International Service Learning Study Abroad Handbook/Housing
There are multiple options for housing when you travel abroad for a short time, including dorms, host family stays, and hotels. You may also face the decision of choosing to stick together or splitting your group. This section will give some insight into the many options you have as well as explore ways you can learn about the conditions in the particular area you will be visiting.
Host Family Stays
Many students and travelers choose to seek a family with which to stay during their time abroad. This is known as a host family stay, or home stay, and provides a highly unique opportunity to the traveler. Typically homestays function through an organization, such as The International Homestay Agency, Gohomestay.com, and Federation EIL. These organizations are typically open to participation by those who are seeking a homestays, as well as those who are interested in hosting. Both future hosts and guests are required to fill out applications and the organization does their best to match them up to provide the best experience for both parties.
Why Should I choose a homestay?
By living with a homestay, you will find yourself in an incredible immersion into the culture of the region you are in. In this unfamiliar territory you will wake, eat, sleep, live, and talk with people who call it home. You will have the chance to practice the language with native speakers, to participate in activities unique to the culture, and experience firsthand, the way of daily life with the people who live it. 
Anything to Be Afraid of?
Regardless of whether you choose to live in a hotel, dorm, homestay, or another option, you will travel to a place that is different from what you know. The climate, culture, habits, food, sanitation, living standards, family life, and expectations will be different from what you are accustomed to. This however is nothing to be afraid of. It is important to research these things prior to your journey, but know that information in a book or on a website may not actually be the case when you are abroad. The best way to avoid fear is to ask questions and simply immerse yourself in the culture. While joining an unknown family may be intimidating, it is an excellent way to learn about the country you are traveling to in an intimate way.
Student Group Living
A possible living situation a student might face is student group living. This a is a broad term used to refer to a situation where students are living together. It could be an group of individual students from various parts of the world gathered for the purpose of studying abroad or a group of students from the same university sharing a space while overseas. Either way, there are a number of things to consider before and during your trip in a student group situation.
Perhaps the most important thing is your relationship to those sharing the space with you. Having a civil relationship with these individuals can improve your overall experience drastically. Therefore, be conscience of your actions and how you treat the shared space. Respecting the possessions of others is very important. Generally, a code of conduct is issued to students living in a student-designated area. Your actions should generally comply with these different rules. For example, University Residences at Western Washington University has a Residential Community Handbook. It outlines how a students should conduct themselves within their space identifying issues such as theft, noise, possession of alcohol and illegal substances, and more. Considering these guidelines can be very helpful in building amiable relationships with the individuals of the group.
If conflict occurs, it is best to have a pre-established way to deal with it. By communicating with your roommates early on and discussing possible ways of handling potential conflict, you will hopefully be able to work through the conflict in an organized, civil manner. Before leaving, those of us going to Kenya during the summer of 2011 discussed this extensively. We took into consideration ways to avoid conflict, and way to handle negative situations when they occur. By doing this, we were able to open the channels for communication and articulate what the best way to approach these issues would be.
Hotels are beneficial to the communities they are built in. Many hotels though do not take advantage of this opportunity and end up exploiting the local communities. This occurs when the use beaches and areas that were once open for public access becomes prohibited to the people living in the region. Many hotels will buy the land, turning it into private property only to be enjoyed by travelers, who often have much more money than the local population. Some of these hotels are under corrupt management and the revenue does not circulate throughout the community.
Hotels do exist though where the local communities can benefit from their presence. This usually requires more research on the traveler’s part though. Look into the community you are visiting and learn about the history. Who owns the hotel? Are local community members employed? Does the hotel’s location prevent local people’s access from natural resources and recreation? If these hotels are owned and operated responsibly and sustainably, their presence can have a positive outcome in the community by creating jobs and a shift from other destructive industries (such as mining in Marinduque).
Hostels represent an alternative to staying in a large and often expensive hotel. Companies like Hostels International (provide travelers with a vast list of hostels that are rated according to a star system representing the overall cleanliness, comfort and safety. Many of the hostels recommended are dormitory style so as a traveler you are given the opportunity to easily interact with other tourists and even community members.
If you decide to stay in a hotel, you will be more isolated from the local community. If you still want to immerse yourself in the local community though, there are options for your hotel stay. For example, one company actually allows you to work at a hotel abroad in exchange for room and board expenses. This is similar to au pair jobs, but instead focuses on gaining experience in other industries like hospitality businesses. These programs though usually have minimum stay requirements though and some level of language competency.
Hotel safety is an important aspect to consider when traveling abroad and also requires research on the traveler’s part. Tourists can be an easy target for local crime because they are often times unaware of their surroundings. Make sure to know if the area you are traveling to has issues with local crime, such as muggings. Tourists are advised to keep all valuables items out of plain sight, usually it is safest to keep them hid away in your hotel room. As a precaution, travelers are also advised to inform the front desk staff when they leave for the night and plan to return late.
“Remember, when you travel abroad, that you are acting as an emissary of your country and culture. If you behave badly, it reflects badly not only on yourself, but on your home country as well.”
1. http://tsd.wetpaint.com/page/Sustainable+Ecotourism 2. http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/travel/home_exchanges/articles/budget_travel_with_hostelling_international.shtml 3. http://www.institutohemingway.com/work-in-hotels-abroad.asp 4. http://safetrip.org/staying-safe-abroad-in-hotels-and-on-public-transportation.html 5. http://www.city-data.com/forum/travel/1049207-representing-your-country-abroad.html
- Homestay Agencies. Web. 11 May 2011. <http://www.homestayagency.com/index.html>.
- Homestay Agencies. Web. 11 May 2011. <http://www.homestayagency.com./index.html>.