If you think homestays and/or cultural immersion are not for you because you’re an awkward human creature, or you just don’t know what to expect, I’m here to tell you that homestays are cool.
I, too, am an awkward human creature who is nervous in new settings. One time my best friend said that living with me is like living with a mad scientist. I leave half-finished cups of coffee in random secret places (surprise!), and I can’t walk through a store without knocking something over. You can imagine my anxiety level when Kate signed us up for a three-day homestay in the remote village in Thailand.
The village was called Mae Kampong, and we set up our stay with a company called LocalAlike. As the trip approached, I started to picture a full-blown apocalypse of cultural faux pas. Kate and I even splurged on a fancy hotel for after the stay, such was our concern about “roughing it” in the Thai hill country. Everything we predicted and prepared for was wrong. Below I’ve listed the four main categories about which I had preconceived ideas, and how those ideas differed from reality.
- Human Interaction
Expectation: Somehow instantly learning fluent Thai or, alternatively, remaining silent and developing some sort of sign language to request only the bare necessities.
Reality: We were immediately scooped up by our personal tour guide/translator (Arnon) who never left our side. Arnon helped us communicate with our wonderful Thai-speaking host and endured hours of questions about Thai culture.
Expectation: A lonely, scary room, with no running water, no electricity, and no bathroom.
Reality: A quiet, king-sized bedroom, equipped with outlets and a private bathroom (with a shower). The best part was that the mosquito netting around the bed made it into the ultimate fort. There was even a poster of the King of Thailand next to the bed to watch over us at night.
Expectation: An intimidating dining experience full of awkward silences and ambiguous food items.
Reality: Three casual and delicious home-cooked meals a day, consumed al fresco on the porch with Arnon, Kate, and frequent dog visitors. There were no awkward silences because we never ran out of questions for Arnon.
Kate and I were even able to help make some of the meals. We were only (sensibly) given the most foolproof tasks such as baby-sitting little fried leaf packets in the fryer, and hacking cucumbers to bits.
Expectation: A rigorous schedule of cultural activities and ceremonies during which may or may not experience social anxiety.
Reality: LocalAlike specializes in “slow tourism” so you have some flexibly scheduled activities, and a generous amount of free time. Our scheduled activities included a waterfall hike, learning traditional crafts, multiple Thai massages, and a lesson on village coffee production. One morning we were even forced to get up early to see a sunrise. Arnon helped us translate important phrases such as “Is there time for me to have a third massage today?” and “I would like a smoothie.” Our free time was spent drinking as many Thai coffees as the village could supply, and more massages.
So, to summarize, what I thought was going to be like an episode of Survivor turned out to be more like cultural spa-retreat. Based on said outcome, I have a feeling most of LocalAlike’s programs are non-scary and safe for all varieties of awkward humans.
Try stepping outside your comfort zone, because it turns out that lots of places are very comfortable (see afore-mentioned massages) if you make your way over to them.