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Tips for Eastern European Home Stays

Advice for Homestays in Eastern Europe

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Staying with an Eastern European family while you study or travel can be an experience of a lifetime. These homestay opportunities allow visitors and students to truly understand the culture and way of life in Eastern Europe. However, communicating with your family can be a challenge, understanding their "unusual" ways can be trying, and sometimes clashing personalities can make a home stay difficult. To break the ice and keep your homestay experience a warm and friendly one, follow these tips.

1. Eastern European Homestays - Understand the Privacy Norms

Privacy is not always observed in Eastern European households. While no one is likely to walk in on you while you're using the toilet, you'll probably sleep, study, and get ready for the day in areas that are more public than you're used to. Small flats, years of Communism, and the minimum number of bathrooms in Eastern European apartments have set privacy norms with which Westerners might initially be uncomfortable. Don't fight it. You might find yourself wishing for an hour of quiet time to yourself, but when you are allowed that, the silence will seem voluminous.

2. Eastern European Homestays - Give Gifts

Giving gifts to the members of your host family is a must in Eastern European culture. These items can be souvenirs from your hometown, postcards, food items, or other gifts that might be considered curiosities or of value. You'll probably want to withold a gift or two to leave with your family before you go to show your appreciation of their hospitality.

3. Eastern European Homestays - Help Out Around the Flat

Clearing the table, lending a hand with the washing up, and generally doing your part of the household chores will be greatly appreciated by any Eastern European host family. While your host mother may make you feel like you are required to sit at the table and relax while everyone else cleans up after a meal, she will be delighted if you pitch in.

4. Eastern European Homestays - Clean Up After Yourself

Eastern European mothers will try their best to make you feel comfortable, and they may even clean up after you, especially if you are male. However, the Eastern European woman has enough on her hands - usually she holds a full-time job and then does the cleaning and cooking in the evenings and on weekends. Because Eastern European flats tend to be on the small side, keeping your personal belongings tidy is important.

5. Eastern European Homestays - Remove Shoes Upon Entering

Most Eastern European families observe the "no shoes in the flat" rule, which means each member of the household removes his or her shoes upon entering. You may be given some slippers to wear inside. If not, socks are preferred. This practice makes sense to members of a society who are used to trekking around in dusty streets, boarding dirty buses, or navigating mud puddles during spring thaws. It will soon begin to make sense to you, too.

6. Eastern European Homestays - Try Your Best To Communicate

Even if you speak the same language as your Eastern European family or they speak English, communication can be a challenge. If neither of you speak each other's language, communication can be downright frustrating. However, don't despair. Communication doesn't always require words. Hand gestures, pantomime, facial expressions, and creativity can convey messages (somewhat) accurately. The more time you spend with your homestay, the easier this type of communication will become.

On the other hand, ignoring your host family is not an option. Do your best to communicate, and they will show you the same consideration. Ignore them, and you risk being ignored as well.

7. Eastern European Homestays - Try the Food

Your Eastern European host family will most likely prepare meals for you and share their nation's traditional cuisine with you. As it is very rude to turn down such hospitality, try a little bit of everything, unless, of course, you are allergic to a certain ingredient. While the salty fish, juicy meats, and sour cream-laden foods may seem unbelievably rich at first, you may find yourself reaching for second helpings before you know it. This is the ultimate compliment to the chef. And, to be honest, picky eaters don't last long in Eastern Europe. Vegetarians have a hard enough time finding foods that meet their dietary restrictions.

8. Eastern European Homestays - Ask If You're Unsure

If you're unsure about something, ask your host family. If you have a question about a certain cultural practice, how to prepare a specific national dish, or if a souvenir you would like to buy is priced fairly, ask about it. For the most part, your Eastern European host family will be happy satisfy your curiosity. If you are wondering about something else, like if they expect you home by a certain time every evening so that no one worries that you've been clubbed over the head in a dark alley, do so. This will both show your host family that you respect them and prevent you from making small mistakes.

9. Eastern European Homestays - Spend Time with Your Host Family

Some host families will be reserved and very hands-off with their guests. Others will take an interest in every move you make. If your family is the latter type (or even if it is the former type), make an effort to spend some time with your host family. This is your best opportunity to learn about the culture of the country that you are visiting.

10. Eastern European Homestays - Share Your Interests

Your host family will no doubt want to find out more about you and your life. Ways to share that don't necessarily involve conversation include cooking your host family a meal, sharing photos of your friends and relatives, and introducing them to your favorite music/movies/hobbies.
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