While nobody would expect you to try mamá and papá on your host parents (which is not to say they themselves won’t like it) there are, in fact, more than a few great ways to approach the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of living with a host family in Ecuador. Read on to find your own Ecuadorian homestay groove!

Get in there!

Packing up your things and moving (albeit temporarily) to another culture, another country, another language environment, is by no means an easy feat. So with that in mind, it’s in your interest and your host family’s that you’re okay — or feliz, contento, in Spanish! A great way to feel at home in Ecuador is to allow your host family to get close to you and to allow yourself to participate in their lives the way they anticipate. This might be difficult — perhaps even a little embarrassing — to begin with, but the short- and long-term outcomes of forming strong bonds with your Ecuadorian host family could be incredible!

Respect religious practices

Religious procession in Quito — © Nino Müns.
Religious procession in Quito — © Nino Müns.

Ecuador is a deeply religious country, with over 80 percent of the population adhering to Roman Catholicism. Each host family in Ecuador will express and practice their faith in a different way, which is why it’s a brilliant idea to familiarize yourself with their belief system, and above all — respect it! What’s more, with the majority of national holidays revolving around Catholic traditions, it’s your chance to get closer to and building an understanding of typical Ecuadorian festivities like Holy Week, Corpus Cristi, the Day of the Dead, and of course, Christmas.

Establish boundaries

Culture shock, inter-cultural communication, cross-cultural exchange. Such terms seem quite loaded, when in fact they’re actually quite simple to understand! When you first move to another country, social and cultural customs unravel as a patchwork of endless and confusing habits, belief, and customs that you yourself might never be able to manage. This is complicated more by the fact that you’ll be outnumbered some 15 million Ecuadorians to one! Scared yet? Don’t be. You have every right to express yourself and establish what you’re comfortable with and that with which you are not — which is perhaps best done by recognizing that you simply will never be able to manage or understand every aspect of local culture! So just do the Ecuadorian thing and communicate, to establish boundaries in a way that suits both you and your host family.

Expect different levels of privacy

Privacy is a seemingly complex topic in Ecuadorian families, whose rules and expectations of privacy will likely be far different from yours. Ecuadorians are, like most Latinos, used to family intimacy and closeness, which ultimately minimizes the privacy you might look forward to in your host family. Advice? If you want time out or a hint of peace and quiet, say so — perhaps you need time to study! By simply locking yourself up or staying away from the house, your family is bound to worry about you. And what will that do? Well, counterproductively, you’ll have your mom, dad, brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, cousins, and grandparents — and probably the neighbors — knocking at your door with plates full of food and questions!

Adjust your eating habits

Ecuadorian meal with host family — © Instituto Superior de Español.
Ecuadorian meal with host family — © Instituto Superior de Español.

Speaking of food! The Ecuadorian approach to food and eating is far from those famed Western methods we’d call eating on the go, grabbing a bite to eat, lunch on the run or a quick dinner. First off, lunch in Ecuador is a very big deal! And a family deal, to be more specific. So, while you might be accustomed to small lunches, or perhaps no lunch at all, in Ecuador it’s the most important meal of the day, and you’ll surely be expected to participate when you can. On a separate note, Ecuadorian mothers love to fill their children’s bellies up with food, so if you find that your plate is constantly being loaded, just say gracias and let whoever’s trying to fatten you up know that you’re full.

Watch out for weekends

Weekends are another one to watch out for in Ecuador. It goes without saying — at least on the part of most Ecuadorian families — that the weekend is partly reserved for family time, including birthdays, religious events, picnics, extended family lunches or events at the homes of family friends. While the rules will obviously be different for you as a temporary addition to the family, make sure you know about any plans you might have been included in, and also make an effort to work around them when you can. Finally, if you can’t attend — you’re spending the weekend out of town, you have a friend’s birthday to celebrate — then let your host family know in advance! Again it’s about all about la comunicación in this country.

Originally published on Ailola by Jayson McNamara on March 13, 2014.