A persistent rooster calls me to wake up from outside my window. It is 5:30 am. I lay in bed for several minutes, my weight dents the thin mattress and my head is cradled by a slice of yellow foam. I can see the early morning light peeking through the thick green curtains. The buzzing fan and sticky air reminds me that I am not home. I am halfway across the world, staying with a family in Ghana.
I have done my fair share of traveling, and this is the way I like to see the places I go: by living with the people. When I arrange a ‚Äúhomestay‚Äù experience I get to meet local people and through their eyes I gain an appreciation for a new culture that is different from my own. Instead of seeing the country as a tourist, I get a local, personal experience.
During this voyage with Semester at Sea I have been a part of three homestays – one in South Africa and two in Ghana. They have been some of my most memorable experiences on this trip. The people welcome you into their homes with such enthusiasm that it is hard not to feel accepted. The energy of the people I‚Äôve met in the village here is as vibrant as the women‚Äôs dresses and the children‚Äôs dancing.
In my first home stay in Ghana I had one experience that I will never forget. I spent the afternoon talking with a group of girls as we watched the boys play football. While talking I realized I had become a confidante for a short time. When they finally opened up, their smiles grew and I realized that human connection is one of the most important things in life.
In both my homestays here, I was lucky enough to be staying with teachers in the village. With my journalistic nature, I like to ask questions. But there I was out-questioned. My hosts were endlessly curious about me and my life back home. One important thing I learned while staying with them is that not only am I interested in their lives, but they are equally interested in mine.
I spent a good portion of one afternoon sitting in the house talking to one of the teachers about how school works, what the neighbors are like, what church services are like, and how they feel about technology and media. He returned the questioning to me, curious to know how their village was different from my hometown. I could only say it is a simpler way of life here, not better or worse, it is just calmer in the village.
In all the conversations we shared, my host family was never looking for pity, only understanding, exchange, and connection.¬† I‚Äôve found that being able to live with people all over the world makes it easier for me to understand them. In the first month of our voyage I wrote in my blog, ‚ÄúI love to travel, and it is always going to be a part of me. Whether I am at home or on the other side of the world, I am at my best when I try to understand somebody else.‚Äù I will continue to seek out home-stay opportunities in the future because I believe it‚Äôs the best way to experience a new culture when you‚Äôre seeing it through a local‚Äôs eyes.
When I woke up that morning I was greeted by the smiling face of my host mother as she greeted me, ‚ÄúGood morning.‚Äù¬† I promised them photos, thanked them for all that they had given me, and hugged them goodbye. As I walked down the dirt road I knew I had witnessed something special, and I will never forget what I learned.
We will never really see the world unless we leave our comfort zone, and that is what I fully intend to do. Only through breaching the uncomfortable will you be able to have the moments that change you the most.