Pre-Service Training Homestay

During Pre-Service Training, you live with a host family. You live with a host family at site as well, but the experience is very different. At site, at least in South Africa, homestays are chosen to allow the volunteers some degree of independence–generally volunteers take care of themselves, cook for themselves, and lead a semi-independent life. But at training, you really are totally part of the family. The idea is this helps you become familiar with the culture quickly, and exposes you to a lot of your language.

While we all certainly learned a lot about South African culture in our homestays, language was not always a big part of it. There are 11 national languages here, and many host families did not speak the language their hosted volunteer was studying. But almost every new volunteer had at least one person in their host family who spoke English. So something about the typical Peace Corps homestay is sort of lost in South Africa. (for the record, those who ended up with a non-English speaking family learned more language, and I think everyone who had a non-English speaking family had a family who spoke their volunteer's new language).

Most of what we had to learn during training that wasn’t language could have been covered in far less than the 10 weeks we had for training. But since we’re learning a language, the rest of training expands to fit the necessary language instruction time. But when our host families don’t even speak our language, it makes the training process unnecessarily lengthy. While I can understand wanting to give trainees 2 or 3 months of exposure to a language before sending them to site, there is probably nowhere in South Africa that you could train a group of incoming volunteers and be able to place them all with a family speaking their language. And language classes (even 4 hours a day) are not a substitute for immersion. It’s yet another challenge that makes Peace Corps service here a bit different from the usual.

My homestay family was my host mom and 3 siblings. A two year old girl and 15 year old boy lived with us, and another daughter was away at the University of Cape Town studying Chemical Engineering (I think). We lived in a village near the training college where the sessions were held. But the rest of the time, we were at home (which wasn’t as much as one would expect, training was 8 to 4 or 5 during the week, plus often a day or a day and a half on the weekends.).

I imagine it is quite a challenge to find places for 50 people across a few small villages. The Peace Corps staff said they vetted all the families, and to their credit I think only one of the 50+ trainees ended up moving homes. The host families were a mix of all sorts of different people from very different backgrounds. Some volunteers were waited on hand-and-foot against their will, other volunteers cooked every night and took care of sick people. Some volunteers had beautiful homes, other volunteers lived in tiny houses. Some volunteers got fast food multiple times a week, other volunteers supported their families with their Peace Corps rations. Some volunteers lived with just a Gogo (grandmother), other volunteers never learned the names of all the people constantly passing through. Everyone’s experience was totally different. The host families said the only thing they could tell qualified them was having an extra room that locked.

This was my room:

The original plan for the house had it as a bathroom. It wasn’t huge, but it was comfortable and I was happy with it. But it did take awhile to get used to hearing everything in the house. The walls did not meet the ceiling:

The house:

The living room:

The dining room:

The kitchen:

This is where I took my first bucket baths. I made a lot of messes.

This is where we kept water:

Water came from a tap out back, but it would go out for days at a time so storage was essential. When the water was on, it was usually low pressure. Filling all the buckets could take hours.

We had a pit latrine out back:

One day, my mom saw a snake heading towards the house. With the help of some kids, she killed it.


We had to burn the snake because the parts can be used for witchcraft.

Here are some WWE rings to cleanse your pallet:

1 Comment

Jesse says:

My host family was a pastor and an English Teacher in Bundu. My host mother was so well respected in the village that people would come from all over town for her advice and counsel. She eventually let me cook for her and Baba, and they said they enjoyed my cooking. I still call my Host Mother now and then and she calls me. She was and is an incredible human being.

24 Feb 11 @ 7pm