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People who travel to other countries may not want to spend their time with a tour guide provided by the tourist authority, and they may not want to stay in a chain hotel. In some countries, this desire to experience the "real" culture can be accomplished through a homestay. A homestay means that the traveler lives with a family for at least part of his or her trip. This enables a traveler to experience life as it is lived day to day in the host country. A homestay can often be arranged through a travel agent, or through Web sites that specialize in matching families and travelers.
A traveler looking for a homestay should first apprise the travel agent of his or her personal preferences. Is he a smoker, for instance? Is he vegetarian? An observant Jew? Allergic to animals or certain foods? Traits such as these should be taken into consideration when matching a host family and a guest. The traveler should also remember that he is visiting the country to absorb some of its culture, and so should expect to try new things in his hosts' home.
A homestay can be a great experience if the traveler follows a few simple guidelines. First, he needs to acquaint himself with the customs of the country he is visiting. Most host families will be tolerant of some faux pas, but the traveler should make sure he is aware of basic courtesy, such as removing one's shoes before entering a home in Japan. Politeness in every country is a key to making the stay a happy one.
Second, a traveler should never arrive at a homestay without some gift for the hosts. A bottle of wine or a gift of chocolates is welcome, as are mementos from the visitor's country, such as postcards, or pens and mugs with his state's or company's name on them, for instance.
Third, a traveler should remember that this is a home, not a hotel. Room service is not provided. He should make his own bed each morning, offer to help with the dishes or the laundry, and so on. Depending on the country, the hosts may refuse to allow him to help, but they will appreciate the offer. Insofar as possible, a traveler should also participate in the family activities. Insofar as possible, he should never be a hindrance to the hosts' usual routine.
Students often have the opportunity to participate in a homestay as part of an academic program, and these are usually memorable. A homestay opens a window into another culture as few other experiences can. It is a win-win situation in which everyone learns something new.