A Word About Homestays

So, let’s set the scene.

You’re a sophomore (maybe a junior by credits, don’t get cocky). You’re about to study abroad. You notice a lot of the coolest places (*cough* Spain *cough*) require or highly suggest a homestay. You wish you had someone to give you advice about the dirty details of the homestay life. You stumble across this blog.

Or, scenario B: you’re a future employer stalking me on Google. You stumble across this blog.

So, either way, here you are, reading my advice about homestays. Homestays are tricky to write about because everyone has such a unique experience. So, I would like to disclaim that my observations and experiences may not hold true for every place, family, program, etc.

To begin, I would like to touch on the type of people who sign up to host a student. The first type of homestay is a family that wants to provide a room to a student in order to supplement their income. As Spain is having tough economic times, this is a very common scenario. The next type of homestay is someone elderly and/or alone, usually a woman, who would like some company. This situation can be weird because you almost feel obligated to spend time with your host family. The last type of homestay includes a family with kids. In this type of homestay, the family sometimes would like you to practice English with their kids.

The three scenarios for homestays are just generalizations, naturally. Sometimes, the host family can be a combination of the different types described above. For example, my host mom Maria* is a combination of the first and second situation. However, sometimes homestays can be nothing like what I described. For example, my friend’s family requested to be a homestay because their cousin hosts students as well.

After realizing the different types of families, the best advice I could give is to fill out the homestay request form as detailed as possible. A lot of other applicants do not take the time to do this. Therefore, if you are more specific you will likely get things you request. For example, I wrote down a specific neighborhood on the form. You could request a specific walking distance from school. Some of the surfers on my program asked to be closer to the beach (however, this did pose a longer commute to school and metros don’t run super late every night of the weekend!). A lot of people request families with kids.

I requested to be near the Guggenheim, a central location in Bilbao.
I requested to be near the Guggenheim Museum, a central location in Bilbao, Spain.

Another important part of the homestay request form is the roommate section. I said I did not care if I had roommate and I was assigned a single. At first I was excited to have a single, because roommates sound like the epitome of freshman year. I soon realized there were pros and cons to living in a homestay alone. For example, it might have been easier to have a friend to work through the language barrier with. It also could have been nice to have a friend to go out with, because it is always safer to walk home with someone. However, living alone helped me be independent from the group and I also got to practice more Spanish! You should consider these things before filling out the form because it really shapes the homestay experience.

Finally, once you are abroad and living in a homestay, remember that it is going to be weird. Maria treats me like a child a lot, as if I have not been living on my own for a while now. For example, after my return from Morocco, my host mom had reorganized my whole closet. All of my sandals are now missing. The same thing happened to my swimsuit top in September. If my bed isn’t made perfectly, she will remake it. She does my laundry, cleans my dishes, and has even blow dried my hair. And I kind of feel helpless because I never had the courage to tell her these things bothered me and that I am a capable adult. I also was not really sure how to say all of these things in Spanish. If I had been honest with Maria, I would have saved a lot of time harboring anger toward her. However, if you are only going to be honest with your host family about one thing, let it be the food. Otherwise, they will cook you the same crappy dish they think you like (think: pigs’ feet).

In the end, I had a lot of trouble getting along with my host mom. But do I regret it? Not really. If I had lived with friends, I would not have practiced Spanish every day. I would have wasted time cooking and cleaning that I could have used exploring. In the end, it is one thing to live alongside a while culture abroad, but my homestay let me live within the Spanish culture.

*name has been changed

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This, That, and the Other Thing – Three Tips for Pre-departure and Arrival Abroad

  1. Bring something special from home to spruce up your room

This may sound a little silly, but it is definitely something I regretted within the first week of being abroad. Whether it is photos, a poster, or even a pillowcase, bring something that can connect you to home and give your room a little personality. You will be glad to have something to distinguish that space as your own and make it feel homier.

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  1. Don’t make any promises… yet

11874120_10203798343993835_192348149_nStarting school abroad is a lot like orientation week as a freshman at college. Everyone is excited to meet each other and explore their new home. But like freshman year, people form friendships fast and soon settle into friendships. For that reason, don’t make any promises to people from home about FaceTiming, writing emails, or even texting. Take advantage of the newness of your study abroad location – get out and explore with new people. Don’t be that person who stays back because you promised someone you would talk at a certain time. Give yourself a chance to settle in and find your place in the new city with new people before you get into a routine of reaching out to people at home. Once you figure out how your schedule works and when you are free, THEN you can figure out a schedule for staying in touch. Don’t feel guilty about being in the moment when you first arrive.

  1. Allow yourself to feel every emotion

The other day I was eating an apple and thought about eating apples at home during the summer, and out of nowhere I started crying. The first week or so abroad can be totally overwhelming. You meet new people every day, you learn the layout of your city and new home, and you are trying to get over jet lag. emoji_autism2All the stimulation keeps you insanely busy, so remember to allow yourself some “me-time.” Give yourself at least 10 minutes a day to reflect on your experience. You could write in a journal, talk with a new friend or roommate, or even just think in silence about the experience so far. Whatever you like best, make sure you give yourself time to feel everything – the highlights like an awesome new friend or a funny experience as well as the things you miss and things that frustrate you about your new home. It is okay not to love every minute of the experience. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Let yourself feel every part of the experience so you can grow from them.

 

 

 

  • Emily Wolverton

The Post You’ve Been Waiting For: Foodies in Zanzibar

Hamjambo!

So if you know me, you know I love everything about food: the smell, restaurants, cooking, and especially eating.  I know that once I come back from Zanzibar, after friends and family tell me how tan I’m getting (which is pretty tan if I must say so myself), they’ll ask me about what I learned to cook.  Meals in Zanzibar are different than anywhere else I have visited, so I thought it would be cool to, instead of just saying the food I’m eating, to take you all through the steps of a Zanzibari meal.

Firstly, you are invited to a friend’s home for dinner.  Dinner is eaten pretty late here, anywhere between 7 and 10 pm (that’s 1 and 4 usiku in Swahili time), so you show up around seven thirty because Swahili time is never on-time.  The most important thing is that you take your shoes off when you enter – in Islam, shoes are considered dirty and shouldn’t be worn in the house.  Also, if this is a formal occasion, you should dress for it.  That means full headscarf and makeup (and for the mzungus, makeup to make you look Arabic).  For Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday celebrating the end of hajj (the pilgrimmage to Mecca), I had my makeup (over)done by my host mom.  See below.

Anyway, back to the meal.  You need to greet your host with a handshake (people use the “limp fish” handshake technique or just a low high-five basically) and you hold on until you’ve finished multiple rounds of greetings.  There’s no appetizers set out, no glass of wine (Muslims don’t drink alcohol), just a floor mat and pillows or if you’re lucky, a couch.  Eventually, you hear “Chakula tayari!” (food’s ready!) and you head for the dining room.  You’d expect a dining room like at home with miscellaneous paintings on the walls and a table and chairs in the middle.  Wrong.  There’s an eating mat spread out on the floor with some plastic on top for food spillage, which will definitely happen.  No chairs, no table; you sit on the floor cross-legged around all your friends and family.

The food spread out before you is like nothing you’ve ever seen: breads, beans, some veggie things, something that looks like a fat pyramid, mounds and mounds of rice, potatoes (the potatoes here are incredibly sweet), fruits, and that one thing you know you love – chapatti.  Chapatti is a wonderful food, it’s a flat bread that’s buttery and flaky and I almost don’t want to know how it’s made because I know it’s going to be extremely unhealthy.  You do a second count of the people in the room and look at the amount of food for those people and think that there’s no way that double the amount of people could finish the meal in front of you.  Wrong again.

Those breads: chapatti, coconut bread, and boflo (bread loaves)
Beans: I hated beans before I came here, now I love them.  Still have no idea how to make them.
Veggies: peas in a curry coconut sauce, pilau which is a soup with potatoes, meats, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and whatever else you want basically
Fat Pyramids: they’re called samosas and they’re incredible.  They’re usually come in beef or veggie form, and they’re basically the meat and veggies wrapped up in filo dough, similar to what they use to make baklava in Greek recipes
Rice: a staple of a Zanzibari diet.

One of the first things I learned in Zanzibar was to always serve yourself, don’t let a Zanzibari do it because you will get your dinner plate covered in rice with the top of the mound rising about six inches off the plate (and that’s no exaggeration), and then you get pilau and other stuff on top of it.

Oh, and did I mention that Zanzibaris don’t use silverware?  It is common and accepted to eat with your hands.  It is both a cultural and religious belief – that Mungu (God) made us to eat with our hands and he gave our hands something that makes the food taste sweet that you lose if you use silverware.  My first time eating with my hands was an absolute disaster, there was rice everywhere but in my belly.  I’ve picked up on some of the techniques now though, and I can almost finish a plate like a Zanzibari.

So you’ve been eating with your hands all these foods you’ve never seen before, and are ready to birth your food baby when your host grabs your plate and you think you’re finished.  Haha, NOPE.  An equally huge portion of rice, pilau, meats, and everything else gets piled back on your plate.  Your expression just drops as you realize that you might actually throw up if you keep eating.  A helpful phrase is “nimeshiba”, meaning “I am full”, but that actually means nothing to Zanzibaris and you have to eat more food anyway.  And once you’re actually done and there’s no more food to be piled on your plate, it’s time for chai!  Chai (communal name for all tea in Kiswahili) here is delicious and spicy and served extremely hot, which is great on super hot and humid days!

And by the way, cooking is done on the floor as well.  So hope your leg muscles are ready for a bunch of squats!

Anyway, once you’re finished with absolutely everything, it’s time to head back home, so you thank your host with goodbyes that are longer than the greetings, put your shoes back on, and pass out on your bed from all the food you ate.  Time to do it again tomorrow night!

Asante sana kwa kusoma!

Kim, DUSA Blogger

Buying Guide: Host Family Gifts

If you are going abroad and will live with a host family before, you should know that it is nice to bring gifts to whomever you plan to stay with. However, this rule can also be extended to whomever is going to be helping you a lot when you are abroad. For example, I had what is called a Danish Visiting Family, which was a family that
helped me a lot when I was abroad, and I would hang out with them and cook meals with them at least once a week, but I did not live with them. Even if you are just going to live with a roommate or two, it is polite to bring them a gift.
If you are having any trouble figuring out gifts to bring, here are some ideas:

  • Celestial Seasonings tea gift basket (this is what I brought my visiting family, but since Celestial Seasonings is become accessible in so many places, make sure that you are not going somewhere where it is easy to buy. Denver or Boulder tote bags (or tote bags from wherever you live) BBQ sauce (at least in Denmark, everyone seemed to think that BBQ just meant grilling and nobody had any concept of BBQ sauce, so when my parents came to visit I had them bring some BBQ sauce to give to my visiting family)celestial seasonings
  • Baseball caps or sports jerseys from wherever you are fromrockies jersey
  • Food mixes. For whatever reason a lot of people from other countries seem intrigued by all of our brownie mixes and pancake mixes (or perhaps are just interested in the convenience of it). Other food mixes like mixes for bean soup or anything like that would also make good gifts—especially if they are locally made.
  • Chocolate. Especially if you can get chocolate or candy from a local factory.You can rarely go wrong with getting chocolate, but just make sure that it is wrapped up well so that nothing melts in your suitcase!hammonds candy
  • Locally made soaps or perfumes. This gift is of course better for women.
  • Native American crafts or jewelry.
  • Any other food item that is special to where you live such as salt water taffy if you are from the coast.
  • Any other non food item such as clothing or jewelry or decorations that is somehow representative of where you are from also makes a good gift.

And always bring photos of yourself, your family, your friends, and where you live (including postcards)! It is nice to be able to show your family where you live!

*Blogger’s note: Think ahead- you may be placed with a family with small children, grandparents, extended family members, and people not listed on your housing assignment. Bring a few extra little items just in case. Postcards are easy, cheap, and a great way to share a bit of your home with your host family!

-Rosa Calabrese, DU Study Abroad Peer Advisor

Homestay Etiquette: night on the town

 

Many of you go abroad to gain independence and escape the safety bubble of your community and university. Friends, family and familiar scenery is replaced with strange smells, food, people and a family that you may or may not be able to communicate with. All of this is exciting, driving you to do and experience more.

All that being said, I’m sure you first time homestayers are a bit apprehensive about the prospects of living under the roof of parental surrogates and how that will influence your extracurricular activities. Rest assured your homestay families are not there to keep you prisoner. They are there for guidance and support and might even welcome the idea of you taking in the night life.

 

However, in order to ensure that your nocturnal activities do not create an unhealthy relationship between you and your host family, there are four rules I recommend you follow.

1. Enter quietly: A night on the town leaves one tired and sometimes confused. In addition, how is one supposed to navigate the intricate system of locks and gates in the middle of the night? Make sure to hone your skills during daylight hours so as not to become a nuisance to your family should you enter the house before sunrise.

Source: www.lockoutsolutions.com
Source: http://www.lockoutsolutions.com

2. Tell your family where you are going: Gone are the days when you gave limited information to your parents in an attempt at damage control from something you did or will do. Your host families will be genuinely interested in what is happening with young people in their country, not to mention your safety. Be honest, let them know where you are going and doing, they might even let you know of some good places to go.

3. Whatever you do, don’t raid the fridge: Many are partial to a late night snack after spending the night dancing, chatting and mingling with all the new and interesting people. If this is the case, make sure to take a snack with you or eat before you come home. Banging around dishes in the kitchen in the middle of the night is sure to wake up even the deepest of sleepers. Besides, who wants to be the one that eats that special cultural dish that your family was saving for a later date?

Source: guyism.com
Source: guyism.com

4.Don’t invite friends over to spend the night without prior approval: Two can cause more trouble than one. Bringing others back to your homestay without prior approval is a sure way to do something that your family might not approve of.

 

If you follow these four rules, I guarantee there will be no ill will between you and your homestay family. The next lesson will be what to say to your homestay family when you come home at 2 am to find a giant rat drinking out of the dog bowl. True story.

 

By Pablo Hester, DU Study Abroad Peer Advisor

 

Family Pressures? 10 ways to get your family excited about Study Abroad!

Is your family nervous about you going abroad? There are, of course, many reasons why your family is a little uneasy with you jet-setting around the world. First, they may have never been to the country or can even contemplate what life will be like in the country you’re going to. Second, they may have never studied abroad themselves and so the experience to them seems foreign. Third, they won’t be able to contact you as easy as they can here. Fourth, you’re just out of the nest and that in general makes them worried. For all of these reasons and the many others that come to mind, I’ve come up with great ways to combat the anxiety while you’re gone. My family felt the same way, so I know these work!

1)      Keep your family in the loop at all times!

2)      Give them all of your contact numbers, i.e. Office of International Education, Program phone/email, in-country contacts, host family’s phone/email, etc….

3)      Show them the DU Study Abroad website—they can check out the family tab, read stories from other students who have studied in your country and stay plugged in throughout the process

4)      Set-up regular times to chat with them, either over the phone, through email or on Skype—and stick to them!

5)      Don’t feel afraid to assert yourself when you’re family is overwhelming you with issues back home—set a time that you will talk to them, tell them you love them and that you’ll talk soon

6)      Keep a blog, so that your family can stay clued on to your life abroad.

7)      Take tons of pictures and upload them to your blog, flicker, Facebook, or another website that they can see and get excited about.

8)      If you make travel plans, try to let your family know, because they will probably be glued to the news making sure your country isn’t annihilated!

9)      If something does end up happening in your country, even if you are nowhere near it or at all involved, send your family an email verifying your safety!

10)   And….don’t forget to get them a little something before you leave!

Don’t forget…your family loves you and you love them!! Go enjoy every moment abroad!

Kelsey Guyette, OIE Peer Advisor