Homestays are wonderful for providing a safe environment in which you can learn about Cambodian family life, interact with people of different ages, share your own culture and interests, and even practice Khmer as English-speaking members of your homestay family practice their language skills.
Your homestays will take place in Preah Rumkel, approximately 550 km (or 341 miles) north of Phnom Penh in Stung Treng Province.
Preah Rumkel is situated along the Mekong River and a short (5-minute) boat ride from Laos (officially known as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, or Lao PDR for short).
Where you see the trees on the other side of the river is Laos. A Chinese state owned hydropower and construction company is building a dam just across the river, so we hope to be able to cross over to Laos to see the dam project during our time in Preah Rumkel.
Although the East-West Center will provide each host family with a modest honorarium to help cover costs associated with your stay, the purpose of the homestay is not to provide a place for you to “bunk” for a few nights, but to create an enriching learning experience for both you and the host family.
However, since a homestay involves relationships (between you and your host family, not to mention their friends and neighbors), it requires special effort and, sometimes, personal sacrifices. Because of this additional responsibility, participants who are mature, good-natured, and flexible are likely to have homestay experiences that are positive and memorable. Regardless of the length of your homestay, living with a family of another culture takes understanding and patience. The advantage, of course, is the possibility of lasting friendship and personal growth.
Host Families and Living Arrangements
Your host families are respected members of their communities and carefully chosen and interviewed by us and by our Cambodian homestay coordinator. Since most family members do not speak English, five Cambodian university students (and alumni of EWC programs) will travel with us to assist with communication.
Since there are only a few families with homes that are large enough to host foreign visitors, there will be three or more participants placed per family, with two participants sharing one room, each with a separate mosquito net and bedding (a thin foam mattress). None of the homes are air-conditioned, but families do have fans.
We have asked homestay families to prepare vegetarian meals for our participants. They may also have meat dishes, but they will always have a vegetarian dish specially prepared for our participants.
Suggestions for your Homestay
- Find ways to help your family around the house. They may not let you clear dishes after meals, but look for opportunities to help without making them feel uncomfortable. Keep your room neat and clean. If your family is doing work around the house or outside, offer to help.
- Share your schedule with your family. Let them know if you plan to be gone for dinner, or if you will return later than usual. Don’t just invite people to the home without checking with your family first.
- While it’s okay to let your host family know what kind of food you like, it’s much better to try eating whatever they prepare, and not make them do special shopping.
- If your host family takes you on a special outing or to a special event, offer to pay for gas and other costs. Often, families want to take participants to different places, but they may not have the money to pay for the additional expenses.
- If you have questions about house rules or procedures, just ask. We will go over “bathroom etiquette,” but feel free to ask if you’re not sure. Your family wants you to feel at home, and the best way to do this is to find out what rules the family follows.
- Be sure to turn off the lights or fans when leaving the room/house. (See below for more information on electricity.)
- Try to learn about Cambodian culture through your experience with your family. Ask about their customs and beliefs; notice the ways they do things. You will find that by adopting some of the customs of your family, you will feel more part of the group and more comfortable interacting with Cambodians in general.
- Postcards and photographs from your home area are excellent icebreakers for getting to know your host family. Many past participants have found that showing their host family photographs of themselves with families and friends was helpful in starting conversations and bridging the language barrier.
Homestay Gift Suggestions
You should bring a small gift for your host family. Do not give money! Try to look for items that are “Made in the U.S.A.” Some gift suggestions are:
- Items (such as t-shirts, baseball hats) that reflect your hometown, state, or the United States in general
- A calendar with photos of American landmarks
- For children, lighted small bouncy balls, lighted pens, and/or ring pops/baby bottle pops
Electricity and Recharging Computers, Cameras, Etc.
If you plan to use electrical appliances or will be recharging your cameras/computers, you should be able to use appliances manufactured for 220/230 AC as long as you have a universal plug. Otherwise, you will need a converter as well as a universal plug — they are available in most computer or travel stores. See typical plug configurations found in Cambodia at this website: http://treehouse.ofb.net/go/en/voltage/Cambodia.
Laptop computers need a universal plug, but not a converter because laptops normally have a transformer attached to their cords; however, you should check your laptop just to make sure.
All homestays will have electricity; however, electricity is expensive in Cambodia. Therefore, unless it’s absolutely necessary (and not just for your convenience), refrain from recharging your camera and/or computer batteries while in your homestay. Please take the time to recharge them during your hotel stay or take extra batteries.