Living with a host family is by far the best way that a person can be integrated into a culture that you are not used to.  In my house I have a mom, a dad, 3 brothers (24, 14, 6) and a 20 year old sister.  My family is the greatest.  They have helped me improve my French and Wolof, taught me how to cook delicious Senegalese dishes, taught me about Senegalese values and have been a great resource for everything else! I have become very close with my family members and am starting to really feel like a daughter, a sister and a niece in this family.  Though I have had a few blunders  I have made a collection of observations/tips that I wish I would have known before jumping into my Senegalese host family.

Do not expect ‘american’ privacy- your family is not afraid to walk into your room while you are changing and tell you that it is time for dinner

Try everything and eat as much you want. Also, eat around the bowl accordingly (more on food to come)

Lock up your stuff- though I trust my family immensely there are a lot of people that are in and out of my house all day and in a foreign country it is ALWAYS better to be safe than sorry

Don’t stop talking. They want you to engage in conversation with you. People never stop talking in Senegal

Families here tend to be very large and you are always meeting new people

Offer to cook an ‘american’ dinner-I cooked pasta and veggies but incorporated their spices into a dish! My family was so grateful

Bring home gifts for the family once in a while-I have brought home fruit and tea for my family before-this culture is big on sharing

Be prepared to spend a lot of time in front of the television

NEVER eat in front of them if you are not planning on sharing

Keep the lights off as much as possible and do not leave anything plugged in

If you are planning on hitting up the nightlife ask for a key, or make sure they know you are going to be out late and will have a way of getting back in the house

Do not ever say that their opinion is not true-If I do not agree with things my family believes in I simply bit my tongue and agreed to disagree

If you invite members of your family places you are usually expected to pay for them

Hang out with your maid! I have spent many afternoons alone in the house with just my maid and we have developed quite a bond. Though she does not speak much French, we made a pact where she teaches me wolof and I teach her French.  She has become one of my closest friends

The more time you spend at home, the more you learn

Most importantly: do not be afraid to ask. The last thing a host family wants is their student to feel awkward in their homestay. It is your home too, so enjoy it!!