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Student Stories from Around the World

Tag: homestay

Home Away From Home

The path through the Mahangu leading to my family's home

The path through the Mahangu leading to my family’s home

For over a week, I spent time living with the Uugwanga family in the rural village of Outapi in northern Namibia. Together, we lived on a farm growing Mahangu and raising chickens. I was the first student that my host family had welcomed into their home that they built themselves. The home is very modest but my family is absolutely amazing. Only my host mom spoke much English but that didn’t stop us from hanging out, telling stories, playing games, and getting to know one another.

My host family's home and the pipe leading into the crops.

My host family’s home and the pipe leading into the crops.

All of the water that my family used came from a spicket outside of the house. The spicket pumped water up from an underground well near the house. We used this spicket for everything in the house by filling buckets at the spicket and carrying them around the house. My family worked hard to conserve the water that they had. For instance, when my host father noticed that the spicket was leaking slightly, instead of letting it drip, he put a bucket underneath it and was able to gather a few bucket loads over the course of a day that would have been wasted otherwise. In order to shower, we filled a five-liter bucket with water and carried it into a small room in the house designated for showering. In order conserve the water that was used for showering, my host father actually installed a pipe that lead out of the showering room and into the crops behind the house so that the water would runoff into the field and water the crops.

Playing keep away with Pini

Playing keep away with Pini

The interactions I had with my family were absolutely incredible and I quickly learned how to communicate without language. I did learn some Oshiwambo, which is the local language, but I mostly communicated through actions. My best friend on the trip was my 3-year-old host brother, Pini, who claimed me as his own. Pini and I developed our own language and spent almost all of our time together playing keep away or running around the house. Pink was also a troublemaker and never ceased to entertain me, whether it be his dancing or his obsession with my camera or his contagious laugh.

Traditional buildings at the family Easter celebration

Traditional buildings at the family Easter celebration

My host family brought me to their church to celebrate the baptism of my 3-month-old host sister, August, and we also had a huge celebration at our home where I was able to meet the whole family. I also was able to attend Easter services with my family that were held at the cemetery in order to emphasize the idea of rebirth. After Easter services, there was a huge celebration at the home of some extended family where almost 80 family members attended. At the celebration, I was introduced to many people and was also given the honor of helping to prepare the meat. This meant that I had to help slice up the freshly slaughtered cow that was hanging on a wall. While it was probably one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever done, it also meant that I got to eat some of the most delicious steak I’ve ever had.

Oh and I ate some worms too.

Oh and I ate some worms too.

Me and my host family. From left to right: baby August, Florencia, my host father David, Pini, Maggie, and Me

Me and my host family. From left to right: baby August, Florencia, my host father David, Pini, Maggie, and Me

Saying goodbye to my family at the end of the week was extremely difficult because even though it had been such a short time, we had grown extremely close and had learned so much from one another. On the final night with my family, I gave them gifts and pictures of my family so that they could remember me. We also went on a photo shoot around the farm so that we could have pictures with each other. The next morning, my host parents wanted to give me something in return so they gathered up a picture of my host mother and her class (she is a preschool teacher) and my host dad gave me one of his traditional shirts. We then all had to say our goodbyes as Pini and my host sisters, Maggie and Florencia, walked me out. I’ll cherish my memories with them as long as I live and hopefully I can come back to visit again someday.

The beautiful sunset over the Mahangu

The beautiful sunset over the Mahangu

Healing Scars

South Africa. It’s a country that has been constantly pushing forward trying to overcome its past. Its land is vibrant and beautiful and its people are the same. Our first weeks in this program were spent studying this country, its people, and its history that has changed its landscape forever. Coming into this experience, I didn’t know a whole lot about South Africa or its history. I knew about Nelson Mandela and had watched Invictus, a film about how Nelson Mandela used the South African National Rugby team to unite the country,  and had heard a bit about the word apartheid, but I had barely scratched the surface of what this country had in store for me.

Me in front of Nelson Mandela's home

Me in front of Nelson Mandela’s home

In our first week, we traveled through the city of Johannesburg where we met with many different historians, economists, and people who had lived through Apartheid. What I quickly came to learn was that Apartheid was not some scarred event in South Africa’s past but it is very present in the everyday lives of South Africans even today. Apartheid had officially ended in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected president during the first open elections. This ushered in a new constitution that created political freedom for all people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. The contradiction here, though, is that although everyone received political freedom, they did not gain economic freedom. South Africa is the most economically divided country in the world where the top percentage of the population owns most of the land and resources in the country. I noticed many similarities between the struggles of South Africa and that of the United States. With the US Presidential elections around the corner, the issues of divided wealth and political corruption have been at the forefront of the debates. Even though South Africa is on the other side of the world, they are dealing with the very same issues.

This is a powerful part of Freedom Park. People come here to meet their former oppressors and seek apologies and forgiveness.

This is a powerful part of Freedom Park. People come here to meet their former oppressors and seek apologies and forgiveness.

These problems in South Africa arise from their difficult past. Many South Africans lost their farms, homes, and livelihoods to the Apartheid government and after 1994 they did not receive any of that land back from the billionaires who now own it. This creates a severe contrast in living conditions between most white South Africans and black South Africans. In Johannesburg, we spent some time near the malls and in the affluent areas downtown. We were also able to experience the other end of the spectrum in Soweto, which holds between 3 and 4 million people in 30 townships. This area was the land that black South Africans were banished to during the Apartheid government and many have been unable to leave due to widespread poverty. Others choose to stay because they have become established in Soweto and feel a close connection to the land and its people. I spent a weekend living with a host family in the Orlando area of Soweto, where I got to experience the extent of poverty in South Africa firsthand.

View of Soweto in Johannesburg

View of Soweto in Johannesburg

Our host family had a fairly modern home but you could still see the difference just by taking a look out the window. The house directly across the street was a small home with a tiny yard. In that tiny yard, the family had rented out the land for ten different families. Each family resurrected a small one room shack for their family to live in. So this tiny little yard was home to over 45 people that could coexist in such poor conditions. That was one thing I noticed immediately about South Africa, the community. People would look out for one another, and if a fight broke out in the street, everyone in the area would run to the rescue to break up the fight. It was interesting to compare these things to the United States, where our focus is very much so on individual prosperity rather than supporting the community. If a fight were to break out on the street in the United States, people would not intervene but instead watch in awe or even encourage it.

The front of my Host Family's house

The front of my Host Family’s house

My host family took me to church which was held in a small one room schoolhouse with about 25 people sitting in school desks. South Africans tend to have a different sense of time as compared to many Americans. Many do not put the same value on the phrase “time  is money” and they choose to not rush through their day to day activities. Because of this, church becomes an all day event. The first hour and a half of the service, the pastor didn’t say a word. Instead, members of the congregation got up and said a few words or, more often than not, someone would randomly start singing a song and then everyone else would join in. This happened consistently for almost two hours and continued periodically throughout the pastor’s sermon. What I gained from this experience was that these people had a close-knit community that did not worry about rushing off to the next event, knew all of the songs off the top of their head, and they loved to interact with one another. I felt extremely welcomed and was even told that my sense of rhythm was, “unlike that of any white man they had seen before”, which I found rather entertaining. This was interesting to compare to what I know of church from my home congregation where people go to church just to check it off the list. People sneak in late and sneak out early and try to interact with as few people as possible. I can’t help but wonder how people at home would react coming into this new and exciting environment, full of love, community, and the Holy Spirit. Hopefully, I can bring some of what I learned from my South African friends and spread it to my own church community.

My host family's church inside one of the classrooms in the schoolhouse

My host family’s church is inside one of the classrooms of the schoolhouse shown

All in all, South Africa is a place that has been scarred by its history and forced into a difficult position where there exists political freedom for all of its people, but many people cannot escape the insurmountable strains of poverty set down by the Apartheid state. Because of this, there are still very distinct boundaries separating whites from blacks and racism is still very prevalent in the everyday lives of South Africans. Even though it has been over 20 years since the fall of Apartheid, South Africa is still a time of healing and well-needed growth and restructuring.

An Open Letter to my Homestay Families Abroad


10153777_10202732077600829_3644390842330758777_nTo Ma Chanza, Mama Bene, Visau, Kali, Damien, Valvuca, !Othema, Watson, Mama Catherine, and all of the other individuals who lovingly opened their homes to a foreign stranger, to those who fed me (usually too much!), to he who took me driving late at night around the township, to those who waited up for me to come home, to she who taught me how to bake fat cakes in the sun, to the small boy who jumped into my bed at 6am ready to play, to those who were patient with my awkward nature and unintentionally offensive behavior: I owe you (another) big fat thank you.


206036_1007396782959_9223_nThe words “Xie xie,” “Vinaka vaka levu,” “Eio,” “Asante sana,” or “Tangi unene” do not express the immense gratitude I feel towards you for calling me daughter.


I loved how content each of you were. I loved that when the sky was clear, you were all together, running outside or relaxing under the shade of a tree. I loved that the land you live on is meant to be walked on with bare feet. I loved the boisterous sounds of the school children. I loved the fresh fruit – mangoes, bananas, avocadoes – best enjoyed in the company of others, fruit juice dripping down your forearms. I loved the fragrant frangipane you wove in your hair. I loved the fireworks you watched as a family after overindulging on dumplings.


I did NOT love the roosters’ early morning cock-a-doodle-doo’s, though I suppose nothing is perfect.


But above all else, the feeling that sticks with me in my heart of hearts, the 200185_1007830593804_9836_nlesson I’m continuing to unpack even years later is this: the tangible, thick sense of community that hung in every corner of your home, and the doors that were always open to company, including mine. This idea of togetherness transcended the borders that divided the families that welcomed me.


Studying abroad is for learning by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s for being exposed to different ways of living. It’s for challenging your notions of self, for questioning our own culture, for growing your compassion. Thank you for giving me that and more.



Megan, “Meihua,” “Luvequ,” “Meggie”


>> I anticipated learning a lot while studying abroad – but severely underestimated how much I would learn while doing my homestay. From the quiet pleasure of sitting in silence with my family to effective techniques for hand washing my clothes, no experience during my semester abroad was as impactful, confusing, uncomfortable, rewarding, or insightful as the few weeks living with my homestay family.


251007_1896280484496_7552402_nI won’t say that a homestay is a cake walk. It’s tough. It’s awkward. You feel FOMO from your other friends in their homestays. You milk goats (seriously, goats). You ride in donkey carts in the high noon heat. You are forced to eat first while your family members sit idly by and watch. You sit on the floor all the time. You run out of things to say. There are bugs, rats, cats, donkeys, puppies, chickens laying eggs in your bed.
It ain’t always pretty, but I’ll be darned if it wasn’t entirely worth it. Trust me: you’ll know what I’m talking about when you have your first “Is this my life?” moment when your family (and heart) grows despite being thousands of miles away from Valpo.

Finding a Family in Katutura

I’m back from my second homestay and about four weeks into my crazy, exciting adventure in Africa.  It has certainly been a fun few weeks and I’m pretty sure the last five days takes the cake.  Thank you for everyone who has been patient with my horrible updating schedule.  We actually broke the internet so wifi has been hard to come by.  However… here are some highlights of my super fun last couple of days:

-My host family was Ovambo and speaks Oshiwambo primarly.  This was such a great language learning opportunity!  They also run a kindergarten and I had six host siblings, 2.5 weeks old to twenty-one years.  This meant small children (YAY!) and people my age that I could hang out with… best of both worlds.

-I got to live in Katutura, which is a township of Windhoek, for five days which meant I was able to get outside the (occasionally touristy) bubble of Windhoek.

-I was able to learn so much about traditional Ovambo culture and language; I even got to wear a traditional Ovambo skirt and belt and necklace.

-I got to spend every evening with my amazing host brothers and sisters which was the best form of relaxation in the world.

-Kapana and Mangos, Kapana and Mangos.

-I was taken in like a long lost daughter by this family and never felt so at home when physically I’m so far away from it. (So grateful and blessed).

-I got to hold a little baby, run around with small children, and (attempt!) to learn how to cook each and every day which was such a cool experience.

-I figured out how to be out of my comfort zone and embrace it fully for a few days.

My Lovely Little Home

My Lovely Little Home

This urban homestay, for me especially, was an incredible new challenge and experience.  It was the first time since being here in Southern Africa that I really was thrust out of my comfort zone and learned how embrace flying by the seat of my pants.  I’m a big believer that if you’re not doing something terrifying you aren’t changing and you aren’t growing.  This growth has happened now twice: the first time was actually getting on the plane to come to Africa, the close second was staying with my family in Katutura.  It really allowed me to slow down, appreciate the small things, and relinquish control of things (sometimes).  It put me back in a home-environment and allowed me to build relationships with some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever encountered.   I loved spending evenings cooking with my oldest Host-sister or coming home and playing with the kids after a long day at school.  I loved that I had a true HOME to go to.

My two littlest host brothers.

My two littlest host brothers.


To be surrounded by a family with the kindest hearts and experience local Namibian culture is the biggest blessing I could have asked for.  Things that I hoped to see and feelings I hoped to experience while in Africa were all there in this family of eight.  I was able to take myself out of the critical-student/tourist/individual identity role and become part of a family where I could just listen and learn.  The experience allowed me to slow down and enjoy time with my little host brothers and gave me time with my camera that I had been ignoring.  It gave me a breakfast every morning with Meme (means Mother, in Oshiwambo) where she gave me a language lesson.  It required that I not have control all the time.  No internet? Oh well.  Dinner at various times? Ok.  Last minute adventuring?YES.  Living in Katutura gave me back something that I lost in growing up: the joy of living in the moment.  And as I lived in those moments, I was able to enjoy “just being”.  I was able to laugh harder, humble myself more, empathize better, care more, and love a lot harder.


My youngest and eldest host siblings

My youngest and eldest host siblings

My five days in Katutura were so badly needed and I don’t think I will ever be able to voice to my family what it meant to me.  It’s only now, in the recent days, that I have began to formulate what it really gave me beyond a great cultural experience, awesome food, and a family to love.  It settled my heart and gave it renewed joy that I hope I will be able to carry with me the rest of my time here in Africa.  I  feel like I am starting to now see the importance of my time here — just how much I am suppose to grow and a tiny glimpse  of the person I was designed & intended to be.  This adventure was more than a dream but a chance for something so incredibly great.  I hope that by the time I leave Africa in three short months I will have a fresh understanding of why I really came here, how the love of a family and other beautiful little things are just another representation of a greater, higher love; and that I am better able to view this heartbreaking world through a lens of goodness.
Here are some photos so far from the last few days.  I tried my best to capture my love for this family and the joy that they have and the joy that they instill in me.  I hope you are enjoying this adventure with me so far and like me, am excited for what the future holds



Mr Egg and the Chinese countryside

On Thursday morning Mr. Egg invited me visit his home. Mr. Egg (that’s his self-chosen English name) is a local who teaches English at a school near Yuquan Campus. We met a couple weeks earlier as Mr. Egg organizes informal weekly “English clubs” around Hangzhou. What I thought was going to be a couple hours at Mr. Egg’s apartment turned out to be an overnight trip into the Chinese countryside and an intimate look at (one form of) Chinese lifestyle.

We used Hangzhou’s extensive bus system to get out of the city. At one point where we switched buses we met up with Mr. Egg’s girlfriend, Sue, a nurse in Hangzhou. The Hangzhou bus system operates very similarly to those in the United States, with the exception of personal space—during rush hour many buses are packed to the doors. On our hour long journey into the countryside the bus “played” leap-frog with mountain bikers and moped riders. The bus stayed on a high way intermittently broken by stop lights. Besides in Beijing I haven’t seen any roadways around Hangzhou that would qualify as interstates, so even when the roads are not crowded the traffic is slower than in the U.S.

From a countryside bus station we took a brief taxi ride to Sue’s family home. When we arrived her parents were cooking lunch in a make-shift outdoor kitchen. Behind the kitchen her family’s new home was being built. We took a brief walk along the narrow lane around the neighborhood. Almost every home had a dog (for scare off thieves Mr Egg told me) and chickens roamed freely. Ponds, small vegetable patches, crumbling brick walls, groves of bamboo were wedged between houses and small fields of tea trees.

The rural homes were actually quite surprising to me. First off they almost all lacked any sort of grassy front yard which was instead almost wholly paved over. The homes themselves were quite large (I’d estimate +1,500 sq. ft.), built on a roughly square base, two or three stories, and with rather fancy exterior decorations. I wonder if the rather opulent exteriors had to do with the notion of “face”? The homes were also built entirely of concrete—almost as if they were a mini apartment.

Sue’s family was welcoming and seemed very relaxed, unfortunately communication was limited as it had to be translated by Mr Egg. Lunch was quite a feast, which Mr Egg emphasized was natural and organic—much of the produce had been grown by the family! Interestingly both at Sue’s and at Mr Egg’s we ate at different times from the parents (and grandparents). The food was far more than we could eat (and given how it was prepared I doubted it could be easily saved for leftovers). While I prefer not to waste food, I expect that over abundance of food was a purposeful way to honor guests and show one’s “wealth.”

Although Mr Egg referred to Sue as his girlfriend, they are what we’d call engaged, (Mr Egg refers to Sue’s parents as his in-laws). I learned that they will get married next year when Sue’s family’s home is finished. According to Mr Egg their “engagement” came by visiting both sets of parents and seeking their approval. Therefore “meeting the parents” is a pretty serious affair in China. Weddings (or at least Mr Egg and Sue’s) will have no formal service but instead be comprised of fancy dinner gatherings for friends and family at both of the family’s residences. I also learned that cohabitation is not frowned upon in China.

After lunch we took a taxi to Mr Egg’s small town where his father picked us up in a new Lexus SUV. We stopped by the family bamboo mat factory to move some mats inside in case it rained. The factory was worn but well kept, reminding me of the canneries in Alaska, and a pallet of boxes stamped with ‘Made in China’ was a quick reminder of how globalized even small businesses have become.

Mr Egg’s grandparents live with his parents in a large home nestled between steep bamboo forested hills. Actually, their old home still stands next to their new one. The old one is used as a garage for laundry, moped storage, and the old fireplace-heated bathtub. The interior of the house was surprisingly empty, exposed CFL bulbs often hung from cords poking out of the peeling and dirty plaster, cooking was done between a gas stove and woodfire heated wok, while a big flat screen TV broadcast CCTV the entire time.

Between meals we were offered tea along with nuts, grapes, dates, and dragon-fruit. After a dinner with similar food to lunch we visited Mr Egg’s aunt who lived just down the road and talked with her for a while. I asked Mr Egg about the Hong Kong protests, he was aware of them and seemed passively supportive, insinuating that democracy was probable eventually in China. It makes sense I guess, while China is economically expanding most people (such as Mr Egg) have little urge to disturb the political norm.

I never got the impression that countryside life was declining (whereas American small towns often seem to be struggling)—simply the job and entertainment offerings of cities were so much larger. Mr Egg felt bored at his family home. A funeral had taken place earlier in the day and Mr Egg told me briefly about it although his vague explanation exposed the growing distance of the younger generation from the traditions of his parents.

Overall I found the trip to be fascinating, from the style of countryside homes to the interactions of multigenerational households, to the focus on food as the center of hospitality in what was otherwise a very casual setting.

written 10/5/2014

Myself, Mr Egg and Henney (from Norway)

Myself, Mr Egg and Henney (from Norway)




Bamboo mats


Mr Egg’s family home


Outside Mr Egg’s family home



Just up the road from Mr Egg’s home


A hilltop tea tree plantation above Mr Egg’s home





Cooking dinner!


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