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Is a Guatemalan HOMESTAY for you? The PROS and CONS

One of the most effective ways to learn Spanish fast is through total immersion. This is probably the main reason why homestays for Spanish students are so popular. Living with a local family, you’re surrounded by Spanish all day and you’ll quickly learn how to communicate in the language. However, a homestay is not for everyone. Before you sign up, you need to think carefully and ask yourself if a homestay is the right option for you. Here are some of the pros and cons of a homestay in Guatemala:


Pros:

1. You’ll get lots of practice in Spanish

The secret to making your Spanish classes worth it is to practice what you’ve learned, and to practice as much as possible. Staying with a local family, you’ll get much mmore practice than you would have if you stayed in a hostel where everyone knows how to speak English.


2. You’ll experience local culture more profoundly

Guatemalan – and especially Mayan – culture is fascinating and probably unlike anything you know. The best way to learn more about local culture is to experience it through the eyes of people who live that culture every day. With a homestay, you truly see how Guatemalan people live.


3. You get to share your own culture

Of course you don’t want to force your own cultural ideas upon others but a homestay is the perfect opportunity for connecting cultures. You can share information about your own country, for instance by making your host family a traditional meal or singing songs from back home. You get to be an ambassador for your country and your culture and dispel some of the myths people might believe about where you come from.


4. You don’t have to spend as much money on meals

With a homestay, most of your meals will be provided. Even better is that you’ll get to eat local, home-cooked food, which will make a welcome break from all those burgers you can buy at restaurants. You may also be included in the preparation of these meals and learn how to cook Guatemalan dishes without having to attend cooking classes.


5. You’ll get insider tips

Guidebooks ad Tripadvisor can tell you only so much about the town or village you live in. With a homestay, you get insider tips: where to find the best produce at the market, who the best person is to guide you on a hike, even where to go if you have a medical emergency.


6. You will save on additional costs

A travel budget has to cover more than just accommodation, food and transport. You have to think about things like laundry and internet access too. Many homestays include those little extras so you don’t have to fork out more for them.


7. You make new friends

When a family welcomes you into their home and their lives, you will inevitably become closer to them than if you simply met them on the street. You make friends that you wouldn’t have made otherwise. By the end of your stay, you may even have gained your very own Guatemalan mom, dad and abuelos!


Cons:

1. It can be intimidating

Few things can make you feel as excluded as being surrounded by people speaking a language you don’t understand. Especially if you’re an absolute beginner in Spanish, you may find the prospect very intimidating. While most homestay families will go out of their way to make you feel welcome and included, it can still be very intimidating staying in people’s home rather than in a hostel.


2. Mealtime can become difficult if you have dietary restrictions

When you eat with a local family, you don’t have as many choices in what you’ll be eating. This can be a little difficult if you have dietary restrictions or food allergies. However, you can easily overcome the challenge by letting the host family know beforehand what you can and can’t eat. Most host families will go out of their way to accommodate you.


3. You have less freedom to go where you want, when you want

With a homestay, you have to consider the host family’s schedule. You can’t really stay in bed until noon if everyone else in the household is up and running by six in the morning. You have to consider when mealtime is and if you can’t make it, you need to let the family know. You can’t come stumbling in at two in the morning. So, you’re more restricted in your movements.


4. You won’t come into contact with other travelers as much

In a hostel, you get to hang out with fellow travelers from all around the world. With a homestay, you’ll be spending most of your time with your host family. This doesn’t mean that you’ll be completely isolated from other travelers but it does mean that you will need to make an extra effort to meet them. For instance, you can become involved in volunteer projects. Some schools, like San Pedro Spanish School, are very involved in community projects and can hook you up with a suitable volunteer program.


5. You have to abide by your host family’s rules and ways of doing things

If you’re used to the freedom that traveling gives you, it can be hard to have to live by someone else’s rules or do things their way. Sometimes your host family may have beliefs and habits that are directly in contrast with your own. The secret to dealing with this is to keep an open mind, to remember that your way isn’t necessarily the only way and to adapt. It will also help to find out about cultural differences beforehand so that you don’t unintentionally cause offense.


6. You may not get along with your host family

While schools like San Pedro Spanish School carefully vet their host families before placing students, there is always the possibility that you simply don’t like your host family. If your homestay becomes too stressful, contact your Spanish school and explain the problem. They may be able to place you with someone else.

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© 2017 Study Spanish in Guatemala. 

Photography by Rene de Carufel / additional images by Martin Gray

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