While studying Spanish at Habla Ya in Boquete, I opted for an immersive homestay experience for my accommodation.
I had been counseled by Habla Ya that a homestay is the best accommodation choice for quickly improving Spanish skills while getting an insider’s experience with local culture.
After a week in Boquete with a host family, I can definitely confirm.
Homestay in Boquete Panama
the road to my homestay
on my way to town from my homestay
I was assigned to a host family on the outskirts of Boquete. My assigned family consisted of a grandmother and grandfather, and their adult son. The family owned a coffee and vegetable farm where the grandfather and son worked, and the grandmother stayed at home. While they also have adult children and young grandchildren in the US, the family only speaks Spanish – perfect for practicing my conversation skills!
Upon arrival to my homestay, I was immediately greeted by my host family, and my host mom showed me to my large and comfortable room (and private bathroom!). The house was huge, beautiful, and modern, and in addition to my private space, featured a gorgeous backyard and many porches for sitting and studying outdoors.
my room in my homestay family’s home
the gorgeous backyard
I had been very worried about the amount of privacy I would have, especially as a very independent traveler. I’ve only ever been a houseguest for more than a night at my dad’s, my sister’s, and my in-law’s, so I was definitely a homestay newbie.
Thankfully, I didn’t need to be concerned. While my family was extremely friendly and helpful, they also gave me a lot of space. If I shut my door, they would not disturb me, and if I was in my room with the door open, they would always knock before entering.
There were a lot of benefits to staying with a family I would have missed out on by staying in a hostel. One weekend day, my host family took me (and one other language student also staying with them) to their farm. Just a short drive away from the house, it was amazing to see raw coffee beans growing on the trees and to learn more about the people I was living with.
the view from the farm
raw coffee beans!
In addition to sharing about their farm, my host mom was particularly outgoing and helpful with my Spanish studies. All of our mealtime conversations were entirely in Spanish, and she was very patient with explaining words and phrases that I hadn’t learned yet. She also gently corrected wrong verb tenses and mispronunciations. Spending time with her was like having an extra Spanish lesson!
While the vast majority of the homestay experience was awesome and really fun, I did experience just one little hiccup.
As a vegetarian for 17 years, when I signed up for the host family, I wrote on the application that I do not eat meat.
However, on my first night, I was served pasta with pork. I tried my best to eat around the pork, and only eat the pasta. I did not say anything about being a vegetarian, as I did not want to offend my host mother and assumed that she had already been informed.
On the second night, I was served rice with a side of hamburger. I ate just the rice, and did not eat the hamburger. When my host mother collected my finished meal, she asked me “No come carne?” (You do not eat meat?) and I said, “No, yo soy vegetariana” (No, I am a vegetarian). She was very confused, and explained that she had been informed by the homestay arrangers that I definitely did eat meat, and also that I was German! Apparently, the person making the homestay arrangements had been the most confused of all.
We laughed, she apologized, I apologized, and I never had to eat around meat again.
a typical (vegetarian) meal at my homestay
Even with the meaty misunderstanding, I would do a homestay again in a heartbeat (and did, in Panama City!). It was an awesome experience, and I learned a lot about the local culture, about family life, and improved my Spanish conversation skills immensely.
pin it for later
It is very important to be upfront and honest about your needs or desires for a homestay. If you have specific dietary or other restrictions, share them in your application. I’d also suggest reminding whoever is arranging your homestay a day or two in advance – especially after I was mistakenly described as a meat-eating German.
The experience is definitely not for everyone. Some families have curfews or other rules you may not be used to as an adult, and you will need to abide by them. Respect and kindness go a long way.
I’d recommend bringing a Spanish-English dictionary to have on hand, and maybe a small but interesting gift from your home country.