Living like Matthew McConaughey may involve taking your shirt off, as Matt Damon says in his hilarious impression of the often shirtless star while Damon was a guest on David Letterman. (Here is the YouTube video. It explains why I chose the photo I did.)
Another way that is less dramatic, perhaps, is by living with a family overseas. McConaughey was an exchange student to Australia in 1988 and lived with a family who he still visits. (YouTube video)
When I was in college, I was an exchange student and lived with a family in Denmark who I am still in touch with and plan to visit again on my next trip to Europe. I have visited two times already. My Danish sisters have also visited me and my family in the U.S.
When you live with a family there is an impression about a country you can get that’s much richer from traveling there. Although Abha found Copenhagen not worth traveling back to, which I can see if I didn’t know it better, I found the Danish culture a fascinating place to hang out for awhile. When you live with a family, you get to know more about the values and psychology of a place.
I also learned how to make a deep connection with someone who didn’t share my language and I didn’t share his. My Danish father didn’t know any English and I didn’t really learn any more Danish than to say “Thank you for the meal,” “Are you cold?” and “peacock.” I also know how to make a Danish lunch.
For anyone visiting the U.S., living with an American family is a way to understand more about the complexities of American life. We’ve had Japanese exchange teachers live with us on a couple of occasions. Both times it was only for a couple of weeks, but we took them to visit my husband’s parents and each were here for Halloween.
As an adult, there are still ways you can live with a family if your exchange student days are over, although many masters’ degree programs also have programs in other countries that involve staying with families. One of my close friends studied in Taiwan and lived with a family for the summer as part of his program through the University of Southern California. The first time I went to Taiwan, I visited him. Since he was studying urban planning seeing Taipei through his lens was a bonus.
Another way is to search out home stay options. There are organizations that link visitors to families, even for short visits. Here’s one for Nepal that I found, for example.
You can also possibly hook up with an impromptu stay. When we lived in Singapore, we had a few travelers stay with us who we met while we were traveling somewhere else. When they were passing through Singapore, we invited them to stay with us. Be friendly, open, and charming as hell, and you might get lucky.
When I was in the Peace Corps some travelers wandered into my village and guess who the villagers thought they should stay with because they might be more comfortable? Here’s an account of someone who finagled a stay with a nomad family in Mongolia. This stay involved learning a bit about sheep shearing. My Peace Corps visitors ended up going with me to a naming ceremony that involved drumming and dancing. By the way, they were Italian. One of them didn’t know English.
When picking a place for your next vacation, consider staying with a family in order to learn the language better. For that purpose, here’s one in Ecuador through the Cristóbal Colón Spanish school.
Here is a link to the Danish International Student program (DIS) that gives tips on staying with a family. They are worth a look at no matter which family you may stay with, even if it’s for a night or two.