University students are increasingly seeking study abroad programs. We look at how including a homestay experience can help students make the most of their trip by immersing themselves into a new culture in an authentic and life-changing way.
By Kagumu Adventures Staff
Posted on 22/11/2019
According to international study information resource Open Doors, almost 10 per cent more students studied abroad in 2018/19 compared to 2016/17. The increase suggests that colleges, universities and students are seeing overseas learning as a way to gain new skills and/or enhance existing ones while immersing themselves into a new culture. Although many study abroad programs offer excellent courses, one ingredient is essential for students to make that deep, long-lasting connection to the country they are visiting.
Unlike hotels and hostels, a homestay trip allows students to live with a local in their house, sharing in their daily routine and taking part in family activities.
Daily life at a homestay
Students enjoy this cultural exchange by communicating daily with their new families, in their adopted tongue, and learning how they live, eat, and work, all while discovering different family values and cultural traits.
Jake Sager, a 17-year-old student from Pacific Ridge, San Diego, travelled with Kagumu Adventures in June 2019, living with a family in the outskirts of Medellín, Colombia.
"The homestay was an incredible way to legitimately connect with Colombians and discover what their culture is like,” Jake said.
“I was beyond lucky to be spoiled by an incredibly open, loving, and kind family."
On a regular day, Jake ate a traditional Colombian breakfast of eggs, fruit and of course fresh Colombian coffee, prepared by the mother of the house Marisol Ortega. He would speak Spanish with her husband and two children before heading out to volunteer with local environmental and community service projects.
“At night, I would sometimes play cards with José (Marisol’s son) or walk to my neighbours' house to play games of bingo and even dance salsa,” Jake added.
It’s easy to see why a homestay in Colombia would appeal to college and university students seeking study abroad programs. Colombians are often voted among the friendliest people in the world with their vibrant, colorful culture - filled with music, dance and flair - instantly bewitching visitors.
A mutually beneficial experience
And it’s not just the visitors who find the homestay memorable, and life-changing; locals benefit too.
For the hosts, the extra income will be a timely boost, and the opportunity for cultural exchange invaluable.
Marisol said: “We are so happy to welcome visitors into our houses”
“In Colombia, we are very friendly, talkative and cook very well. And of course, we love to dance salsa, merengue and other traditional dances. We see the homestay as a chance for them to learn from us and us to learn from them.”
Marisol runs a beautiful plant nursery where she grows native trees to supply to reforestation projects across Colombia. Having seen the positive effects and cross-cultural learning opportunities from welcoming foreign students into her house, many neighbours have shown a desire to sign up to the program.
“We were eating a sancocho (a typical Colombian soup) with the students one day and lots of locals came round to ask what was happening. Once we explained,” Marisol said, “they all asked how they could get involved.”
Kagumu currently works with six associated host families that are located 40 minutes from Medellín in a forested region called Santa Elena. Here students live in traditional houses surrounded by Andean mountains, sprawling forests and an abundance of wildlife.
To find out more about summer abroad experiences with Kagumu Adventures click here.
Gathering pace among travellers is a trend known as voluntourism. A report from Travelocity showed that in 2019, one in four Americans will volunteer while on vacation. We consulted seasoned traveller, author and volunteer worker, Nick Milne, to gauge the ethical issues of voluntourism.
By Nick Milne
Posted on: 16/6/2019
You’ve always wanted to volunteer abroad and make a difference. You are conscientious, educated, and passionate about supporting people. So, volunteering your time and expertise in a foreign country is a good thing, right?
Well, yes. And no...
First, some background on me.
I am a white British middle-class male with experience volunteering across Latin America, Africa and Asia. I have taught children English in Ghana, built sustainable tourism programmes in Argentina, worked as a social enterprise consultant in Nepal and fundraised for a mining NGO in Colombia.
All those experiences combined with a Masters in Development, have shaped my perspective on voluntourism. I believe there are several important factors when considering whether volunteering is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and for whom it may be good and bad:
1. The Real Problem and Appropriate Solution
Firstly, there needs to be a clear problem that needs fixing that can’t be solved locally.
Let's take an example. Children can’t learn English to a decent level as local teachers lack the English skills to teach them.
One solution is to utilise the volunteer’s native language skills and teach the children English. Win-win, right? Well, no. Essentially you are taking a paid job away from a local teacher, potentially giving money to an International NGO or business that has facilitated the exchange, and created a dependency on foreign support.
And the problem isn’t the children learning, rather local teachers not being able to teach them. So, what’s the solution?
A feasible solution could be a teacher of teachers’ programme, whereby volunteers train the teachers, enhancing their language teaching skills and empowering them to teach English.
Volunteering is good when it utilizes people’s skills, experience and expertise to address clearly identified problems in a local context.
Understanding the local context and working with those affected by issues will help in the development of sustainable solutions, for example, from the case above you would involve the teachers in the creation of the volunteering programme and get their buy-in from the start.
2. Appropriate Skills and Who Benefits
Once the need and the design of the volunteering project are clear, it is down to the appropriateness of your skillset to address the problems. And here lies one of the biggest problems.
When I volunteered in Colombia, an orphanage needed support looking after children whose parents left them at home while they worked the streets or suffered from substance abuse problems.
I was willing, educated but my basic Spanish wasn’t great, however, I enjoyed playing football and games with the kids. What’s wrong with that?
I enjoyed the experience (mostly) and the orphanage received an extra pair of hands, however; my ability to support the children was limited due to my lack of Spanish and professional care experience. I left after four weeks.
In hindsight, I probably made things worse for the kids. Children in an orphanage can have attachment issues. It doesn’t help them, to grow attached to people who leave after a month.
Unless you are a skilled care worker or professional teacher, spending a few weeks in an orphanage will benefit you, maybe the organisation you’re supporting, but it doesn’t necessarily make things better for the kids.
I am fully behind skilled volunteering that has a positive impact for all involved but it should never be at the expense of those you’re trying to help.
3. Time and Money
Along with the appropriateness of my skills, a vital issue was time. I committed two days a week for a month. This wasn’t enough. You can’t have a significant impact on challenging circumstances in short timeframes.
Combined this with the fact people spend money to volunteer, and you have a recipe for trouble.
When you are paying to volunteer, you are paying for an experience. The rise of voluntourism with participants spending thousands of pounds for an experience often exacerbates local problems and can, if executed poorly, feed foreign entities rather than empowering locals.
If you are going to pay for volunteering, pay a local organisation, not a foreign one and if you are going to do it, stay for several months, not weeks.
I believe volunteering can be a positive experience, you just need to be aware of your own skills, be confident the organisation you are supporting has a sustainable solution to the problem and the beneficiaries of the project (ie the kids at an orphanage) are at the forefront of the design of the programme.
Some of my fondest memories abroad were spent teaching English in a dusty classroom and working alongside warm-hearted locals supporting them to tackle complex issues.
Volunteering done right will have a positive impact on other people’s lives and give you memories that will live with you forever. Just make sure you go into it having done your research.
Nick Milne is originally from Edinburgh. A former Latin America luxury travel consultant, entrepreneur, international charity worker, traveler and writer, he has had the fortune to visit over 50 countries but the misfortune to lose his Scottish accent on the way. He is the author of a new book Life Expands: A Travel Comedy Romance. Learn more at www.lifeexpands.com
Three weeks with the amazing Kagumu tour company – in the capable hands of Simon and Mateo. Here’s just a few photos of the amazing time we had.
There are so many more different experiences and sights of what Colombia offers, which is 5 times bigger than UK. For example, 2 seas, whales, coral, jungle, wildlife, desert, incredible rock formations, high altitude mountains in protected national parks, eco hotels, art, historical and trendy cities and towns and villages and lots of history and culture – and friendly people.
By Clive Davis