Posts Tagged ‘homestay’

Homestay Hits and Misses
Monday, May 7th, 2012

As I prepared for my career break and considered the different things I would do along the way, staying in a home stay was high on my list. Everything I read indicated that homestays would be a great way to connect with locals and immerse myself in a different culture – exactly what I was hoping to do on my travels.

I imagined a homestay as being a true cultural exchange.

I did my first homestay almost right off the bat, just two weeks into my journey through the former Soviet Union. It was part of a volunteer program that had me living with a family in St. Petersburg, Russia and tutoring the children in English. Unfortunately, the situation was a huge disappointment. Not only were the living conditions not as had been represented to me, the family didn’t even seem to want me there. The children had no interest in being tutored and during the entire four weeks I was there, no one in the family asked me a single thing about myself or opened up anything to me about their lives. I just felt like I was in the way.

My next homestay was part of the same volunteer program, this time living with a couple in Moscow. Overall, it was an improvement, but still not ideal. Living with an unmarried couple younger than me created an interesting dynamic and, as they were both working professionals, they had little time left over to spend with me.

Several months later, I took the plunge again, living with an elderly woman in Kiev while I took language classes. That was pretty much a disaster, with the woman just yelling at me in Russian every chance she got. I lasted two weeks.

Finally, I arrived in Armenia last month to volunteer again and try another homestay.

The fourth time must be the charm, right?

And it was – I lived with a couple about my parents’ age who went out of their way to make me comfortable and patiently practice Russian with me. Their son (who didn’t live with them) spoke fluent English and checked up on me weekly. I even introduced them to my parents back in Minnesota via Skype. I was sad to say goodbye to Stella and Martin when I left after five weeks.

After such a mixed experience with doing homestays, there are a few things I wish I had considered beforehand:

♦ I assumed that all homestay hosts are motivated by the “right” reasons – a desire to share their culture with foreigners and an inclination to learn about others. However, it became apparent to me that in reality some may just be motivated by the money they earn for being a host.

♦ I never really thought about balancing the atmosphere of a homestay with my desire for independence. In Kiev, my host always asked a lot of questions about where I was going or where I had been and she tended to watch over me as I was coming and going. I had to ask to use the washing machine and I couldn’t use the kitchen until after she had finished her meal. In Armenia, I sometimes felt like I was living with my parents again – something I haven’t done since I was 18. While I had a key to Stella and Martin’s place and they insisted I could come and go as I pleased, the homestay rules technically provided a curfew of midnight. Sure, I shirked this on occasion but I felt horribly guilty doing so.

♦ I wish I had thought more about the potential location of my homestays and pushed for more information before my arrival. Only my homestay in Kiev was centrally located. When I arrived in St. Petersburg, I discovered I was staying about an hour and a half outside of the city center, in an area that doesn’t even show up on maps of the city. Similarly, in Moscow, I was on the outskirts, about an hour out of the center, and in Yerevan, my homestay was in the hills north of the city center, a 30-40 minute ride into town by marshrutka (shared taxi). In each case, I received limited information from my hosts about how to get around and the groups that organized the homestays didn’t even provide a map for me in advance. I would have felt much more comfortable right off the bat if I had that basic information before I arrived.

In the end, while my experiences tended toward the negative rather than positive, I can’t say I wouldn’t recommend trying a homestay during your career break. Do your homework ahead of time, ask a lot of questions and think very seriously about your own personality and whether you will truly be comfortable living with a family for a week or two or longer.

Katie Aune is in the middle of a career break, in which she is spending a year traveling and volunteering in all 15 countries of the former Soviet Union. She is a former attorney, event planner and fundraiser who recently joined Meet, Plan, Go! as managing editor. You can follow her adventures at Katie Going Global.

Travel vs. Cultural Exchange
Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Sherry OttIn the Volunteer Chronicles, we followed Sherry Ott as she spent the winter of 2011 volunteering in the Middle East with GeoVisions. Reflecting back on that experience, she realizes that it was one of the best opportunities to really learn and understand another culture – a style she now prefers over constantly being on the move.

I walked into yet another dirty, hot guest house in Sri Lanka last month and threw down my bag flopping onto the bed exhausted. I had just negotiated with yet another local to get this lovely (imagine the sarcasm dripping on that last word) room. I relaxed for a moment and then started digging around my bag (which had caught some sort of disorganization virus in the last week) for a clean shirt to change into so I could go to the dining area and get some food. My generic version of Oreos, container of Pringles, and diet coke had long ago disappeared into a junk food vacuum in my stomach; I was starving.

As I sat waiting for my food to arrive sipping on my beer I opened up my guide book and started the next day’s planning with a big sigh. It felt as if I was on this never ending cycle of travel planning in which there was no possible way to get more than two days ahead. Making phone calls, researching Trip Advisor reviews, looking at maps, figuring out transportation, and soon it was time to go to bed to start my cycle all over again.

This is how I traveled for 16 months around the world on my career break in 2006-2007, so you think I would be used to it. It didn’t bother me then, it was all new to me; most importantly it was far away from my corporate cube life. However I’ve been at this a long time now and this winter’s recent travels made me come to a big conclusion.

I don’t like to travel any more.

I spent my winter in Jordan and Lebanon experiencing GeoVisions Conversation Corps and Partners programs. This was the ultimate cultural exchange and in a weird way I have a hard time assigning it the term ‘travel’. I felt as if I lived there. I was part of a family. I ate dinner with them, I met their friends and families, I sat around and watched TV with them, I watched them argue and yell, and I slept in the same bed about every night. Sure, I went off and did site-seeing in these gloriously historic countries, but when I finished my site-seeing I came ‘home’…to my local family, to my bed, to my regular dinner. I ate dinner with them talking about what I saw, asking questions about the history/culture of the sites, and asked them how their days were.

Tea in Jordan

My day to day interactions with my host families weren’t always exciting, but they were real. I didn’t have to pay an entrance fee, or negotiate a room, or hand my laundry over to strangers. My time in the Middle East this winter was probably some of the most intense cultural exchange I’ve done in my travels – and it wasn’t always easy and fun, but it was rewarding. One month was about perfect with each family. I was able to really dig into their lives and surroundings, but was also ready to move on.

I don’t think I fully realized this until I arrived in Sri Lanka in ‘travel’ mode again. A new location every two days, flipping through guidebooks trying to tick off sites, and negotiating absolutely every move I made. After 2 weeks of this I was sitting on the train going to yet another new city full of anticipation, but at the same time full of exhaustion. I looked around the train car and realized; I had hardly learned anything about the real culture of Sri Lanka. I hadn’t met any locals besides the guesthouse owners or tuk tuk drivers – and I was a dollar bill to them.

The conversations were predictable and centered around commerce at all times. I hadn’t made any friends in Sri Lanka besides a few fleeting short-term friendships with other travelers passing through. I didn’t really have a good idea of what Sri Lankans day-to-day life was like. How they treated their families, what they really ate each day, what their beliefs were, and how they looked at relationships. I wasn’t able to sit back and observe daily life because I was a blur in their life…just passing through.

Mongolia - Ger to Ger
This made me think back to my other favorite travel moments since 2006; volunteering/living in Delhi for a month, experiencing the Gobi Desert in Mongolia with Ger to Ger for 3 weeks, living in Saigon for a year, and living in a remote village in Nepal teaching English. It’s no wonder why these countries always top my list of favorites when people ask. All of these places in addition to Jordan and Lebanon have something in common – cultural exchange. These were the places I slowed down and infiltrated the ranks of the locals not as a tourist, but as one of them. This is what I truly love about exploring this globe.

I have to thank my experiences with GeoVisions for this clarity. It was these cultural immersion programs with their host families that actually taught me about myself in addition to the culture and people around me. More than ever I know now what I want out of this crazy nomadic life I live. I want cultural experiences and exchange. This doesn’t mean I’m giving up the type of travel I did in Sri Lanka; it simply means that I know the types of experiences I will try to seek out. As time goes by our travel styles change and evolve, and that’s what I learned this winter.

As you plan out your career break travels, consider this type of slow travel and exchange. I know you all have a lot of sites to cross off your list, but before you get burned out on travel, infuse some cultural exchange into your itinerary. I think it will be the moments you really remember in your career break travels.

Do you prefer to travel or integrate and exchange?

On the Road: Volunteer Farmstays
Monday, April 12th, 2010

After Charles Forsyth received an “offer” to take a voluntary separation from his employer (where he had worked since graduating college) his fiancé, Heather Molnar, decided to take the leap and quit her job. And the idea to take a “year off” to travel was born.

[singlepic=1752,300,,,right]In September of 2009 their adventure began and they decided that they would spend the year volunteering on organic farms in exchange for room and board. They share with us what the experience has been like and how they will incorporate lessons learned into their lives.

What made you decide to spend your travels volunteering and staying on organic farms and homestays?
Budget was definitely a factor in the beginning, but more so we were newly interested in learning more about sustainable living, gardening, farming and living a simpler lifestyle. By living on farms and in eco-hostels in Central America we not only honed gardening skills we learned to live with fewer material choices — such as supermarkets loaded with snacks and convenience foods.

What have been some highlights from your volunteer experience?
We loved living with and spending time with the children on our first homestay in Nicaragua. Without even knowing they were doing it, they helped us learn Spanish and introduced us to their way of life — work hard and play hard (daily games of family baseball and soccer in the barnyard that is).

We also very much enjoyed our month at an eco-lodge in Nicaragua where we lived with no electricity or indoor plumbing. This was easier than you might think when the company is good.

Finally, when else would we have been able to bottle-feed baby howler monkeys, and take an anteater for a daily walk on her leash [in Costa Rica]? Every place we’ve been has given us a new and enjoyable experience — though there were some “downsides” at times, we’ve always been able to take away a positive experience.

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Life on the Road: House Sitting
Monday, January 18th, 2010

[singlepic=1644,200,,,right]Leigh Haugseth is a bona fide travel addict as well as a certified WellCoach (and co-founder of Vibrapreneur), so she understands the importance of keeping healthy both physically and mentally. She says “Part of being ‘well’, means having meaning in your life, reaching for your dreams, and taking risks. Traveling can help with this. It can transform your life. Often in ways you’d never expect.”

Leigh shares with us how house sitting can be a great option during your travels!

House sitting and home exchanges are becoming more and more popular these days and for good reason. They are a cheap way to explore a new destination, you have the creature comforts of a home, and you get to live someone else’s life for a while. What’s not to love?

Here’s how it works: You register on line at a reputable house sitting site (see list below), pay a small annual fee, and put up a profile. Select your preferred dates and countries and have weekly or daily assignments delivered to your in box. Simple! Some homeowners will ask that you pay utilities during your stay. Also, some house sits require your own transportation, although I’ve seen some that will allow you to use their car, bike or are near public transportation.

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Thailand: Overview Video
Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Following New Zealand, Michael and I traveled to Thailand as part of our 2007 career break. The following is a video overview of our experience. (This video also features Laos)

Text Version: We were excited to be moving on to Thailand and Laos  – two countries whose cultures were completely different from our own.

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Thailand: Homestay with Andaman Discoveries
Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

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Michael and I traveled to Thailand as part of our 2007 career break. The following is an excerpt from our travel blog.

Of all the places we would visit on this trip, the last place I thought Michael would be able to relate to the most was a small Muslim Village in Thailand.  But surprisingly, he eased right into sleeping on a mattress on a floor under mosquito netting with roosters crowing at 2am, speaking a completely different language from anyone else around us, and feeding baby goats twice a day.  But he easily compared it to consulting – traveling endlessly from one hotel to the next, needing to learn a new dialect or corporate speak, and understanding a new corporate environment and supporting it.  Makes perfect sense.

Our stay in Tung Nang Dam was thanks to Andaman Discoveries – an offshoot of the North Andaman Tsunami Relief (NATR) organization.  As their website states “we started by doing relief projects FOR community members, then we progressed to development projects WITH community members, now we are assisting with projects led BY community members.”

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