3 Things You Need to Know About Homestays in Panama from the Homestay Guru

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"3 Things You Need to Know About Homestays in Panama from the Homestay Guru".

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3 Things You Need to Know About Homestays in Panama from the Homestay Guru

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For tips and advice about how to make the most of your family home stay and learn Spanish faster, check out this article...

"One Saturday morning, we were all drinking beers and using dishcloths and regular glue to wallpaper a room! We were laughing and dancing salsa and it was only ten o'clock in the morning. That would never happen in Switzerland," Fabienne Morf told me excitedly as her eyes twinkled with the memory. The 22-year-old Swiss native had quit her job and, without a second thought, packed her bags and decided to spend three months learning Spanish at Habla Ya before traveling Latin America.

Fabienne has done homestays and immersion programs before to learn French and to learn English. You might say that she's the Homestay Guru. She's now living with a couple of other Habla Ya students in a homestay. Right before she wrapped up her homestay in Bocas del Toro with a Panamanian woman everyone affectionately refers to as "Mama Shelly", Fabienne sat down with me to reflect on her three-month experience:

What brought you to Panama?

"For me, it was always my goal to learn Spanish. However, I didn't want to go to Spain. I wanted to go to Latin America because of the culture and the Caribbean Sea. My choices were the Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, but I didn’t want to be in the city. Next was Playa Carmen, Mexico, but it was too touristy. Finally, I chose Bocas del Toro, Panama. It was a gut feeling that this was finally the right place for me."

How did you choose Habla Ya to study Spanish?

"I went to the agency in Switzerland and Habla Ya was the school they recommended."

Why did you choose a homestay rather than staying in an apartment or hostel?

"Since I was going to spend 3 months learning Spanish, I wanted to get the full experience. A homestay experience living with native speakers while taking daily Spanish lessons is the best option to learn as much as possible when you’re studying a new language."

What was your first time meeting Mama Shelly like?

"I arrived in Boas at 6 p.m. in the evening. when an Habla Ya staff member brought me to Mama Shelly’s house, the house was full of people- FULL OF PEOPLE! That night Mama Shelly, 3 other students from Colombia, 4 or 5 children from her extended family, and a bunch of neighbors were all in the house. Everyone was coming and going. Everyone came up to me to say hello and ask me questions and I couldn’t speak a word of Spanish yet! I was momentarily in shock."

Is that different from Switzerland? You don’t have a bunch of people over all the time?

"No, never! When you have guests in Switzerland, you send an invitation in advance and say “At 2pm, you are welcome to come to my house”. The guests then rings the doorbell at the allotted time and is allowed in. Here, the people just come in anytime! Our door is truly always open. Sometimes people come to watch T.V., sit on the balcony, or have dinner with us. By now, I’m so used to it, I don’t even notice it anymore."

Were there any other parts of Panamanian culture that you learned about through your homestay.

"The Panamanians are very relaxed and open-minded. Here it's like “quizás mañana, está bien” (Maybe tomorrow, it's cool). It doesn’t matter if you do it today or tomorrow. In Switzerland, when we say something, we do it and it has to be done immediately. I wouldn't even take slow stroll at home, but now I'm also like, “Maybe I'll do it tomorrow”. I'm so much more relaxed and really enjoying my life more and trying to be conscious about seizing the moment. I've completely to how it's here so I don't know how I'll do it back home!"

Can you describe your living accommodations?

"For the first two weeks, I shared a room with another student. Now, I have my own room and share a bathroom with a couple of students."

Does Mama Shelly cook?

(Leans back and smiles widely) "Ooooh yeah! She cooks and it's delicious!"

Now that all the ingredients are prepared, the students learn the traditional way of preparing Panamanian style arroz con pollo

Posted by Habla Ya Spanish Schools on Friday, March 4, 2016

Do you have a favorite dish?

"I really like the patacones (fried plantains) and the hojaldres (pastry puffs) that she makes." (Click here to read more about Panamanian food and meals".)

Where there any unexpected challenges?

"…No, I don’t think so. I got lucky. The place is clean, I have my own room with a nice bed and clean sheets."

What is your relationship like with Mama Shelly?

"It's good. She works a lot, but she always makes sure to ask us about our day when she comes home in the evening. We chat with her and, sometimes, we all dance (she laughs)."

During a homestay, you not only become part of a family, but you become part of an entire community

Posted by Habla Ya Spanish Schools on Wednesday, April 13, 2016

I think a lot of people are afraid that doing a homestay is like living at home with your parents again and you'll lose your freedom. Has this been true in your experience?

"No, I've always had my freedom. Shelly said upfront that she wanted us to make the most of our Panama experience and of the experience living with a Panamanian family. She said we need to think of this place as our house as well and she wants us to feel at home. We have full access to everything, the kitchen, the refrigerator, the T.V., the balcony. We even cook together at lunch time."

What about staying out late?

"That’s not a problem. We all have our own set of keys so we can go and come as we please. If you want to bring a friend home, she only asks that you let everyone know. For example, tomorrow is my last evening and she asked me to invite some friends over to celebrate my last evening here."

The sky is a beautiful shade of orange at sunset.

A la puesta del sol, el cielo es un hermoso tono de naranja.

#BocasDelToro #hablaya #learnspanish #travel #panama #visitpanama

Posted by Habla Ya Spanish Schools on Monday, February 22, 2016

Do you feel like you are a part of the family?

"Yes, I do. Once, Mama Shelly took us all to family birthday party for a 6-year-old in Changuinola. In Switzerland, a 6-year-old’s birthday party starts at 2 and is over by 6pm, and it's just for the kids. Here, the party started at 6pm! There was so much music, drinks, and food. The whole neighborhood attended and the adults were laughing and dancing to reggaeton while the children played."

For someone who’s never done it, what are three things you feel like they should know about doing a homestay?

"First, it's important that if the family has rules that you respect them. Secondly, make an effort to become part of the family. Third, do it! A homestay is such a wonderful experience that I’d do it again and again."

¡MUCHAS GRACIAS, Fabienne por tomarte el tiempo de contarme sobre tu experiencia en Habla Ya Bocas!

FIND MORE ABOUT FAMILY HOME STAYS IN PANAMA... »

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Search our blog if you're visiting Panama! From must do's, where to party or eat, to which beaches and hiking trails you shouldn't miss, you'll find great insider info about Bocas del Toro, Panama City and Boquete, as well as Panamanian culture, customs and traditions, and certainly tips and advice for learning Spanish while in our country! We've been writing about all things Panama for over 10 years and nothing beats local knowledge from the locals themselves.


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