Living with a Host Family Abroad

Most of our volunteering abroad programs have volunteers stay with local host families. This can one of the most rewarding, challenging, and meaningful experiences of your volunteering trip abroad.

Your host family will treat you as family member. As such they will expect you to act respectfully and responsibly.

They will provide you with your own bed and meals; include you in family activities; and help you adjust to and learn about their culture.

Host families can also help you practice speaking their language.

Through conversations and other quality time, you will get an insider’s view of their belief systems and attitudes. And all of this in a nurturing, safe environment. Don’t be surprised if you make a long-lasting friendship with them!

Who are the host families

Our volunteers live with middle class families, most with children, with at least one person who speaks English. Your host mother will likely be a stay-at-home mom. All host families are paid by Cosmic Volunteers to host you. We also train them so that they understand all of the aspects of hosting foreign volunteers in their homes.

Host families and their home’s physical setting and amenities can vary considerably, depending on the host country and the locale. For example home-stays in a huge modern city like New Delhi will be entirely different from those in rural villages in Africa. Do not count on the family having WIFI, air-conditioning, cable TV, or comfortable beds.

Do not be surprised if there are several generations and extended family living at your house – such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, even grandchildren. There may also be non-family members living at the house such as domestic help (like “village girls” who come to big cities to work as maids in exchange for room and board and sometimes even school tuition).

How are host families chosen?

We choose our host families through the personal contacts of our local program coordinators. Sometimes even the local program coordinators serve as host families.

As you will probably learn on your trip, so much of life in emerging countries is based on personal contacts and influence, with lot of trust involved (the Chinese concept of Guanxi is a sort of example of this).

Many local families are even puzzled at the notion that they did not already know how to treat volunteers well; that they would need to be “trained” to do this (In Nepal for example a famous saying is “Athiti dewa bhawa” meaning “guests are Gods”).

Before you arrive at your host family

1. Find out who they are.

Before you leave home for your trip, we will give you send you the host family’s contact details as well as the names, ages, and gender of all household members. We will also let you know how far the volunteer project is from the host family, and how you would commute (public transport, walking etc.).

2. Contact them.

Arrange a day and time (with our help) to call your host family for a brief hello and introduction. An added benefit of this call is that your family back home will learn the logistics of making calls to the host country. Note that video calls and emails are sometimes possible for the host family, but don’t count on it because of poor-quality (and expensive) Internet connections locally.

3. Buy a small gift.

It is a wonderful idea (in any culture) to bring a small gift to your host family. What to bring? First ask us for advice, because we know the culture and your family well already. Chocolates are usually a good idea for host families anywhere (although think twice about giving sweets to school students and orphanage children due to tooth decay issues). Also consider practical gifts like picture frames, candles, and facial cleansers. An alternate approach is to buy a gift for the family after living with them and getting to know them (think new rice cooker or portable stove top).

Ten Rules of Etiquette at your Host Family

1. Keep your room and your appearance neat and tidy.

2. Let them know your food preferences (spicy, vegetarian etc).

3. Be polite and respectful. Say good morning and goodnight (Note that “thank you” is not commonly used in our countries). No loud music or late-night showers. No stumbling in from partying at 2AM. Let them know if you’re going to miss dinner or go on a weekend trip.

4. Get to know them. Ask questions about their family tree and history. Go with them for grocery shopping, religious events, and sport matches.

5. Learn a few words of their language. Just making the effort will endear you to them that much more.

6. No consumption of alcohol or illicit drugs.

7. Do not ask to borrow money from the family.

8. Do not use the family’s Internet or computer without permission.

9. Offer to do your own laundry (even though the family will likely do it for you or hire a neighborhood girl to do it)

10. Don’t bring people to the house without permission.

Handling Issues at your Host Family

Even with the best of intentions on both sides, it is certainly possible that conflict may arise between you and your host family.

First of all, remember that this is their household, not yours. So you should make every effort to learn their rules and follow them. They will have a strong paternalistic sense of responsibility towards you. As with their own children, for example, your host family will not understand or agree with your desire to come-and-go as you please, or to wear ear buds at the dinner table.

If any problems do arise between you and your host family, it is best to handle them quietly and with respect. Raising your voice or complaining behind their backs or calling your parents right away is not the best first step. Instead, approach the host mother or father and explain that you have a concern and would like to talk privately about it. If that doesn’t work, approach our local coordinators. And of course we in Philadelphia are always available to you 24 hours.