How to Live in a Homestay in Antigua, Guatemala
We have been here for over two months. 17 other students beside myself have been living with host families in Antigua, Guatemala through La Union Spanish School. Elder, my host father has many times encouraged us students to go into the street, the market, and NGOs in the area. His advice, combined with our experience, has resulted in this post.
1. Learn basic courtesy phrases.
Guatemalan culture, like any culture, appreciates affirmation and gratitude. Guatemalans typically say, “Con permiso” when they enter a building. They also say “Muchas gracias” when served any time of food. “Puedo?” means something like “May I?” or “Can I?” Basic phrases will be helpful with future communication and set a good first impression.
2. Talk with them.
Whether you’re in Antigua to party or to learn Spanish, the family appreciates being talked to. Elder has told me that some students simply eat their food and then leave to party, and that he really appreciates being able to talk with students. The family can also be the best opportunity to practice Spanish. You can speak Spanish outside of the Spanish lesson, you know. You are paying to live with them, so don’t let the invaluable resource of their Spanish speaking ability slide.
3. Come home early.
Some families wait up for students when they are out partying with their foreign friends. If you’ll be out late tell your family what’s up. Some nights it’s better to stay at home and watch the news with them. It’s also annoying to the families to hear people yelling loudly as they walk home from the bar at 1 AM. Guatemalan’s typically talk quietly to each other, not loudly, so be aware of your voice level at night.
4. Explore the area.
Maybe this should more properly be entitled, “Don’t spend all of your time in Skype or Facebook.” You are in Antigua, Guatemala, one of the most unique and beautiful cities in all of Latin America. Go out and explore the churches, ruins, cafes, and parks. Try and find a place that isn’t full of gringos, a challenge in itself. It’s also good when first learning Spanish to be able to talk about places that you’ve visited with your host family. Maybe they’ll even offer to take you out on the town.
5. Eat what they serve, at least once.
There is always going to be food you can’t get enough of and food you can’t stand. You might love pistachios but hate Taco Bell’s excuse for a taco. Or you might love Guatemalan corn tortillas but dislike the tail of a cow. Whether vegetarian or not, food is an important part of a culture. I’d try cow tail once just as I would encourage a foreigner to the United States to try a buffalo wing.
6. Ask to go with them.
Sometimes your host family might go to church, a graduating party, a wedding, a café, or even just a local bar. There’s nothing to lose by asking to go with. This way you can gain more cultural experience without having to pay for a tour. To really learn the culture you need to hang out with locals anyways. You can also practice your Spanish with your family this way, and be that awkward foreigner at a mass of all Guatemalans. If you’re more than 5 feet tall, trust me, you’ll stick out.
7. Add them on Facebook
Especially if your house has Internet. This way your host family can see pictures of what you’re up to, and you can stay connected when you return back home. Facebook might be going the way of the Republican Party or the Lake Atitlan Grebe but for now it’s still a great way to stay connected globally.