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At Home with the Family-with Frontier

Date added: Friday 16th May 2014

Homestays are becoming increasingly popular amongst travellers and overseas students alike. Maybe because they a cheaper option, but largely for how rewarding they can be. If you’re taking a year out, here’s why you might choose to spend some time in a homestay.

Living with the Family

Why not just stay in a hostel?

A homestay is a holiday or period abroad spent in the home of a local family, usually for a small fee. You generally eat meals and often spend whole days or evenings with your host family, rather than coming and going independently as you might in a hostel. The whole point is to try to get a true picture of how the people of the place you are visiting really live.

You might think that you would prefer to come and go as you please, opting instead for a hostel, or student dorms. Whilst this is a more sociable option than sitting on your own in a hotel room, the community found in such places is a very international one, meaning that it is quite easy to continue to converse in your native tongue the whole time. This is a shame as attempting the language of a new environment is a fantastic and rewarding way to really learn about it.

Food is another wonderful way to explore a new destination. However most hostels, even those tucked deep in the jungle, or on the remotest of Islands, can be found serving things like fry-ups, or cereal, or pancakes… Whatever is needed to accommodate the needs of guests from all over the world. You can ask for your curries less spicy and opt for your favourite beer over the local brew if you want to. There is always the option to stick with what you know.

There is also the temptation to spend evenings on the internet interacting virtually with people at home, or to stay in the hostel bar with endless Friends and Family Guy on the telly and an epic game of Ring of Fire kicking off in the corner. Yes, great fun, but you could be anywhere in the world doing that.

The benefits of homestays

To deepen your experience of a country you need to step out of your comfort zone. In return you will be richly rewarded. Some of the benefits will be obvious, like improving your language skills, or getting tips from your hosts about what to see and do beyond the usual tourist hotspots. But you will also observe unexpected things like the small rituals of everyday life that you just wouldn’t see around other travellers. Getting to grips with the public transport, or persuading the lady at the fruit stall to give you freebies, for example!

The really cool part is that it’s a two way thing. As much as you might be improving your Hindi or Mandarin, or learning about traditional Costa Rican cooking, your hosts will be learning from you too. Cue lots of amusement about knives and forks versus eating with hands or chopsticks.

You will interact with families in a mutually beneficial way. People like to talk about themselves and they also like to learn about new people, making homestays an experience of sharing. You are not just consuming a culture without giving anything in return. Your money will be also going directly into the communities that you are visiting, in turn generating more money in the local economy.

Ok, I’m interested. Tell me more…

There are many types of homestays, and your experience will differ massively depending on the type of community in which you want to be immersed. For example, if you want to stay with hill tribes in Vietnam, the experience would be very different from a city one.

Daily activities may include working the rice fields and creating handicrafts with village children. Evenings are filled with helping to prepare meals and chopping wood for the fire, which you would then sit around, talking and eating, until it is time to retire to small, mist-engulfed huts to sleep.

If you are interested in working abroad, a homestay is the perfect way to get to grips with a language very quickly. The pace with which a family speaks and laughs around a dinner table will have you up to speed in no time, and perhaps most importantly, aware of social behaviours so that you can dive comfortably into your job.

In short, homestays are about living a destination, not just visiting it. You will be privy to the real country, not just the parts that are selected for display by tourist boards. You get to make your own mind up, and chances are you’ll love it a whole lot more if you do!

Author Sophie Aggett is an Online Journalism Intern for Frontier, an international non-profit volunteering NGO. Frontier has over 300 dedicated conservation and community development projects as well as plenty of inspiring gap year ideas to help make your time out meaningful. For more information on all the opportunities available please visit


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