Do Homestays or Not?
If you are traveling with students on an international trip the goal should be to offer an authentic experience with a chance to see how the locals live. Many teachers look to offer a homestay and the opportunity to stay one or multiple nights with local families. While it is in our opinion the best possible experience you can have when visiting another country, there are certain details you need to pay attention to. Here are some questions you need to be asking:
1.) Are your homestays getting paid enough?
Many teachers often ask if they can stay in homestays to bring the price down of their trip. We have been operating our homestay project in Sitio de Mata for 14 years and we pay our homestays more than we pay any of our hotels. We do this for a number of reasons. First. It is a better experience. If the families work hard enough to give you a better experience than a hotel, then they should be rewarded for it. Second. Most families have never run a business and do not have a proper breakdown of what it costs to host guests. They see any money as earnings and companies simply bargain with families. Most if not all homestays are underpaid in many parts of the world. This is just like fair trade with coffee and chocolate. Educate yourself and be a smart and fair-minded consumer.
2.) City or Rural Setting?
A city setting is nice in certain parts of the world for access to touring the city. What you need to realize is that we live in a globalized world. This results in many cities being more culturally similar than they were 50 years ago. A rural setting often feels like a step back in a time machine. While things have also changed in rural settings, with access to internet and technology, the pace of life is slower and the old traditional habits of living are still intact.
Many rural settings offer the community experience with multiple generations in the same small area. Just one one small block in our Sitio de Mata Homstay project here in Costa Rica we have 4 generations. The village is made up of two large families one on each side of the soccer field.
This is a no-brainer question that all parents and administrators get nervous about. The best way to address this issue is to visit the homestays on an inspection trip prior to your trip with students. Here in Costa Rica for this exact reason we have been offering a free inspection trip for teachers every July. Once you meet the families in our homestay project it becomes an easy sell to administration and parents. If an inspection trip is not possible you need to at least ask for backround checks of members over 18 yrs old in the family, how close are houses to each other (benefit of rural settings is that houses are usually very close to each other in a small community). Also confirm that they are homestays that have rules, like an adult is always in the house and can adapt to dietary restrictions. You also need to be sure that there is always transportation available in the event you need to visit a medical clinic.
Those are just a few topics to consider when incorporating homestay visits into your international trip. Do your research and make the best of your homestay experience because it can be the most life changing, enriching part of the trip.