When I first arrived to Buenos Aires to study abroad my junior year of college, I was assigned a homestay. The apartment was in one of the most gorgeous neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, filled with lush green parks, adorable coffee shops and the city’s very own Chinatown. It was far from my classes and other neighborhoods where my friends lived, but I felt lucky to be in such a safe, residential area. I didn’t immediately bond with my host, but I was okay with that. I blamed my crappy Spanish for my inability to connect and imagined we would only get closer with time.
Three weeks in, I suffered from the worst bladder infection of my life. As I yelped in pain, my host mother simply squished her face and handed me a piece of paper with the name of a doctor on it. I understood – this was a paid gig for her and she had no obligation to act like a caregiver. I knew, however, that since I would be living here for an entire year, I wanted more out of my experience. The next week, I decided to move. I interviewed three homestay candidates, one of which was a Jewish woman my grandmother’s age named Adela. After my thirty minutes with her, I was sold. I didn’t care that the neighborhood was much sketchier and didn’t have the same European charm as some of the other fancier neighborhoods. Adela would take good care of me. I hear many reasons for why people choose not to do homestays and my friends even had mixed experiences. These are all valid concerns. But, if you’re a traveler looking to immerse yourself in the local culture, it’s going to be pretty hard to do it from a hostel or hotel. Even a few days in a homestay can have a lasting impact on your experience.
Below, I’ve outlined some common fears about homestays and my answers to those that I hope will alleviate some anxiety and encourage you to try it!
What if my homestay family is mean/weird/insert some adjective here?
Give them a chance. You wanted to immerse yourself in the local culture, so I encourage you to withhold those judgments and try to find some way to connect with them! If you’re still unhappy – you can always move like I did.
What if I don’t like the location?
This is always going to be a personal preference. Location is important to me, but more important, I wanted a comfortable home. As I mentioned, Once looks a little more run down from the outside, so I took extra precautions like always taking cabs home at night and making sure I never walked alone when it was dark out. Nothing bad ever happened to me whereas I knew many expats who were mugged outside of their homes in fancier neighborhoods. Perception is not always reality.
What if I want to live with friends and meet other backpackers?
Fine – but don’t expect to be fully immersed in the local culture. And, sometimes you can find homestays that allow more than one guest. When I lived in Spain, my homestay hosted 6 guests.We were still immersed in the culture as we built strong relationships with our host family, but could live with friends, too!
What if I don’t have any privacy/want my own space?
Find a place that gives you your own room and be open about your boundaries. While you’ll need to understand and respect cultural differences, there’s nothing wrong with setting expectations from the outset based on what you’re comfortable with.
I don’t speak X language! How will we talk to each other?
I highly recommend learning some key words in the language. You’ll pick up more of the local language by living with a host family than anything else. And, it’s amazing how well you’ll learn how to communicate with body language! Finally, google translate has an amazing app now – just speak into the app and it will translate directly to the screen. Your host family can speak right back to you in the app, too! My dad doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish, but when he would call, somehow he and Adela would figure it out. Like most things with travel, there’s a variety of experiences you can have with a homestay. Some will be wonderful, and some will be underwhelming. But, no matter what, you’ll have learned something new and put your foot in the right direction to diving deeper into the local culture. Living with Adela made my time in Buenos Aires incredibly rich and meaningful and I’m so glad that even after my first Argentine host didn’t pan out, I still gave it another shot.
Tomorrow I’ll be posting about why I love homestays and how I’m planning to incorporate them into my five month Asian Adventure.
What are some of your fears about homestays? Share your experiences in the comments!
Photo credit photo 2) buenosaires54.com
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