An exciting part of many study abroad programs is a homestay. A homestay allows you to see how Belizeans truly live and immerses you into the culture. While staying at the BFREE station and campsites will show you a lot of Belize, the homestay will allow you to gain a better perspective of the culture while connecting with local families on a personal level.
A typical home in southern Belize, is very simple and minimally furnished. While it may appear very different than what you are used to, you will soon discover that everything you need is there. There is generally one large room that is the main living area outfitted with hammocks, a table and a few chairs. The kitchen may be part of this main room or it could be a separate thatched structure. Toilets and bathing areas are private areas outside of the main house. Families often have farm animals such as chickens and pigs.
The family you will be staying with is pre-approved by the BFREE staff and each family is so excited to share their home with you. Families usually have small children who will be eager to meet you and some of the family members will speak English. Meals are eaten with your host family and you should ask to help cook – it is truly an incredible experience and a great way to get to know your family better! A typical meal consists of tortillas, chicken, beans, rice and vegetables. If you have any dietary restrictions, such as allergies or intolerances, let BFREE know and we will notify your family in advance.
Belizeans tend to be fairly shy, especially the women, so don’t be offended if they seem hesitant to get to know you. Come prepared to tell a few stories about what your life is like and to ask a few questions about their life. You can even show pictures of your house and your family. If you would like to take a photo of your host family or a photo with the family, please make sure you ask permission first. Photos are still not very common in their culture so their approval is important. If you look at photos of students with their homestay families you may notice not many people are smiling. Their facial expression doesn’t mean they’re upset, rather they simply approach photos differently than we do.
While not required, you are encouraged to bring a small gift for your homestay family to thank them for opening their homes and lives to you. Some typical gifts that the families love are kitchen items such as hand towels, spatulas and spoons, and gifts for the children such as books, soccer balls or board games. In Belize it is hard to come across these items, and when they do the items are incredibly expensive. Gifts are not only useful to the family, they serve as reminder of your visit and your new friendship.
The homestay family will teach you what it is like to live in Belize and introduce you to a different way of life. The students won’t be the only ones learning though, each homestay family is excited to get to know you and learn about your life in the states. The families are ready for you, get excited for them.