Want to experience a country or local community for what it really is? Homestays are the way to go!
I just finished a five-night homestay in San Luis, Costa Rica, and it was an incredibly rewarding experience. If you’re looking for a full immersion approach to your travels, I would highly recommend this route.
So, what is a homestay? In simple terms, it’s staying with a local host family in their community to learn about culture, daily life, and language. But a homestay is really much more than a simplified experience.
For the past six days, I stayed with a local couple, Aidee and Misael. I became an integral part of their family, not just a guest staying in an extra room.
My days consisted of waking up early, having breakfast together as a family with the typical gallo pinto (rice and beans), and accompanying Aidee or Misael on their daily activities.
I rode an ATV with Misael to their farm parcel at Finca la Bella to learn about the different vegetables grown in Costa Rica and also the process of growing coffee.
Back at the house, I would watch Aidee as she cooked homemade Costa Rican dishes like chicarrones, or pork rinds, and miel de chayote, a dish similar to pumpkin that is simmered in pure cane sugar and cinnamon. I helped her sweep the floors and followed her to collect eggs from the chickens. One afternoon we picked a chicken in the yard to cook for lunch, and I watched Misael and his son make the preparations (talk about fresh).
As I grew closer to my homestay family, I was introduced to their children one by one until I met the entire family. They were all incredibly kind and accommodating, always including me in conversation and exercising patience with my limited Spanish.
On the weekend, they invited me on their family excursion to the Guacimal River. We relaxed outside and made sopa de carne (beef soup), drank coffee all day, and rode horses. It was truly a cultural experience that helped me to understand what a Costa Rican family is all about.
Laura, the agriculture intern at UGA Costa Rica, did her first homestay the summer of 2009 and says that she has stayed with the family many times since then. She regularly visits them now, probably three to four times a week, to have dinner or just to visit for the afternoon. For her, the most rewarding part of the experience was that she felt like part of the family and as a result, felt like a part of the local community. She says that the homestay experience helps you feel more comfortable in the community and more confident in immersing yourself in similar experiences.
Convinced that a homestay is for you? I encourage you to seek out sources to arrange one if so. They are offered in Costa Rica and many other countries as well. It’s definitely an unforgettable experience that you will cherish forever.
Article and photos: Kristy L. Densmore, photojournalism intern