If you’re planning on doing the Community Homestay experience while you’re in Nepal, you have a lot to look forward to. But, part of this opportunity to stay with local families means you’re going to get acquainted with how Nepali people live, which may be quite different from what you’re used to. There are some things you can know and do to prepare yourself as well as possible.
1) It’s OK if you don’t speak Nepali
When we went to our first homestay in Patan we had only learned a few words in Nepali. We were worried about how we would interact with the host family without sharing a common language. Luckily, at most of the homestays in Nepal there’s at least one person in the family who can communicate with you in English. However, it’s helpful to know a few words, like “dhanyabad” that means “thank you.”
2) Get used to different bathroom habits
If you’re from a Western country, you might be caught off-guard the first time you see a Nepali bathroom at your homestay. Though most hotels in Kathmandu are equipped with “throne” toilets and bathroom styles you’re used to, that changes once you get out of the capital. Nepalis typically use a bucket of water to clean themselves after using a squat toilet in the ground.
All of this might be uncomfortable, but it doesn’t hurt to try a new way. If you really can’t, bring a bag to dispose of your toilet paper in, in case there isn’t a garbage can in the bathroom. Also, bring a flashlight, as it might be hard to see where you’re going at night. At the Bon Community Homestay in Lower Mustang, the bathroom was down a flight of steps. Having a light really helped guide the way.
3) Don’t expect to have a shower
The shower might also be very different from what you are used to, especially in the more remote areas of Nepal. Your host family will, of course, want to make sure you are comfortable. In fact, at the Tibetan Refugee Camp Homestay in Pokhara they had a little heater to make the shower water warm, which was greatly appreciated. Otherwise, most Nepalis will use a bucket to take a shower, which can be quite brutal in cold weather. Though many visitors try to embrace it, you may choose to stay bundled up in your clothes andsimply go without a shower for a few days.
4) Don’t feel bad if you can’t eat with your hands
Nepalis eat their food — usually a delicious serving of dal bhat — with their hands. This may seem fun and exciting at first, as is trying to eat with chopsticks for the first time. And, like with chopsticks, if you get frustrated after a while and want to resort to using a fork instead, you can. No-one will think any less of you. While it’s definitely worth trying to eat with your hand (and, remember, only your right hand), the goal is to eat the food, and host families will give you a spoon if you need it.
5) It’s OK to say yes, and no
In many countries, we feel that we don’t want to burden our hosts with anything, and thus try to stay out of their way or prevent ourselves from inconveniencing them as much as possible. At your Nepal homestay, if you are offered seconds of a meal or a cup of tea, it’s definitely OK to take your host up on her offer. That being said, it’s also OK to finally say “no” if you really can’t eat any more chicken momos, or if you’re a vegetarian and the meat is being served. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for anything, whether that’s more blankets or a cup of water. Just be honest!
6) Bring appropriate clothing and accessories
Before we went to the Mustang area for our homestay, we weren’t quite prepared clothing-wise. Although we knew it was going to be cold, we had been traveling in India for three weeks prior to our arrival in Kathmandu, and just didn’t have the clothes we needed with us. Know which season you’re going to be traveling in and what the weather is going to be like, so you can be as prepared as possible. Although you can find gear in Kathmandu, a lot of it can be overpriced. Additionally, don’t forget to bring things like sunscreen, bug spray, feminine products, dry shampoo, deodorant, toilet paper, etc.
7) You’re allowed privacy, but be mindful
When you go to your homestay, remember that many of these families live in very close quarters with one another and privacy isn’t treated the same way as it is in Western countries. In fact, at one of our homestays, the host-mom walked right in while we were sleeping, without knocking on the door! It ended up being kind of funny, but perhaps not for everyone. You’re allowed privacy and alone time while you’re at your homestay (and you may very well need it), but don’t expect that it will always be possible.
8) Expect a totally different cultural experience
Staying at a homestay in Nepal is one of the coolest experiences you will have traveling. During our various homestays, we were so humbled by the generosity shown towards us by our host families. But, we also couldn’t help but be taken aback by some of the clear differences between us and them. There’s something to learn by spending time with local families, as it really helps to break down barriers and stereotypes.
I recognized that while many of these families were poor, they were truly rich in so many ways. Like, living close to family, having time to spend together, food to eat, a strong sense of community, etc. People in the U.S. work so much they hardly have time to enjoy these things. The homestay experience was a nice reminder to appreciate the things we usually take for granted.