. Additionally, some hostels may have discounts from their nightly rate if you’re planning on staying more than a few weeks! Even if you don’t want to stay at a hostel your entire time abroad, or if you’re planning on studying abroad for a longer period of time, staying at a hostel for the first month or so can give you a great jumping off point for figuring out housing. You can figure out the best places to live, compare rents, and view apartments in person before actually signing onto them, all while starting to explore the city and making local friends!
#2: Living at a hostel can save money.
Living in a hostel can be cheaper or equivalent to renting an apartment. This isn’t always the case in more expensive cities, but it’s also not unheard of. For example, staying at Homey Hostel for one month would cost 12,000 NTD, while the average monthly rent in Taipei is about 10,000. Now 10,000 is obviously less than 12,000, BUT you would then also have to pay for electricity, water, and internet on your own, as well as an initial deposit for your lease. Homey’s 12,000 NTD per month fee, on the other hand, includes all of those things already, plus you get free breakfast every day!
If you really, really want to cut down your costs, many hostels offer work exchange opportunities. Through a work exchange, you trade labor (working the front desk, cleaning bedrooms and bathrooms, cooking, entertaining, etc.) for a bed, often working anywhere from 18-30 hours a week depending on your agreement. By doing this, you don’t have to worry about rent at all! As a general disclaimer, while work exchanges let you save money for your extracurricular activities and travels, your work schedule may end up taking up time you would use to do fun stuff. Regardless, everyone I know who has done a work exchange (including myself!) has absolutely loved it and would highly recommend it to anyone they meet. If you’re interested in doing a work exchange, Worldpackers, Workaway, and HelpX are great sites to start looking for work exchange opportunities in your city!
#3: If you’re studying a language, there’s always someone to practice your language with.
Even if you’re staying at a hostel that employs a large number of foreigners, there are always at least a few local staff members who are fluent in the language you are trying to learn. Talk to the staff members, and let them know you want to practice your language… they’ll be more than willing to talk to you in their own language instead of using a language that’s foreign to them! Additionally, many people from the country you’re staying in will end up passing through, and even just eavesdropping on these guests can be great practice for your listening skills.
Another plus? There are always people to help you with your homework! Let’s be real, it’s far easier for your Taiwanese friend to catch your Chinese grammar or vocabulary mistakes than your French classmate.
#4: You avoid falling into the rut of only hanging out with people from your home country.
Depending on what program you study abroad through, it’s entirely possible that your classes and your dorms will be comprised entirely of people from your home country. When this happens, it’s really easy to just stick with your classmates from the same country, and it becomes harder to branch out and make friends from the local area and other places. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – you already share a language and culture with these classmates, and when you’re living abroad, it can be very comforting to have something familiar in a foreign environment. However, you then run the risk of making it to the end of your semester abroad and wondering whether you missed an opportunity to immerse yourself in the local environment more.
Living at Homey, I’ve experienced a full month and a half where I didn’t interact with any Americans at all, and I can count the number of American friends I have in Taiwan on one hand. Even more so, the constant rotation of travelers from all over the world that come through the hostel creates an environment great for learning more about all sorts of world cultures, rather than just Taiwanese culture. I’ve met and made friends with people from Korea, Singapore, Japan, Germany, Poland, England, the Netherlands, Mexico, Spain, and so many other places! Honestly, living at Homey, I’ve made more friends from the PRC than I did when I was actually living in Chengdu.
#5: Staff and locals can help you learn words you don’t learn in class.
My ability to swear in Chinese has increased exponentially since I moved into Homey Hostel (not because my coworkers are swearing at people regularly, but because I’ve been asking them to teach me slang and whatnot). But don’t worry, swear words aren’t the only things you can learn from your local hostel staff, you can learn the names of practical every day items as well. For example, I’ve recently been learning the words for cleaning products, which you won’t exactly find a lesson about in your textbook. Local speakers also won’t hesitate to correct you when you’re wrong. I’m often chastised for confusing the difference between 饅頭 (a plain, steamed bread roll) and 吐司 (toast, also generally referring to a normal slice of bread). Without these regular scoldings, I would never remember the difference.
#6: You immerse yourself more fully in local culture.
By living in a hostel, I’m not just stuck in a university microcosm and reliant on my classmates for socialization. I love my Chinese language center, but all the students there are all, well, foreign. We are all students from other countries who came to Taiwan to learn Chinese, so if I want to immerse myself in the local culture and make local friends as much as possible, it’s advantageous to live away from campus. Additionally, living on campus can make it tempting to stay close to campus as the surrounding neighborhood is usually well catered to students, but living farther away gives the benefit of getting to know multiple neighborhoods well – the one you live in and the one you study in.
You can gain this last benefit just by living off campus in general, but living in an apartment as a foreigner in a new city can be kind of lonely sometimes, which brings me to my next point…
#7: There will always be people to make friends with.
Hostel guests tend to be pretty social, which makes it easy to find someone to talk to and hang out with at a moments notice. Especially when you’ve just arrived in a new city, exploring with other people who don’t know anyone either can be an invaluable experience. Plus, it gives your language skills an extra boost when the guests you’re hanging out with don’t speak the local language at all and you’re forced to adopt the role of translator.
The only con to this way of befriending people is that as soon as you make friends with someone, they’re likely to leave. But that’s when the regular staff and owners come in! As well as serving as your homework helpers, the hostel staff can also eventually become some of your closest friends.
#8: Many hostels have kitchens – avoid gaining the “foreign 15” by cooking on your own and not eating out every meal.
Study abroad weight is no joke, trust me. The last time I lived in Asia, I was studying abroad for 4 months in Chengdu, China, whose food culture is renowned as the capital of Sichuanese (Szechwanese) cuisine (which makes sense, because Chengdu is the actual capital of Sichuan). Partially a result of having delicious 麻辣 (ma2la4 – numbing and spicy) food everywhere, and partially a result of having nowhere to cook, I ate out at a restaurant for every meal, resulting in a perfect 10 pound weight gain by the end of my semester. Granted, the “having nowhere to cook” comment isn’t exactly true, as my dorm in Chengdu did have a kitchen, but it was never cleaned and I was kind of scared to cook in there. Also, I opened the refrigerator once, and I what I saw genuinely made me think no one had ever cleaned it out since the beginning of its existence in that kitchen, and thus I was scared to ever open it again.
With that memory set in my mind, it was such a relief to move into Homey Hostel, where the kitchen was fully stocked with supplies and cleaned daily. I cook at least three times a week here (I still eat out often – I can’t in good conscience ignore Taipei’s amazing local food completely), and I honestly think I may have lost weight this time. Additionally, having a good kitchen in general encourages everyone, not just me, to cook, and often being in the common area at the right time can land you a free delicious meal cooked by one of the staff or guests.
#9: If you’re a lazy person, no worries, the facilities are regularly cleaned by the staff.
Basically, this means you don’t have to worry about cleaning your own bathroom. Luxury, right? Even if you personally are a slob, it’s always nice to live in a clean environment, and hostels usually do all they can to please the guests, unlike dorms (see my aforementioned point about kitchens). Of course, just because you’re living in a place that has regular cleaning and maintenance, that doesn’t give you license to be a slob – clean up your stuff, otherwise risk being the staff’s least favorite guest.
On the flip side, if you are doing a work exchange, you may be the one cleaning the toilets. Hey, I know I’m personally willing to do a lot for free housing! Even so, you’ll at least have a day or so off work every week, meaning you can gloat over the unlucky staff member who does have to clean on your day off.
#10: Hostels regularly hold events.
From weekly English Language Events to travelling musicians performing at our hostel to our Monday night food tours, it seems like Homey Hostel always has something going on. These events not only bring business to Homey, but also make sure that I regularly have things to do that shake up my routine. These events are always incredibly fun – I either learn something new, or get to explore a new place I never would have thought of going. And once again, hostel events have the added benefit of letting you meet new people!
#11: You meet so many new people!
Regardless of where you live, you’ll meet a ton of people from different places, but the constant rotation of guest through the hostel give you ton of new people to meet and talk to regularly. Essentially, you can have a new friend group every week if you want to… Talk about mind-opening! Every person I’ve met while living at Homey has been so incredibly unique and interesting. From chefs from LA and Poland to a 70-year-old Australian lady working her way around the world to a Scottish lady who spent the last 9 years in Mexico, everyone I’ve talked to has given me a new perspective on something. Of course, if you are a bit more introverted, don’t worry, there’s always the permanent staff and your classmates that you can hang out with for a more stable social scene.
Of course, there are plenty of cons to living in a hostel – limited privacy and occasionally loud roommates are one, but in my personal experience, these problems ended up not being much of a problem. The lack of privacy further motivates me spend time alone by exploring Taipei, and noisy roommates can be solved with a perfectly good pair of ear plugs.
Six months is definitely a long amount of time to be living at a hostel, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to going home. However, there is absolutely no doubt that I will miss the hostel staff, the neighborhood, the guests and so much else. The perks of living at a hostel have far outweighed the disadvantages, and as far as I’m concerned, Homey will always be my home in Taiwan.
Stay tuned for next weeks post about the best cultural and historical spots around Taipei!
Until next time,
Your favorite Homey LTR, Angie
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