Full cultural immersion is an important part of Greenheart Travel programs. Most of our programs include homestay accommodations, and we truly believe that there is no better way to experience a new culture, country or language than living like a local while traveling abroad. Our Greenheart Travel Intern, Joel Freeman, knows from experience and shares his top 5 reasons to try out a homestay.
1. Cultural Knowledge
Simply put, the amount you will learn in a homestay is almost overwhelming. Language, politics, history, culture, people, trends, these are just some examples of things that a homestay will help you learn and understand. I can vividly remember eating our third course (cheese) with my host father, Francois, and talking about the French presidency as if it were last night. Being in an engaging conversation about someone else’s culture is not only a learning experience for you but often times, a real pleasure for the person you are talking to.
2. Seeing places you would have never dreamed of visiting
My host mother, Cecile, can take all the credit for the reason as to why I am in love with nature. One weekend morning she took me on a hike with her friends. Initially, I thought how easy it would be, some nice hills, a cool breeze. How naïve I was. Slippery slopes, wet paths, climbing, snow, maneuvering around trees, boulders, flowing volcanoes, earthquakes, chivalric sword ba-okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. All in all, not an easy trip. The climb itself was beautiful and then I got to the top. If it weren’t for Cecile and her friends I never would have been on top of a mountain with what felt like the whole world within my view. If anyone else has done that, they can understand the complete ecstatic feeling you get. Lucky enough for me, Pau was in the center of many diverse landscapes because another weekend I got to spend my time watching surfers from a 40 ft. sand dune on the Atlantic Ocean. Both of those unforgettable moments were all thanks to my host mother.
3. Minimize Homesickness
Even the toughest of people will get homesick at times. I thought that that would never happen to me because I wanted to go to France so badly but, I was wrong. You miss holidays, birthdays, and parties and at times you can get down. However, the pros so heavily outweigh the cons that it is easy to get out of that state of homesickness. Also, your host family is extremely helpful. They understand how awkward it can be living in someone else’s home but they sincerely will help you make you feel better. Whether it may be a great meal, a board game or a night where everyone watches a show together (for us it was Le Grand Journal) those little moments help you and changes the focus of being sad about being away from home to being happy about having this unique opportunity.
I cannot lie, studying abroad can be a destabilizing experience. Everything is new and foreign, chances are if you met fellow Americans, they probably are from a completely different place (my best American-Study Abroad friend is from Idaho). In a time where you are somewhat uncomfortable, uncertain, and lacking confidence, you want something to “come home to.” A homestay can alleviate many troubles you have, and chances are you don’t have to worry about buying toilet paper, or scavenging for meals on a Sunday because every thing is closed then in Europe. Your homestay family gives some normality in a time where “normal,” “typical” or “just another day” doesn’t accurately describe your life.
This is probably the most obvious of them all. I cannot imagine what life would have been like without tartiflette, raclette, boudain, hundreds of cheeses, pain au chocolat, les petites madeleines (both the food and the symbolism), and the wines. Being on a student budget, I did not eat out much but, when I was out on the town picnicking with friends and enjoying un bon plaisir de vie I was actually able to make an educated cheese and wine decision thanks to my host family. This may not seem like a big deal, but in France even the smallest of grocery stores will have at least 30 cheeses from at least 3 different animals and being able to correctly identify them felt as good as scoring the winning touchdown at the Super Bowl would (probably).