Staying with a host family is a big part of any volunteer or study abroad programme and makes for a truly unique experience.
Forget travelling like a local. How about living like a local – or living with locals. It doesn’t get more immersive than that.
Your homestay is an opportunity to experience a new culture first hand and adapt to a different way of life.
And your host family will be there to support you along the way.
Living within the community is the perfect way to understand its needs and make a greater, lasting impact.
My homestay in Zambia connected me with the heart of African villages I would have otherwise struggled to access.
So get excited about your homestay and the opportunities it will bring!
What to expect…
While every homestay is different, there are some features they have in common.
Here are a few key factors you should and should not expect across the board.
What does life with a host family look like?
Now I’m not saying every African homestay will be full of cute grandchildren and fluffy ducklings – I was fortunate in that respect.
Accommodation can range from brick built dwellings with tin roofs to mud huts with thatched roofs.
And while some host families may consist of a single person or a couple, others will come with an abundance of relatives – and animals.
Some projects take place in rural settlements, with lots of greenery and open spaces, where you can expect more basic living conditions.
While host families in urban communities will have working taps and potentially even a refrigerator but may be within a more concrete dense environment.
People tend to rise with the sun – as early as 5.00am. Your days will be filled with volunteer workshops but in the evenings, you will have a lot of spare time on your hands.
Books, board games, cards, tennis balls and arts and crafts can help fill the time and are small enough to squeeze into your suitcase.
Volunteers tend to be placed in homestays together and you will most likely be sharing a twin room with somebody of the same gender.
Bedding tends to be simple – mine included a mattress, a mosquito net, a pillow and a few blankets for when the temperature dropped at night.
What can I expect from my homestay?
Every homestay is different and no two families are alike which means you and your fellow volunteers will have varying experiences – even if you are placed within the same community.
But what they share in common is they should all check out in terms of being safe and secure.
Your host family, household and community will be risk assessed by in-country staff prior to your arrival to ensure they are safe and suitable to host volunteers.
So if you feel something is not right, don’t be afraid to flag it to your team leader.
Host parents tend to be very welcoming and excited to meet you.
You may feel awkward with your host family in the beginning but that’s okay. They are aware you may need time to settle in and have been prep’d on the challenges.
Your host family also look out for your welfare and help ensure volunteers follow the code of conduct.
For me, this included being home by the 6.00pm curfew, abstaining from alcohol and dressing and behaving respectfully.
In the evenings, you are encouraged to eat together – whether your host family are responsible for providing meals or you are given a food allowance.
Homestay etiquette – rules and guidelines
When you arrive, ask to talk over the programme guidelines. Your host family may be more relaxed or strict about the rules than you expect and they may also have a few household rules of their own.
Remember you are being invited into somebody’s home so it’s nice to offer to help with chores and tidy up after yourself.
Volunteering in Africa, it’s likely you will wash your clothes by hand. Yep that’s right folks! I’ve never felt so grateful for my washing machine in my life!
Your host family receive an allowance to cover their costs and should not ask you for money.
That said, I recommend bringing a welcome gift from back home and giving a parting gift before you go – they will appreciate it more than you know.
What support will I have?
Travelling half way across the world before moving into your new mud hut digs can feel pretty daunting at first. But don’t panic, it is totally normal.
If you are struggling, you’ve got options depending on the issue at hand:
- Fellow volunteers
- Host family
- Team leader
- Assistant programme coordinator
- Project coordinator
- Community members
If this fails, you can contact the charity’s support team back home to step in.
I’d love to hear about your plans to volunteer abroad. Let me know in the comments below.
If you have any questions or if I’ve left something off the list, let me know.
Thanks for reading,