7 Benefits of Living with a Local Host Family

by Elsa Thomasma

Living with a home stay offers anyone volunteering abroad the opportunity to experience a plethora of benefits while traveling to a foreign place. Not every volunteer program abroad offers this engaging opportunity, but those that do may be best prioritized for individuals who are looking for a well-rounded cultural experience. Spending day to day life with a local host family gives volunteers priceless firsthand experiences hardly available in any other way.

Spending time with New Little Host Brothers in the Philippines.
Spending time with New Little Host Brothers in the Philippines.

1. Family Traditions

Experience birthdays, holidays, night time routines, and general interactions in families. Learn the way they communicate with one another, greet each other, share meals, or where they sleep in the house. All of these things vary by culture, but may be missed in general societal settings alone. Living in a local home when volunteering abroad gives endless opportunities to impeccably explore familial traditions of the nation.

2. Ask Cultural Questions

Curious how to get from point A to point B? Where to sit and not sit? Or what clothing is appropriate for a particular setting? Living with a host family gives you the ability to ask a local while avoiding the embarrassment of asking. Not only do host families have experience in answering the questions of international volunteers, if they have hosted guests previously, they also provide a warm, loving environment for asking important questions you may not feel comfortable asking anyone else.

3. Language Learning

Again, homestays provide safe learning environments to try out new words or practice the local language. Get necessary phrases translated by your host father, practice writing key words with your host sister, and try out communicating in the new language with toddlers or young children in the comfort of your new home. They usually won’t be afraid to correct you, will always support you in trying to expand your abilities, and you may bond through the language mishaps as well. Sometimes host families don’t speak your language fluently, providing and encouraging even more opportunities to improve language skills.

4. Live Like a Local

Learn what locals like to do, where they like to go, when they like to do particular tasks or activities throughout the day, and how they like to do them. While living living in a homestay during your volunteer program abroad, take time to learn how to cook your favorite dish, try out a native game, watch a local TV show, or enjoy a pastime. Wake up at dawn if that is what the locals do, go to sleep at five o’clock if that’s what locals do, take a nap at noon everyday if that’s what most locals do. Participate in the typical weekend or evening activities right along with your host family to fully live life like a local.

A volunteer with her host family

5. Gain Your Own Native Family

Find a home away from home through staying in a homestay, host families can become one of the biggest reasons to visit again and again. Living in a family environment can help foreigners feel at home in a foreign land and especially help combat any feelings of homesickness. It also gives visitors the chance to gain siblings, aunts, or uncles they may have never had the chance to have.

6. Enjoy Locally Made, Traditional Foods

Inevitably anyone volunteering abroad will eventually taste some dishes they have never heard of, but finding a true home cooked meal on a daily basis is not frequently possible when traveling. Homestays typically cook meals for their guests in the traditional ways of the country, giving visitors the chance to try a variety of local cuisines and maybe even learn the exact complex makeup of each dish. Many people worry about trying new foods in foreign countries, fearing stomach illnesses from poor quality or undercooked foods, but living with a homestay eliminates those worries and lets visitors fully indulge in the traditional tastes of the country.

7. Observe Cultural Practices within the Home

Host family accommodation allows guests to learn about many cultural practices through observation of their host family. They can observe interactions between different generations, learn what unique body language implies, and see how certain phrases or actions are used and accepted. A homestay provides the opportunity to gather valuable cultural information regarding who cleans, who cooks, who makes the money, who is lazy, who never sits down, who drinks, and who eats. The types of practices that may not be easily formed into a question, but through observation can be coherently learned.