Volunteering or interning abroad is full of adventures – everything is different and exciting, including your new (homestay) family. All of a sudden, while staying with a host family abroad, you share everything with people who you’ve never seen before. A bit frightening, isn't it?
Don't worry: it'll take a bit of time to adjust but will reward you with wonderful experiences and maybe learn a new recipe. Staying with locals while travelling, you'll dive into the culture and life abroad in a way you've never experienced before. Almost all our volunteers say that living with a host family was one of the greatest parts of their experience abroad.
Most likely, you'll never get this close to the intense everyday life of a new country again. You'll feel inspired and will gain many insights by leaving your comfort zone. You may even make a new family around the globe!
Curious? Meet 3 of our host moms and get a taste of what it's like to live with a host family.
"Siempre feliz" with Silvia
- Name: Silvia
- Age: 62
- Hosting experience for Projects Abroad: More than 15 years
- Location: Cordoba, Argentina
Silvia, host mother in Cordoba, Argentina, is dancing around the kitchen while she wears her favorite dress:
“No te olvides de ser feliz” - don’t forget to be happy.
At the door to her house, you’re immediately welcomed by her bright smile and the cat and dog at her feet, all sharing her same sense of familiarity and love. The doormat “enter at your own risk” is more of a welcome than a scare, as you know entering into her home is a sanctuary of peace and the desire to “ser feliz”, be happy.
Her favourite dish to cook? Eggplant salad.
Silvia has been hosting volunteers from around the world for over 15 years, and she knows how important her role is in the volunteer experience. “This is work for me, but I love to do it. I know how important it is that the volunteers feel cared for and welcomed, and I like to make their experience feel like home.”
And yes, Silvia’s place to me does feel like home. At Silvia’s house, people are always coming and going. Whether her three children or three grandchildren, there is often someone around to add to the mix and hang by the pool with. I’ve celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, helped toddlers learn to make animal sounds, told stories from home, helped cook asado, sliced birthday cake, and truly felt like a welcome member of the family.
Drinking coffee from my mug this morning, I noticed the phrase across the front, “siempre feliz”, always happy, and I thought, yes, that’s what life is like in this home. Silvia’s everyday bit of effort to make my world brighter has truly offered me the greatest homestay experience I could have asked for. Every day is just a bit more feliz.
“Ciao, mi amor” she says as I walk out the door, and I know her love is true.
- Zachary Mason
Red red with Appiah in Ghana
- Name: Appiah
- Years of hosting for Projects Abroad: More than 20
- Age: 65
- Location: Accra, Ghana
Appiah is one of our most experienced hosts. Ever since Projects Abroad first set foot in Ghana, she has generously offered up her home to keep volunteers safe, comfortable, and well-fed.
Why does she do this?
“For me, the most important thing is getting to meet different kinds of people. I’ve had volunteers from all over the world stay and have been able to build relationships with them,” she says.
As I sit at her dining room table, she points out the photos of previous volunteers that she still keeps on the walls. It’s clear that this is as much an emotional experience for Appiah as it is for the people she takes into her home.
The house is spacious, clean, and safe. Hidden behind a large walled perimeter, with barred and locked windows, there’s never a feeling of danger when living at this property. A pleasant evening involves sitting on the front porch and breathing in the fresh air among the palm trees and the chickens.
From the dining room table, the TV is always in view, showing anything from news and religion to wrestling and cartoons for her three young grandchildren.
And the dining room table is where the magic happens. A keen cook, Appiah always piles her portions up high to make sure her guests are kept full and happy.
“They always want red red,” she tells me. When you come to Ghana, no other dish will be recommended to you more often. Stewed black-eyed peas with fried plantain, this is a delicious and filling dish. No restaurant I’ve experienced makes it as good as Appiah either.
Her most memorable residents include older ladies, who were in their 50s. The guests always try to adopt a little of the Ghanaian culture, with one of these women securing a baby to her back with a scarf. This might not be regular practice in Europe, Australia, or America, but it’s a common sight to see Appiah doing the housework with a small child strapped to her back.
Appiah beams with laughter as she reminisces further.
“There was also a young American woman. She’d been out and had seen people carrying items for sale on their heads. One day, she came home and was walking around the house with a bowl on her head, offering to sell me things!” -Appiah
This cultural exchange is at the heart of matching volunteers with hosts. I ask Appiah which aspect of her Ghanaian heritage she most likes to pass onto visitors in her home.
“The language. I grew up in the Eastern Region of Ghana and my native language is Twi, so I always try to teach volunteers a few words. I can also teach them Ga, which is the other main Ghanaian language spoken around Accra.”
Although English is Ghana’s official language, it’s rarely the first choice of locals. Being able to say a few words in their mother tongue is the perfect way to build connections across cultures.
It’s been a pleasure to live with Appiah. Many residents came before me and there are many more to come. Over the course of decades, this has contributed to invaluable cultural exchange. People from all over the world have had unforgettable experiences and discovered what they are capable of in her beautiful Accra home.
- Thom Brown
Mindful and colourful Sri Lankan family with Sunitha
- Name: Sunitha
- Age: 63
- Years of hosting experience for Projects Abroad: 18
- Location: Colombo, Sri Lanka
What is waking up at Sunitha's place like? Your mind is clear and refreshed by the cool morning air after another night in the tropical heat of Sri Lanka. You lie in your bed and listen to the house slowly awakening: The almost silent barefoot steps and the colourful Sarees brushing on the white marble tiles, the friendly voices and muffled laughters, the sound of fresh fruits being cut in the kitchen and the Roti already sizzling in its specific pan.
Through the open windows you hear an array of exotic birds on the ancient trees, chanting in a choir with the monks in the Buddhist temple next door. Another layer of sound appears as the mobile bakery tuk tuk pops by, playing "For Elise" by Beethoven like an humongous gameboy, supplying the neighborhood with freshly baked bread.
Good morning, Sri Lanka!
Sunitha and her husband Sanath love to fill their spacious, light house with life, even if their daughters went to the UK to study. The fine sense of humour, kindness and mindfulness are clearly noticeable. Some daughters of friends from outside of Colombo also live there.
"Why should having a lively family stop after your children moved out? There are so many other people to share this feeling of home and love with." -Sunitha
This lively curiosity is also what she appreciates the most in her volunteers "My last two volunteers stayed here for three months and I loved when they came into the kitchen for a little chat. When they left, I had to cry." says Sunitha.
Her favorite dish to cook? Easy: Potato or Dhal curry.
"Hosting volunteers is what I like the best in my life and my cooking is what I'm proud of", she says, her English dancing to the rhythm of Sri Lanka. She has two thick guestbooks, the family albums for her volunteers, filled with pictures, heartwarming memories, thank you notes and drawings.
Sunitha's best qualities next to her incredible cooking skills? She is understanding, empathetic and humorous without ever being pushy. When feeling low, she'll cheer you up with a tea or a fresh Papaya juice, a warm smile and a short stroke of your arm. There might be some language barriers but not one that her honest laugh couldn't solve.
Before the Sri Lankan host "sisters" leave the house to get a tuk tuk, they would kneel down in front of Sunitha in appreciation, as the locals do it towards their mothers. And I know now: The feeling of family isn't only bound to your blood relatives.
- Lea Ernst
Learn more about the host family experience abroad
Read on to learn about how living with a host family abroad works and our popular blog about what you can expect when you live abroad with a local family.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. To find out more about what you can expect from this project we encourage you to speak to one of our friendly staff.