As any returned Social Entrepreneur Corps (SE Corps) intern can tell you, living with families is a big part of what makes us successful in the field. You could say the experience hits close to home, making towns and cultures that may seem a world away from what we are used to, feel manageable, since SE Corps interns get to experience them on a very human scale every day. From eating with families, to attending weddings, birthdays, or religious ceremonies, interns are treated as another member of the family. No one goes home to an empty hotel room at night; instead, they go home to a home-cooked meal and siblings, cousins, and parents.

A glimpse into the homestay experience in Pulingui, Ecuador:

As Alison, an SE Corps intern this past summer recalls, “In Nebaj, my host mom dressed me in traditional dress one afternoon and told me about the history and importance of the red cortes and colorful huipiles as we walked around town…Each family had their own story to tell and way of integrating me into their home that taught me more about the communities we worked with and the issues we were addressing.” (Alison D’Oleo-Lundgren, Boston University, SE Corps Intern in Guatemala 2015)

Alison poses in the traditional dress of Nebaj, Guatemala.

As interns learn during their social entrepreneurship training, one of the difficulties foreigners often encounter when working in a different cultural context is the “parallax:” a different take on the same situation that arises when two people are looking at the same thing from different perspectives. This difference in perspective is often most predominant when we are in a new country, since we are working alongside people from distinct cultures and backgrounds. While it can be hard to avoid, interns learn to be conscientious of the “parallax” and one of the main ways they work to understand the local context in which their work is taking place is by experiencing it first-hand alongside locals.

Fostering a sense of respect and community on a human scale, in a family environment, translates directly into the ability to better empathize with clients in the field. From the most basic things, like practicing their Spanish, to more difficult topics such as cultural norms, SE Corps homestay families help students to contextualize their work and empathize with the people they are serving; “experiencing the economic struggles of families first-hand motivated me to work hard in each campaign.” (Paul Hodum, Kennesaw State University, SE Corps Intern in Guatemala 2015)

The sense of family doesn’t end when interns leave the country. Many students keep in touch with their homestay families via email and Skype, ensuring that the experience doesn’t end when the school year starts, but instead is a relationship that fosters ties that continue indefinitely.

Do you have a homestay experience you would like to share? Connect with us on Facebook or LinkedIn. We would love to hear and share your stories! Here are a few of our favorites:

“I think it is incredibly valuable to have homestay experiences like the ones I had in Ecuador. I was lucky enough to have had two homestay experiences prior to this internship, however, there is a great difference in the homestay experiences that I had through Social Entrepreneur Corps in comparison to the others. Having the opportunity to live with 4 different families over the course of 8-weeks is something that I had never heard of. Living with my first family in the city of Cuenca, versus that of living in Campo of Riobamba, the quiet, farming community of Loja, and the vibrant, rainforest community of Zamora, each offered very different perspectives and families who generously and selflessly shared with me their important, cultural, religious and every day values that I got to experience for a small portion of my life. I was fortunate to live with some incredible families that I still keep up with. I am reminded of them on a daily basis and I know that I will continue hold each of them in a special place in my heart, as I miss them daily.”
- Sally Ann Mitchell, Miami University of Ohio, SE Corps Intern in Ecuador 2015

“I was lucky to have had three incredibly loving and supportive host families during my time in Guatemala. Apart from making me feel like one of their own, my host families provided me with myriad opportunities to more critically engage with the Guatemalan culture. These opportunities ranged from conversing over meals in Spanish about Guatemala’s political, economic, and health affairs to helping cook meals to watching local films to even attending a family wedding. Together, these experiences empowered me to better understand and form more authentic connections with the communities I served as well as with my fellow colleagues.”
–Kunal Potnis, Duke University, SE Corps Intern in Guatemala 2015

“I think the most valuable part of the homestay experience for me was a greater awareness of the inclusive - and exclusive - power of language. Sometimes, I would be sitting in a packed room while everyone surrounding me was speaking a dialect I didn’t understand. At others, my companions and I would speak English while my host mom/dad/family sat by and comprehended nothing. I now better understand how it feels to be part of the “in” group and am more passionate about cultivating that type of environment in the groups of which I am a part.”
- Katharine Janes, University of Notre Dame, SE Corps Intern in Ecuador 2015