Travel advice: living with a host family

Living with a host family is a really unique way to get to know and experience the local culture, taste the local food and have a rare opportunity to become fully welcomed into a new family. Most volunteers come back from their projects and see their host family as their second family, but it can be a daunting prospect if you’ve never done it before. So here are some tips to get you on your way:

Lucy Allcock with host family children in 2012

Lucy Allcock with host family children in 2012

  • Bring a gift from home for your host family that reflects local culture (whether that is a pot of jam, some shortbread biscuits, a tea towel of the Royal Family or something entirely different). Giving a gift is a great way to break the ice and sets the foundations for a warm friendly relationship.
  • Try to learn a little of the local language even if you’re really not sure you’ve got it right, showing you’ve made an effort will really impress your host family and it will help you get a long when you’re out there. Don’t be afraid to give it a go and don’t be insulted if they laugh at you!
  • Find out local customs so that you’re acting appropriately, for example in Thailand people greet each other my bowing and putting their hands together.
  • Ask your host family about their daily routine when you get there so you know what time to get up in the morning, don’t be surprised if this is a lot earlier than you’re used to!
  • Dress appropriately even in your host family home, this means for women covering your shoulders and chest and to at least your knee.
  • Take lots of photos of your home, family and friends so you can show your host family where you’re from.
  • Leave time in your day to spend with your host family, whether that’s watching the TV with them (even if it is in the local language), playing a card game with them or teaching each other your own language. Spending at least one weekend of your project at the host family home is a great idea to and will help you get to know the family a bit better.
  • Try the food the host family give you (unless you’re allergic, vegetarian or have religious reasons), refusing the food they offer may be taken as an insult, even things that look  a bit strange can taste lovely. Don’t worry if you don’t like it, just tell them. They will be more offended if you turn your nose up straight away, and remember to tell them if you don’t like it otherwise you will get it again!
  • Remember to remain adaptable – things will be done very differently compared to home, make sure you remain flexible throughout out your stay.
  • Keep them up to date – your host family will be concerned for you, so make sure you tell them where you’re going and when you’re coming back so they don’t worry, whether that’s because you’re running an after school club or because you’re going away for the weekend.
  • Don’t flush toilet paper down the toilet – the sewage systems are not designed to deal with tissues so make sure you don’t flush them down the toilet, as you don’t want to block it!
  • Don’t be afraid to ask – if you’re not sure about something or would like to know something don’t be afraid to ask your host family!
  • Keep in contact once you’ve left!
Lucy & Natalie with their Host Family in 2012

Lucy & Natalie with their Host Family in 2012

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