While volunteering in Ukraine I lived with a host family. It was just me and my host parents (and their cat). I was pretty nervous ... but it ended up being one of the best parts of my trip! When volunteering abroad with International Language Programs (ILP) you will be living in an apartment/dorm or with a host family, just depending on the location (we have volunteer opportunities all over the world!). Host families are all different, some will have kids and some will not. Some will be really involved in your experience abroad and some may not be as much, but no matter what you will gain a deep love for them and they will teach you so much.
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Even though it was something I was nervous about it really turned into a total highlight. Here are my top five reasons why I loved living with a host family!
I Saw The Coolest Places
Because your host families are locals, they will take you to places that locals know about — forget popular tourist attractions! My host family knew all the good restaurants, the cutest stores, the best souvenirs to buy when you live in Eastern Europe and the neatest things to do that I never would have done without their help. My host family really loved showing me their city when I there to teach English in Kiev.
I really got a local experience especially since I got to explore a city that my host family knew so well (plus they spoke the language). You can do a lot with research and just getting out and exploring with your group, but there are just experiences that can't happen unless you've got a local with you.
I Ate Like A Local
I may not have always appreciated this in the moment, but they fed me real Ukrainian food. Maybe the occasional pig liver pancakes were not my favorite thing to wake up to ... but I loved trying the food my host family loved. They introduced me to amazing food, drinks and desserts. They also taught me how to make some of the food and I still make it to this day.
Living with a host family meant tapping into the food culture of the country that I already loved so much. I'm so glad I can take that part of Ukraine (all of the recipes) home with me and share them with my family now.
They Loved America
My host parents loved learning about America and how I lived. They asked tons of questions, would let me show them pictures and my host dad was obsessed with American shirts (I had my family send him the one in the picture). I loved that they were excited to have me there and really wanted to get to know me and where I was from.
It was such a cool experience to talk about my country and my culture to people who were so wiling to share their own country and culture with me.
They Helped Me Learn Russian
My host mom spoke fluent English and it was very easy to communicate with her. My host dad on the other hand did not speak English except for a few basic words like "water" and "hello". He did know the "I Like To Move It Move It Song" and would sing that to me though!
Because my host dad didn't speak English it was a perfect time to put my Russian into practice. They were great at answering my questions and being patient as I tried to use what I was learning. I mean, I tried to learn the language before I left but learning it in Ukraine with people who were so patient (and so excited when I got something right!) really helped me learn the language.
I Was A Part Of Their Traditions
The Ukrainian people have many beautiful traditions. My host family involved me in those traditions by taking me to holiday celebrations and teaching my about their culture, something I would have missed out on if I was just living apartments with my ILP group.
When I was a volunteer in Ukraine, it was incredible to have a front row seat and get to learn about their traditions in a hands on way. They were very inviting and it was amazing to see how they embraced their culture.
Are you ready to volunteer abroad and live with a host family?