5 “Must Knows” when Staying with a Host Family
Keep reading, because the information below will keep you from thinking: “I wish someone had told me that earlier about my host family!”
Okay, picture this…
You have just touched down in Costa Rica for your immersion experience, and your mind is running wild! Is your host family going to be nice? Will the water be okay to drink? You have heard stories of friends traveling abroad and the last thing you want is to spend any of your precious time abroad sick… Tropical landscapes run through your mind until… oh no! Huge tropical bugs! You forgot your bug spray! Is malaria a risk? And the spiders – are they really three times the size of the ones at home? Wait, did you just hear someone on this flight say snakes?!?
Yes there are some bigger bugs, but it’s going to be great staying with a host family! The following NEED TO KNOW items will help you get a head start on living with your host family in Costa Rica:
The water at your host family:
There are a few places in Costa Rica where the tap water is questionable, but those places are few and removed. As soon as your flight lands and you walk into the Juan Santamaria International Airport, feel free to take a sip at that water fountain (it’s oh so tempting and that long customs line made you thirsty!) The water in the majority of Costa Rica is potable and you can drink it straight from the tap. That also means ice cubes in drinks are a-okay and your veggies and fruits can be washed with tap water with no effect on you!
The bathrooms at your host family:
Costa Rica’s plumbing system is just not the same as the United States. You’ll notice that in every restroom there is a wastebasket next to the toilet – and you guessed it! Your toilet paper and feminine hygiene products need to be disposed in the wastebasket rather than in the toilet bowl. Now, we are creatures of habit, and every once in a while you’ll forget and catch yourself throwing the toilet paper in the toilet – oops! No need to go diving in to get it out – one piece should be okay, but try hard to be conscious of that wastebasket. You wouldn’t want to be the one to clog up all the plumbing at your host family’s house!
Food at your host family:
Whether it’s gallo pinto for breakfast, arroz con pollo for lunch, or the typical casado at dinnertime, your host family will probably feed you more food than you’re used to – it’s how they show you they care! Cuidado here with food; honesty is usually the best policy. If you don’t like a certain food, and you’ve tried it at least once, it’s best to be honest about it. Otherwise, it may show up on your plate again in the near future, and again.
The same goes for portion sizes. When you sit down for a meal you may be served your plate or you may serve yourself. After every meal, you should expect to be asked to “please, have more” because that is a way your host family can show you they care about you; they are making sure you are not still hungry after dinner. If you feel the portions are just too large, speak with your host mother about being able to serve yourself or, if she insists on serving you, request smaller portions. That way, if you really liked something, when you’re offered to take more you can do so without feeling over-full afterwards! The same goes if you feel that you are not being served enough food at a meal. Remember, honesty and open communication here are the best policy!
Hot water and showers at your host family:
Don’t be surprised that most Costa Rican homes don’t come equipped with hot water heaters; it’s just not the norm. But you will notice that when you get into the shower, the showerhead may have a few switches on it and there are some wires following the tubing. That’s because your lukewarm water may be produced through an electric showerhead water heater. Most of these come with a switch with three options, like the picture below.
The position that the switch is in, in this picture, will produce cold water straight from the tube. If you move it to the right, in this case, it would be half warm and half heated water as the circle indicates, and if you move it to the left where the circle is fully filled in with color, it would be fully heated water. Don’t expect the fully heated switch to be hot to your standards, but know that you may have to move the switch around to get your water to be warm. Personal hygiene is also an important topic in Costa Rica, and if you don’t shower everyday that may be the reason your host-sister keeps giving you a sideways glance at the dinner table. Make it a habit to shower at least once daily in this tropical country, and as its usually warmer outside in the morning, it may work best for you to start your day off with a shower, as the afternoon may prove to be chilly and rainy and if your water isn’t hot like you like it, que pereza!
New habits that will help you fit in at your host family
At home you may take a shower and leave your towel on your bed, a little damp, or on the floor in the bathroom, planning to use a new one next time you shower. In Costa Rica it’s important to take a few things into consideration:
- Leave your towel hanging out to dry, and never on your bed or on the floor. A towel is seen as a personal item that should be reused a few times before washing it. If you leave it on the floor, it becomes ‘dirty’ in the eyes of your Costa Rican host family, and if you leave it on your bed it’s likely to be smelly (and your bed sheets too) by the afternoon due to humidity. You may also consider bringing your own towel to your immersion program, as it’s seen as a very personal item for some families.
- Make your bed in the morning – Not only is this nice for your host mom, but it will ensure that no random bugs (such as spiders or even scorpions in some regions of Costa Rica) will crawl into your bedding throughout the day. Regardless, lift your sheets up to check every night before tucking in just to make sure you don’t have any extra friends in there with you!
- Shake your shoes out upside down before you put them on, and leave shoes you’re not wearing in a place a bit higher off the floor if provided (like a shoe rack or a low closet shelf). It’s always possible some bug may crawl into your shoes while you’re not wearing them, so just double check before putting your feet in!
- Don’t walk around the house barefoot for the same reason. You’ll notice your host family wears sandals or house shoes in the house, and you should too!
Staying with a host family has amazing benefits for your Spanish language growth. Keep the above tips in mind as you stay with your host family and you’ll have a head start on your immersion experience!
For an in-depth discussion on how to maximize your Costa Rica immersion trip, be sure to read our post on how to have an amazing host family experience and learn more about the variety of Spanish immersion programs we run in Costa Rica. Pura vida!