6 Worries You Shouldn’t Have About Your Host Family

by isvolunteers on Monday, 2 February 2015

costa rica host family

Fun times with her host family in Heredia, Costa Rica for the Spanish Language Program (c) Rachel Espejo, ISV alumni

For some volunteers, the host family stay during the optional seven day Spanish Language Program in Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic is the most sensational part, while for others, it’s the scariest part! That is, until they meet their wonderful host family and get immersed in the local culture! Read some reasons below as to why you should feel more excited than scared about staying with a host family during the one week Spanish language and cultural immersion program with ISV….

Note – ISV’s optional one week Spanish Language Program takes place prior to the Volunteer Project in our Latin American host countries.  The language and cultural immersion program involves staying with a host family, and about 60% of all volunteers during the May to September season (mostly North America and UK volunteers), and a staggering 80+% of our Nov-Feb season (AUS/NZ volunteers) take part.

So why do some volunteers initially feel that it’s scary to stay with a host family?

  1. You’ve never met your host family before. Sure, it’s natural that this will probably make you a bit nervous!  However, don’t worry as ISV staff and our Spanish Language Schools have met your host family, and we’ve developed great, longstanding relationships with our professional Spanish program partners- for about 10 years now.  Our Spanish schools are responsible for selecting, training and preparing each host family to take special care of ISV’s volunteers. Chances are, you’d be staying with a family that’s had lots of ISV volunteers before.
  2. Learn spanish

    Learning even a little Spanish will help you communicate with locals especially during the volunteer project (c) ISV

    You’re worried that they might not speak English. Ok, that’s understandable and a fair assumption to make; your host family might only speak Spanish. Just remember, the reason you are there is to learn Spanish, so you’re expected to practice!  Chances are your host mom or family members will understand a few words in English, and never forget the power of charades! You will be amazed what you can communicate with smiles and hand gestures alone.   Also, before you arrive, pick up a Spanish/English pocket dictionary or download an App and learn a few basic words to get you started, e.g. hola, gracias, etc.

  3. learn spanish abroad

    Most days during the one week Spanish Program you’ll be spending lots of time with fellow ISV volunteers, so you won’t be with your host family the whole time.

    You’re worried about staying on your own.  Here’s why we try and place volunteers singly in homes rather than together on the Spanish Program. First, it spreads the income across numerous host families (instead of one family getting multiple incomes from multiple volunteers at the same time). Second, if you stay with your English speaking buddy, you’ll speak ENGLISH to them, not Spanish. The whole reason you’re there is to learn Spanish, right?  However, sometimes we do need to place volunteers together. You can communicate your preference to ISV either way if you feel strongly about it. Just remember that you are only really at the homestay in the morning and at night, so you’ll still have plenty of time to spend with other English-speaking volunteers at school and during free time so you’ll never feel really isolated.

  4. Host families

    “Loved my homestay” (c) Sarah Powers, ISV Alumni

    You are worried about your personal space. It’s customary to get your own room, or to share a room with a young host family member of the same gender. At all times in the homestay your personal belongings and space will also be respected. Just remember to keep your personal belongings neat and tidy out of respect for your host family, and as a way to avoid misplacing items.

  5. gallo pinto

    A typical breakfast in Costa Rica: gallo pinto and scrambled eggs.

    You’re concerned about not liking the food. I promise you, your “mama tica” or madre Dominicana is way more worried that you’ll like her food than you are! Generally you’ll be fed LOTS and if you are full, it’s ok to say “delicioso, gracias, pero estoy satisfecho”. (Delicious, thank you, however I am satisfied).  Seriously. As per all ISV programs, if you are vegetarian that’s no problem, although remember that diets in the DR and Costa Rica are typically high in carbohydrates (rice and beans, bread, pasta, patacones, etc.) but there will be fruit, salads and lots of things you will enjoy for breakfast and dinner. Lunch is provided at the school in the DR, and on your own in Costa Rica.  This is your first taste (literally) of local culture, and while the food may be different to what you are used to, that’s part of the experience.  You may even get to help and learn to prepare typical dishes of the country! If you have dietary restrictions you need to be prepared to bring or shop for additional /special items at local shops at your own expense – your host mom will help you find a store to help you find what you need.

  6. What if you just really aren’t happy with your host family?  Contact ISV right away. We’ll immediately work with you to identify what needs to change to make you feel safe and comfortable, even if that means changing to a new host family.  The important thing is that you communicate your concerns with us right away.
homestay family

This could be your host family for the one-week Spanish Language and Cultural Program with ISV in Costa Rica!

Based on the feedback from all previous ISV groups, your host family stay should be a highlight of the one-week Spanish Program.  The host families are warm, welcoming, experienced and provide you with a safe, enjoyable and comfortable home in which to stay every night. They are also eager to learn about you and your family back home.  Keep in mind that volunteers are guests in their homestay, and it is essential that volunteers are respectful to their host families and follow the code of ethics and guidelines that are explained at the orientation meeting by the School. But as mentioned, if at any time you feel unsafe or unhappy with the arrangement, let ISV and your Spanish School know immediately and we will help you.

There is no better way to learn about the real culture of countries but by living with them, experiencing their everyday life, schedule, diet, activities and time together. Taking part in the one week Spanish Language and Cultural Program in Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic  is your chance to be immersed into the culture before launching into the Volunteer Project.

Here’s a few testimonies from recent Spanish programs:

“I loved every moment of the homestay experience. You learn so much and connect with so many people.” Natalie Pavlish, (University of Nebraska Omaha)

“I have really enjoyed my time in Heredia. My host family were lovely and made me feel very welcome.” Rebecca McLaughlin, (Canterbury University)”

“In the past week, I have learned so much more than I ever thought I would. The teachers at the Spanish school are amazing and I loved the chance to live with a local family and be immersed in the culture.” Teresa  Liu, (Queens University)

“My family was so great. So generous and really accepted us into their family.” Sophie Dixon, (Notre Dame University)

“The Spanish week helped me understand the language. The experience of living with a host family was the best way to experience culture first hand and get to know locals!” Rachel Oosterhof, (Lakehead University)

“This has been an amazing experience in just one week! Through both the Spanish school and our wonderful host family, we were personally immersed into the different culture and people.” Kate Luo, (McMaster University)

There are plenty more – please ask our office if you’d like to see some.  In short, we really encourage you to consider doing the optional one week Spanish Program if travelling on an ISV program to Costa Rica or the Domincan Republic. The host family component promises to be a highlight of your stay and a great introduction to local culture.  After all, the gift of international travel is made ever-more sweet through the connections and interactions between people, and you really couldn’t ask for a better gateway than this one.  Go for it!

 To learn more about ISV and our programs please visit our website or contact our office today!

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