If you’re like me, you’re starting to realize the standard hotel stay is like a bad deja vu trip. Like a glossy shopping mall with the same international brands no matter where you are in the world, you walk away from the experience feeling sterile, yet dirty?
Staying in 4 and 5 star hotels is like buying the brand name shirt. Costs a bucket load, and seldom really lives up to the hype. Not to say that hotels are all bad, they are essential for local tourism and supporting local jobs, but if you have a choice, it’s worth considering the alternatives.
Nowadays, home stays are becoming more and more accessible. Home stay’s are the best way to experience the culture first hand and connect with other human beings. This can be the most rewarding and life changing opportunity you will have in your life.
When you choose this path, you are likely going outside of your comfort zone, but just go with the flow and enjoy the ride good, bad, or indifferent. Ultimately, you are helping support the local family, local businesses and socially conscious organisations (and likely your hip pocket…)
As a non profit volunteer organisation with over 27 years experience in this field we’ve organised thousands of successful home stays abroad. We’ve also had a few not so successful ones!
So here are our top tips to have an awesome homestay experience overseas;
Research the culture and customs in advance
Cultural values and mannerisms can be vastly different from country to country. It always pays to do a little research in advance to be sure you’re not doing something that would be considered offensive to your new family! Of course, if you did, they would understand and hopefully gently guide you through alternative options, but it still pays to have a few tips up your sleeve before you arrive.
Break the ice – Bring a gift from home
As a host family, opening your home for thers can be a daunting thought. What if you’re a complete weirdo? As a volunteer, chances are you’re thinking the exact same thing about the host family! It may feel slightly awkward at first, but don’t worry it will feel this way only initially. To help break through the meet and greet, it always helps to have a gift from home. Something simple is all you need. Host families love getting authentic things. Memorabilia, special food from home, pictures of your family/pets, it doesn’t have to be pricey, but make sure it reveals something about where you’re from.
Be an ambassador
As a volunteer in a foreign country, you’re an ambassador, which means that you are a representative of your country. The impression you make on the locals, will likely be their basis for any future people they meet of your nationality. So although you don’t have to try to act perfectly, you should make effort to always be on your best behavior and to portray a positive image to those around you. So a few merci boucoup’s will go a long way!
Open your mind!
If you are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free etc, let your family know. No-one’s going to force you to eat anything against your will. However, if ever there was a time to try something new, this is it! Be bold. It’s also worth noting that food is a reflection of culture and if you just bypass somethign without trying, it could be seen as a sign of disrespect.
Lose the desire to check Instagram every 2 minutes
It’s all too easy to be caught up on all the happenings back home without being present in the moment now and experiencing something totally unique inspiring and fulfilling. If the opportunity exists, spend time with your host family. Get to know them and become a part of the family. There is much to learn.
Watch your etiquette
Stuff you never think about back home like where to put your shoes, 10 min showers, running the tap while your brush your teeth, eating with utensils! In a different country these things may be different. Be polite and ask questions so you know where you stand on the little things so you’re not caught off guard with any closed door chit chat about your annoying habits! Embrace your mistakes, you’ll likely make a few and this is totally OK as long as you learn from them!
Smile & Nod
Sometimes the language barrier is just too significant, this little gem is very worth remembering! Awkward or tense moments are always best dealt with through laughter. Language differences & social etiquette mishaps are bound to happen at least once on your journey. Just have fun with it! 🙂
It probably goes without saying but you should always offer to help out around the house. You won’t be expected to do any deep cleaning, but simple things like clearing the dishes, cleaning your room, making your bed and helping out with pets will go a very long way around the house.
Keep in touch
Whether it’s a 2 night, 2 week or 2 month stint, living with a host family and connecting with people of different cultures, backgrounds and belief systems is an amazing thing. It’s likely as big a deal for the host family as it was for you. With the many forms of communication available these days, there is really no reason why you can’t check in every now and then to say thanks and to let them know how you’re doing. You just never know where that small act of appreciation can take you in life!
We encourage prospective volunteers to never be scared of a homestay experience. Through the many years, we have seen first hand how beneficial it can be to all parties involved especially when the above considerations are employed.
For amazing and comfortable homestay placements, we recommend our Fiji Volunteer Programs. We offer home stay and volunteer center options in Fiji.