What are the benefits of living with a host family?

October 15th, 2014 by | Tags: | No Comments »

Me with some of my host family members

Me with some of my host family members

“The real voyage of discover consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

In the past decade, when I traveled around the world, I always tried to stay in someone’s home instead of a hotel so that I could learn about the culture and people of the country. I always found that I learned so much more about the country when staying with a family than when staying in a hotel. Peace Corps is very smart about having trainees live with host families during the first two to three months. Living with a host family is one of the most rewarding experience for both the Peace Corps Trainee and host family. I would like to share many benefits of staying with a host family in a foreign country. These reasons can apply not only to Peace Corps Trainees but also to travelers and students who study abroad.

1. We learn about the locals’ daily routine. Humans in other countries often do laundry and cooking differently. Some like those in Cameroon do laundry by hand and some like many in China do not have an oven. Many people in other countries come home from school or work for lunch for a couple hours a day.

2. There is no better place to taste local food than in one family’s home. When eating out, we often choose a restaurant that has food that we’re most comfortable with eating. By staying with a host family, we are forced to go out of our comfort zone and try new food. We discover new dishes that become our new favorite. For example, my host family made Koke, a traditional Cameroonian dish that was made with beans and palm oil. I have never eaten it before, but I fell in love with it. I first discovered soufflé when staying with a host family in France and “brought” it home to America by making it many times in my kitchen.

3. Hearing host families’ views about global and social issues can help us become a better educated voter. Every country’s political system is unique and we can learn from the families about the pros and cons of how their government system works. In many countries, my host families and I have discussed pros and cons of having single payer healthcare, workers going on strike, paying high income taxes, and religious freedom.

4. The host family can learn so much more about our culture. One of Peace Corps’ goals is teaching the locals about the American culture. Host families will ask us questions about our country and lifestyle. We can bring photos of our family and friends so they can see what our life is like in the US. My host families around the world always enjoyed seeing photos of my high school proms and graduation because they don’t exist in most other countries. We can introduce them to our own local food by cooking for them. I have so far baked brownies and chocolate chip cookies for my host family in Cameroon and they loved them. Remember, many host families may never have the opportunity to see our own homeland.

5. There is no better place to learn the language than by staying with the host family especially if the family doesn’t know our native language. When living with a host family, we are forced to improve our communication skills so that we can share information and cooperate well. When I first arrived in Peru in 2009, I didn’t know any Spanish. I forced myself to learn the language quickly because I stayed with a family who didn’t know any English. Within four weeks, I was able to have basic conversations in Spanish with the host family. When I first arrived in Cameroon, my French was incredibly rusty but within two weeks, while staying with a host family, I got back to almost where I was when I last spoke the language in 2009.

6. Host families will tell us about great off-the-beaten-path spots that we may not find in travel guidebooks. For example, one of my host families in Paris took me to Chantilly Castle and another host family in Paris took me to little museums such as Musée Cognaco-Jay and Musée Carnavalet.

7. If we get sick, we’re surrounded by people who can take a good care of us. I got food poisoning in China, Peru and New Zealand and flu in Germany. I was so grateful for my host families who could take me to the hospital and provide me good food including homemade chicken soups.

8. We form everlasting friendships. I’ve stayed in touch with many of the host families through emails and Facebook. I’ve actually visited some of them again. Some have visited me in America to learn more about my homeland and culture.

9. We get lots of hugs and enjoy laughing. Host families’ homes are filled with warmth and love that cannot be found in hotels and hostels.

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