12 tips to enhance cultural experience in host families

volunteers welcomed by host family

Are you planning to volunteer abroad? Will you be staying with a host family? Are you excited about the opportunity, but find yourself wondering what it’s like to live with a family in another country?

Most IFRE volunteers find living with a host family to be a positive and life-changing experience. Many report feeling like they have a home away from home, and found life with a host family to offer an amazing opportunity of cultural immersion, learning and a richer understanding of their host country.

Host families are an important component of your volunteer abroad program. It is not only your safe place to sleep and eat meals, but most importantly it is an incredible opportunity for you to immerse yourself in the local culture. Life with a host family will elevate your experience abroad to the next level.

Follow these 12 tips to really immerse yourself in the local culture and make the most of your time with your host family:

Do your research.
You can really enhance your time abroad by doing your research before you head out for your host country. Find out the history, religions, culture, cuisine, and everything you can dig up. Doing this research ahead of time will deepen and enrich your appreciation for this fascinating new culture you are visiting.

Learn about your host family.
Find out what religion and cultural background your host family identifies with before going to stay with them. Some religions and cultures are very conservative or will have certain expectations of you as a guest in their home. Get informed about this ahead of time to show respect and start your adventure abroad off on the right foot.

Learn a little bit of the language.
Learning even a few key words and phrases of the local language can really help you connect with your host family and make the most of your time in your host country. If you can, sign up for a language class in your hometown before you go. There are numerous Apps that can help you learn, and you can also buy a phrasebook to take along with you.

Look into local festivals.
Research ahead of time to see if any local festivals or holidays will be happening in your host country while you travel. Make plans to attend, as holidays are a fun and festive way to really appreciate another culture. If appropriate, bring a gift for your host family!

Be open to new foods.
Keep an open mind and try new foods and flavors. Cuisine is a fascinating aspect of culture and gives you a chance to get a real taste for your host country. You’ll be sharing meals with your host family, so be sure to respectful and grateful for the food you are served. Meals are also a great time to bond and practice the local language!

Learn new recipes.
If your host family is open to it, offer to help cook a meal! You’ll learn new recipes, gain a greater appreciation for the flavors and ingredients of the local cuisine, and have fun bonding with your host family in the kitchen!

Practice speaking the language It’s one thing to learn a few key words and phrases before you travel, but the only real way to learn is to practice by speaking. Don’t be afraid of doing it wrong, and just go for it! Your host family and other locals will really appreciate the effort, and you’ll make much deeper connections while traveling abroad.

Take part in cultural traditions.
Traditions are the roots that keep people connected to their culture. Whenever you have the chance, embrace these traditions and get involved. You’ll make once-in-a-lifetime memories and learn more about the country you are visiting.

Share stories and dig deeper.
Ask your host family about their country, their family, their upbringing. They’ll love sharing their stories with you, and you will a much more well-rounded picture of who they are what it’s like to be a part of their culture. They might ask to hear stories from your life, too!

Travel with the locals.
Go on outings with your host family and let them show you their favorite hidden gems. You’ll discover amazing plaes and things you would never know about on your own, and your host families will have a great time sharing what they love with you.

Bring a gift from your homeland.
Find something small and meaningful that speaks to your homeland and offer it as a gift to your family. This is a nice way to say thanks for the exchange in culture.

Keep in touch
Once your volunteer abroad experience is over, that doesn’t mean you have to break off contact with your host family. By the end they will have become your dear friends, and you can keep in touch after you leave. This is a great way to keep learning about the fascinating new culture you are going to encounter.

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