What to expect from your Zambian homestay

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 show you around and support you along the way.


Edited Me 4
Edited - huts
Host family life
Catherine (right) and friends enjoying some down time in the afternoon

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Opening doors…

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 villages I would have otherwise struggled to access.

So get excited about your homestay and the opportunities it will bring!

Team leaders: Me, Dinah and our Zambian counterpart Hildah

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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?

Homestay 13

Homestay 18

Homestay night


My Zambian homestay

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Now I’m not saying every Zambian 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.

Little Ethel and Mabel

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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.

My host mum Catherine and her granddaughter Ethel

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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.

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Volunteering in Zambia

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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?

Homestay 9


Zambia African Homestay
A handful of my wonderful volunteers ❤

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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.

My host father Mr Chanda with granddaughter Ethel

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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.

Cooking on a brazier in Africa
Making breakfast on the coals

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


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My Zambian homestay

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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.

Catherine washing.jpg
My host mum Catherine

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Volunteering in Zambia, it’s likely you will wash your clothes by hand.

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?

Zambian countryside

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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 to adapt, 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.

Signing off…

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,

Laura x


3 thoughts on “What to expect from your Zambian homestay

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