During college I spent 5 months studying throughout Ecuador’s various regions. Overall, I stayed with 4 different families, depending on what part of the country I was studying in at the time. My homestay experiences in Ecuador are what I cherish most deeply from my time abroad. With so many different family members and homes, my journal is absolutely flooded with funny and endearing stories from each. From my homestay dad rescuing me from a giant spider, going out at night with my homestay sisters, to cooking with my Ecuadorian mom and grandma - the insight into Ecuadorian culture that I gained from my homestay experience is immeasurable.
One of the more stand-out stories I remember was during my homestay in a rural part of Ecuador. One evening, I wanted to help my homestay mom cook dinner and so I offered to make garlic bread because that night she wanted to try making spaghetti. She and her family had never tasted garlic bread before and after I cooked it with them, we had it with breakfast, lunch, and dinner for two weeks straight! I remember feeling very humbled that a dish I made that seemed common was so novel and interesting for them. I also remember not feeling brave enough to tell them it wasn’t traditionally a breakfast food. It was then that I realized I had just as much to teach my homestay families as they had to teach to me.
As an ecologist, I thrive to find diversity and uniqueness in our world. I believe it is safe to assume that everyone interested in travel abroad feels the same longing for an unknown and different experience. My homestay families allowed me not only to find the authentic diversity that a foreign country and its people have to offer, but they offered me the opportunity to experience it firsthand. My homestay family is where I learned my colloquial Spanish and Quechua, something that my schooling and street interactions did not provide. My homestay family also encouraged me to practice my Spanish on a much more frequent basis than I would have in any hostel. I recognized the diversity of the customs, food, music, and cultures of each of my homestay families, just as much as in the various ecosystems I visited. A family, a home, and a lifestyle are dynamic; they change depending on so many factors, making them unique and genuine.
I understand that staying in a homestay can feel like a gamble, and it’s hard to know if you’ll fit in with the family or their lifestyle. However, if it’s something you’re considering doing, I highly recommend it! Even my friends who had poor experiences found that they grew as individuals and, if anything, they left with some pretty ridiculous stories!
If you make the effort to integrate yourself into your homestay families abroad, you can truly feel like you’ve gained another family. If one dad calling you during classes or work back home isn’t enough, imagine your Ecuadorian dad trying to What’s App call you just as much! Although sometimes my biological parents get confused when I refer to my Ecuadorian family as Mom, Dad, or even my sisters, the truth is that my family here in the U.S. loves my Ecuadorian family, too. They know that my experience abroad never would have been the same without them.
In the end, homestays are an exchange, and I believe anyone interested in teaching or learning should think of them in that way. You learn from your homestay family and, undoubtedly, they learn from you.