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Homestays Abroad

Latin American Homestays

While attending language schools in Central and South America my brother and I stayed in 12 different homes in seven countries. Five of the homes were of the traditional 2-parent variety and seven contained at least three generations of relatives.

In many homes, gift-giving is an important ritual. Since it’s impossible to know when and with whom you might be exchanging gifts, bring several small items of modest value and general appeal that are hard to find in the host country. Disposable flashlights, fluorescent gel pens, and light sticks are good bets. A restaurant dinner for the host mother or a birthday cake for a child who has never had one will endear you to the family.

If you stay near the equator, night comes around 6 p.m. and dawn about 6 a.m. all year, so the family may go to bed early and get up early. A pair of eyeshades and ear plugs can do wonders. You won’t oversleep because your housemother will always get you up in time if you are in language school.

Many homes have guest books that you are requested to write in before you leave. The book will be shared with you when your family recalls some of the perhaps 100 or so students from all over the world who have preceded you. Their comments document the quality of the homestay to the school. Your testimonial should be in Spanish, so practice writing it on a separate piece of paper with help from your Spanish teacher so it will be neat and error free.

Your valuables will be absolutely safe in their home. Carry a copy of your passport when you go out, but leave the original, your plane tickets, and extra cash in your bedroom. Once I misplaced some cash and made the mistake of questioning the security of the household. The family was deeply offended and my relationship with them teetered in the balance for days.

Your host family can make a great home base for travel elsewhere in the country after you finish language school and the family members can be pen pals for a lifetime.

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