If you ever have the opportunity to volunteer or study abroad, living with a homestay family is an incredible window into the everyday life of your host community. I’ve stayed with families in Cameroon, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Thailand, and Nepal, and each one has been a positive experience. I enjoy staying with foreign families because it means taking a deeper look into the country I am visiting through the eyes of my hosts, allowing me to get a real sense of the cultural beliefs, language, and daily routines of the locals.
Full cultural immersion is one of the greatest benefits of living with a homestay family. It means following different customs and living simply, which can be refreshing! The families I have stayed with have all been unique, with as many as 2 to 7 people sharing the house and they have all been curious about me as an independent female traveler. I get asked many questions, such as what my marital status is and whether I will write to them from Canada when I return home. I love exchanging stories, and I always find that I am impressed not only from I learn from my hosts, but about myself as well. Personal growth from such an experience is imminent.
Living with a homestay family can be an adjustment because it means fitting in with someone else’s lifestyle, but this is half the fun! For example, mealtimes have been some of my favourite pastimes because it’s a chance to sample local cuisine and to chat casually with the family about personal experiences that textbooks could never articulate. In Ghana, I helped to make fufu, a traditional Ghanaian dish, and over dinner one night I got to discuss some of the most interesting cultural traditions I’ve ever heard of, such as Ghanaian widow rites. The food I’ve sampled has ranged anywhere from very tasty to quite spectacularly odd, but it’s great to try new things!
For the travel bugs, living with a homestay family can also lead to special insights about where to go next. Locals are the best guides about where to visit and how to avoid hassle. While I was in Benin, for example, I learned about the quickest and most affordable travel routes overland through Togo into Ghana, and I was able to stay with other friends of the family on my way. It ended up being a very fun adventure because en route, my new friends wanted to plait my hair, dress me like a local, and take me out to community events that I probably would never have come across otherwise!
I highly encourage anyone to try out a home-stay at least once. Step outside your comfort zone, because the benefits can be intangible, with friendships lasting for years! Just remember to participate by offering to help around the house or at mealtimes, because host families aren’t hotels—even if you’re paying to stay there. Overall, it truly is one of the most authentic ways to travel and experience another country!
Tiara, Placement Advisor at Kaya