Saturday 20 July 2013

Staying with Host Families

It's always daunting, the idea of living with a host family abroad. How can I settle into a whole new family with their quirks and established schedules? What if they don't like me? 

My host home - Uganda
I've stayed with a host family on three different occasions now:
- In Sanga, Nepal for a month (June - July 2010)
- In Juaso, Ghana for 5 days  (April 2011)
- In Bududa, Uganda for a month (June - July 2012) 

Each of these experiences have been unforgettable, each in their own little way. You are truly immersed in the culture staying with a local family. You realise that your humanity runs deeper then your differences. You are able to connect, to love and to embrace another family in a completely new environment.

With two new homestay trips coming up (Korea and Nicaragua), I thought I'd write this post in order to share my experiences of living with another family. I always worry beforehand: that I won't gel with a new family, that our cultural differences will induce awkwardness or that they will just find me plain annoying. I'm hoping that this blog post will give people a clearer insight into what its like staying with an international host family and the wonderful generosity and love that you can experience from it. 

Bududa, Uganda

My flight landed at 3:00am and I was met by Emmanuel and Robert. It was pitch black outside as we drove through Entebbe and central Kampala. It was a 4 hour drive to the village. For the first hour, I was running on excitement and wide-eyed interest, trying to take in the sights of the city, the sugar-cane plantation and the river Nile. I crashed soon after, waking up to a bright morning in Bunabumali hours later. 
Upon arrival, I was introduced to mum, dad, Esther, Joy, Eseza and Mathieu. I had a tour of the school, dropped my things into my room and marvelled at the lush, green hills surroundings. 

Dilemma, night 1. There was a big, evil looking black fly inside my mosquito net. I sat on my bed, armed with a towel in an attempt to swat it out. I shook the net. It buzzed and I let out a involuntarily whimper. I try to gather my thoughts. Come ON! you are x100 the size of this thing, why are you letting it get the better of you?! I battle with it for 30 minutes until I give in. 
I knock tentatively on my 'parents' door. "Mum?" I ask. "Sorry, there's a big fly on my bed." I feel like a kid. I feel bad for getting her out of bed, on my first night. 
She expertly swipes the fly out of the bed with her hands and says she's glad I called her, because they bite. 

Tsetse Fly
It always takes me a few days to settle in, but my Ugandan family couldn't have been more welcoming. Eseza, my host sister, was my age. We often bantered/laughed. The kids were delighted at my presence, drawing out joy and laughter from the everyday encounters. 

Uprooting beans with the kids. 
Patience, a little three year old, was absolutely terrified of me. She would cover her eyes and cry whenever she saw me. Joy reassured me that it was nothing personal, it was just that she'd never seen a foreigner before. It took a fortnight or so but I gradually gained her trust. 

I settled in through engaging in the everyday family activities. I helped out with the cooking, peeling beans and with the water collection. I was surrounded by children who had so little but they loved, laughed and contributed to chores endlessly and diligently. 

A chicken on the sofa!? (Laying an egg as I found
out later)
Kitchen Duty  (I was pretty bad at  keeping the fire going...)

After a fortnight, I moved down to sleep with my host sisters, due to mosquito bite issues. We shared a single bed but I loved it, we often spent the night chatting away. I started to get really attached to Emily, a 9 year old in P4. We often spent evenings together playing chase, cooking dinner, gathering pumpkin leaves for cooking and exploring the local area. I watched her expertly climb a mango tree, fearing for her safety as she got higher and higher. 

She embraced and laughed at my 'mzungu' (foreigner) attempts to do things and took joy in teaching me. I could never swing an axe accurately to chop wood. My knife skills were worse then that of a 10 year old in Uganda. A teenage girl could hold heavier loads of water then me. I loved trying and Emily loved watching. We bonded through activity and the language barrier was never an issue.

   Helping Albert (the headteacher) mix posho
   (a lot harder then it looks!)                                                 

        Eseza and I messing about at Sipi Falls          
My host Mum 

           Taking goods down from Nametsi (heard the kids sniggering behind me when they took the photo!)

I remember feeling a deep sense of dread at my impending departure date. I didn't want to leave, I could've stayed an extra year...I tried to be dignified about it, but I really wasn't. I don't like crying in front of other people, but I was a sobbing wreck. Emily whispered "Don't go" when I hugged her tightly. I said sorry to her over and over. I loved her and I would've happily adopted her as a daughter. 
I cried all the way to the airport, and I rarely cry. By the time I boarded the flight, I must've looked pretty awful. Even on the flight, I couldn't stop the tears from flowing. I cried quietly onto the pillow, pretending to be asleep. Hopefully the person next to me wasn't too mortified. 

I loved my Ugandan family. Staying with them was a great leveller. It's always reminded me to stay grounded and to value family, love and to work hard. I experienced a bit of culture shock back in the UK. There is so much advertising....Why does everyone have so many accessories?  Pavements when I was used to dirt tracks. Technology when I was used to family time.
I made some wonderful bonds in Uganda and I will return soon.


Juaso, Ghana

I came across this placement through 'ISH Events'. It was a wonderful opportunity, at £400.00 for a 2 week BUNAC placement for building a sanitation block for a school. (The flight to Ghana itself is £400+!). 

Ghana Team 
We were split into pairs and each assigned a host family for our five day stay at Juaso Village. I was partnered with Carlota and we had a incredibly warm welcome, with our host dad preparing coconuts from a nearby tree for us.

Host Mum
Host Dad

We had five intensive days of construction: mixing cement using spades, wheelbarrowing rocks, digging foundations and layering bricks. 

Manual cement mixing:
turning water and cement mix
 using the spade.
Digging Foundations to fill with cement.


The finished sanitation cubicles! 
Our Ghanaian host family were gracious and welcoming, we had a wonderful array of meals and it was lovely returning 'home' to a family who were smiley and friendly. 

It was a short stay, but the bonds were wonderful. Lorenzo, one of my team mates, proceeded to return to Ghana a few months later to reunite with his family back in the village. We had a departure party and gave our families gifts from the UK.

My old JustGiving Link:

Sanga, Nepal

Sanga, Nepal
I was 19 on my first solo trip: happy and idealistic but very nervous! I met up with Sangita at the airport, and we drove one hour from Kathmandu to Sanga. She struggled with my name: "Tii thida?". She looked at me for a few seconds. "Can I call you Maya? Mum will find it easier to pronounce. It means Love in Nepali."
I was delighted at having a nickname and I completely took to it, it is a name I still love to this day.

I stayed at 'Namaste Peace Home', helping out with general duties at the orphanage such as cooking and homework help, taking the kids to school and helping out in the classroom. I was soon joined by more volunteers, Oihana and Ivan, from Spain. I forged so many wonderful friendships whilst in Nepal. It was an eye-opening experience that built the foundation for the passion I have for travelling and volunteering now. 

Uday, a teacher I met in Nepal, was kind and considerate. He accompanied me to various trips I took around the local area and invited me to meet his mum in Panauti. We rode on bus rooftops together, ate pani-puri by the roadside and trekked up to Banepa to a metal structure with a panoramic view.

I absolutely adored my host mum. I thought she was beautiful, because she smiled so much. She would often sing-song my name in the morning when the chai tea was ready. I helped to collect grass for the cows and plant rice in the fields, and I loved it.

This was covered in another blogpost titled 'The Kindness of Strangers', but a day before I was due to fly out, my bag (with my passport in) was stolen whilst I browsed in a market. In a nutshell, it was only through the undue kindness and generosity of others that I was able to stay in the country for a further 5 days without a single penny on me. I will always remember this: that kindness and goodwill have no limit. 

Trip Tips

  • Hopefully the post gave you a good insight of staying with a host family, without being too rambly. 
  • Be helpful. Host families aren't just for 'hosting'. I think the relationship is two-fold, throw yourself into things and always ask if families need a hand with something, they often do.
  • Don't be too fussy with food. My Ugandan mum took great delight when I told her I really liked the food (posho kind of...).
  • Go alone. You really fall into just being you when you're going solo. There are no dynamics and you really get to bond with your family.
  • Be thoughtful. If its someone's birthday, buy an unexpected present. I think it's always the thought that counts. 
  • It is daunting, I always get worried before I go and you'll never be at ease straight away. Go in with a open mind and heart. 
  • Are there lots of logistics? Not really. I would highly recommend Volunteer East (, for genuine, grassroots charity projects. For Nepal, I paid 400 rupees a day for my homestay inclusive of everything (£20.00 a week).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your story on your stay in Bududa. As a native of Bududa who now lives out of the country, I am always intrigued, and delighted by the perceptions of volunteers to our country. Your service brings many intrisic benefits to our people - young people like Emily will see the world differently when they grow up because of their interactions with you. By your actions and your service, you help build a better, interconnected world. By sharing your time and limited resources, you inspire us in Africa to do better. May other emulate your cause and service, and may more of your colleagues come to Bududa so we can build a better world for our children.

    John Wanda
    Arlington, VA