Volunteering Abroad? 5 Tips for Living with a Host Family.

If you want to see a country through the perspective of the locals, live with a host family while you volunteer abroad.  It’s certainly a tradeoff but what you lose in privacy you gain in truly becoming a member of the community.  The important thing to remember is that YOU need to adjust to your environment.  And, you need to do it fast.  There is nothing worse than a self-righteous, spoiled volunteer.

Here are Erin’s top 5 tips when living with a host family:

  1. CPC (clean plate club) it every day.
    Food is extremely valuable throughout developing countries.  In addition, in many cultures, food is considered waste after it is touched so it can’t even be used as leftovers.   A common rookie mistake is to leave food on the plate at the end of the meal.  We do it at home too much [except my brother, Dan, who is a lifetime member of the CPC].    To avoid insulting the cook, take a small first helping as you will always be offered seconds!
  2. Go green.
    Conserve water by turning off the shower (if you have running water) while you lather up.  Bring your backpack when you go to the grocery store.  Drink filtered instead of bottled water.  Use electricity only when necessary.  
  3. Be one of the first to rise.
    You will never be THE first to rise.  But try not to be the last to wake up every day.  You’ll look lazy.  Morning tea/coffee/hang is common and you may steal your most quality moments of the day with your family before the sun comes up.  You can also help out with some of the morning chores like cooking, cleaning, or getting younger kids ready for school.
  4. Step outside of your comfort zone. 
    Now, if you are a vegetarian, I am not implying that you should eat meat.  That is your moral code.  Big difference.  I do mean try new foods that are offered.  Make a fool of yourself by attempting the traditional dance at a party.  Dress up like a local from time to time.  These small gestures are a fantastic way to connect with your family by showing your genuine interest in their customs and culture.
  5. Keep in touch!
    When you arrive, host families will welcome you into their home like you’ve been there all along.  They are incredibly kind, generous, and will make you feel at home in no time.  In turn, if you are going out, they’ll want to know when you will be back.  It can be annoying but it’s how they treat members of their family.  When you leave to return back to your own country, keep in touch to let them know how much they meant to you.  After all, they are family.
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