One of the things I was anticipating the most during my travels was the opportunity to do homestays – living with local families, learning about their culture and sharing a little of my own. Unfortunately, they haven’t quite gone as well as I hoped.

The latest chapter? Living with a seventy-year old woman named Alevtyna in Kiev while I took Russian language classes. My language school, Echo Eastern Europe, arranged the homestay which, based on its website, I expected to be with a “carefully selected, friendly and open-minded family.”

I arrived around at my Kiev homestay at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, having taken the overnight train from Minsk to Kiev. Unlike my homestays in St. Petersburg and Moscow, this one was in the heart of central Kiev, just blocks from a Metro stop.

After lugging my bags of four flights of stairs, a tiny blond woman with a squeaky voice and wrinkled skin welcomed me with a flourish of Russian. Understanding just a fraction, I took off my shoes and followed her to my room in the small apartment, where I dropped my bags. I was pleased to see a large double bed, desk and large closet.

However, she seemed reluctant to show me the kitchen, even though the director of the school assured me I would have access to cook meals for myself since none were included.  And she didn’t show me the living room at all, which was apparently off-limits altogether.

Later that afternoon, Alevtyna sat me down and provided me with a stern lecture (entirely in very rapid Russian) about how dangerous Kiev is – she went on and on about all of the criminals and homeless people and emphasized over and over how I should not talk to anyone outside of her apartment.  I didn’t bother protesting or arguing.

The next day, when I couldn’t access Alevtyna’s wi-fi, she insisted my computer was broken and forced me to visit a computer repair shop across the street. Then she got angry with me when I told her that the repairman told me my computer was fine and that there must be a problem with her router.

Things continued to go downhill from there.

During my two weeks living with Alevtyna, a clear pattern emerged: she talked and talked and talked and talked at me in Russian, almost none of which I understood. The more I protested that I did not understand, the angrier she became, even grabbing my arm at one point as she tried to yell a Russian word loudly enough at me to make me understand it.

In another conversation, she spent five minutes trying to get me to figure out the word for “ice” but then stormed out of the room before she told me why we were talking about ice in the first place. Nearly the same dialogue repeated the next day about the word for “post-it note.”

I pretty much felt like she was yelling at me every time we interacted and tried to avoid her as much as possible, leaving quietly as early as I could and not returning until as late as possible when hopefully she would already be asleep.  At the same time, I tried to look at all of her quirks as worthy of some good stories down the road.

Like the fact that I came out of my room one evening to find her walking around the apartment stark naked aside from her underwear.

And that I frequently came home around 6:00 or 7:00 in the evening to find Alevtyna already in bed, but would then awake at 3:00 a.m. to the sound of her running the blender in the kitchen.

And the fact that she stole a plastic bag out of my closet and used up the rest of my laundry detergent.  I think she was also using my shampoo.

To say it was not the friendly, welcoming environment I anticipated would be an understatement.

I might have thought it was just me (I am the common denominator in these bad homestays after all) except that when I mentioned the situation to my Russian teacher during class, she gave a knowing laugh. As I pressed further, it turns out that almost every student who has lived with Alevtyna has had a bad experience. We ended up joking about getting all of us together to form a support group!

The sad thing is, I really enjoyed my Russian classes. I thought that I learned and progressed more than I did in the two weeks I studied in St. Petersburg and I really liked my teacher, Olga. If it wasn’t for the homestay with Alevtyna, I probably would have stayed longer.

I am not done with homestays yet – I will be starting another one next week in Armenia, where I will be volunteering for a month. I am crossing my fingers that one finally turns out okay!

 

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22 Responses to “Another Homestay Gone Awry”

  1. Sorry about the lousy luck so far…hopefully the next one will be better. But really, who gets upset trying to teach someone to say post it note…:)
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted…Europe on a Budget – Defeating a Travel OxymoronMy Profile

  2. I’m glad you’re being honest about these homestay experiences Katie. Too often it all seems like really cool people who are always taking travelers to the pub and having a gay old time. It’s these experiences you’re describing that stop me from really wanting to give it a try. Good luck next week!
    Gillian @OneGiantStep recently posted…Monday Moment: Bali, IndonesiaMy Profile

    • Thanks Gillian. I’ve said from the beginning with this blog that I wanted to show the ups and downs of a trip like this – it isn’t all going to be fabulous (although sometimes I feel like I’ve had more than my shares of struggles!).

      The funny thing is, I’ve had experiences at hostels/guesthouses where the owner or staff was incredibly friendly and chatty and helpful, doing everything I wish my family hosts had done. So I wouldn’t write it off altogether. And I am still optimistic I’ll find a good one before my trip is through. :)

  3. Didn’t this woman also not believe your gluten intolerance was real? Why doesn’t the school discontinue its relationship with this woman if everyone has such a bad experience with her? Sounds awful. At least you survived!
    Ali recently posted…Milford Sound WildlifeMy Profile

    • Yes, but that didn’t really bother me because it has been very common for people in these countries to not understand the concept of food allergies – it is just completely foreign to them. I have had people tell me to eat more wheat and that will solve it!

      As for why they don’t ditch her? I heard later that she is a relative or friend of the family of the director. Don’t know if it is true or not, but it would make sense.

  4. Wow. Sounds like quite an experience. I recently stayed in a B&B that wreaked of “sick dog,” and tiptoed to avoid my host (who was frequently lounging in a dark living room). Look forward to reading about your adventures in Armenia.
    Jeff Dobbins recently posted…Street Aesthetic of NYCMy Profile

  5. Hope you have better luck with the next one! I’ve never done a homestay, but I guess it’s really just hit and miss… isn’t there a way to leave feedback (and check out other people’s feedback) about the places one stays at?
    Sabrina recently posted…What Do People Eat in China? Chinese Hot PotMy Profile

  6. Oh geez, sorry to hear about yet another bad homestay experience! I guess the upside of this one was that at least you weren’t also stuck out in the middle of nowhere!
    Amanda recently posted…Thursday Traveler: Gary Arndt of Everything EverywhereMy Profile

  7. OMG that is so awkward!!! I have only done homestay things during the time I was in the Katimavik program, and luckily they all went pretty well, but they are not really my thing. I need my space and don’t like having to feel like i have to be on my best behavior all the time. I like doing couch surfing better to get the “local” experience because i feel like I know what I am getting into better, and also you are free to leave at any time if it doesn’t work out
    Jade – OurOyster.com recently posted…Australian Overland Adventure Sponsors!My Profile

  8. Katie Hammel says:

    Well at least you now have plenty of examples if you’re ever asked in an interview to “talk about how you handled interacting with a difficult person.” :-)

  9. Haha, at least you got some good stories out of it. When I stayed in the home of a woman in Italy she walked around in her bra and underwear. No biggie!

    Hope the next one is fantastic. :)
    kim recently posted…Our Summer Road Trip Shapes UpMy Profile

  10. Ahh I love this! I can’t believe you stayed with her for two WHOLE weeks! I would have slept with one eye open! Great post! keep studying the language!

  11. Wow, that sounds horrible! I think I would have spent the majority of the time in tears! :D But, as always in these situations, I also find myself thinking *at least it will make a good blog post!*

    Hope your next homestay is better!
    Lauren recently posted…Friday Photo Essay: Stunning Architecture in Budapest.My Profile

  12. Wow, that sounds terrible! I can’t believe they just let her keep torturing student after student…although I guess if she’s a relative of the director I wouldn’t be surprised. Still, I’m glad you made it through and I hope that the next one is much, much better!
    Kristin recently posted…Photo of the Week: Flowers in MacauMy Profile

  13. Wow! I am surprised if people at the school know this that they keep putting people back in with her. Hopefully your next one is more fun!
    Erik recently posted…Photo of the Day- The White House, Washington, D.C.My Profile

  14. Oh my, so sorry to hear about that. I completely understand all you had to go through. Most of fresh students in Ukraine who aren’t from big cities have to rent flats and live with ladies like that. I could only bare half a year before I ran away! Sigh..

    • I was just glad I was only there for 2 weeks! If it had been any longer I would’ve insisted on a different place to stay!

  15. I think home stays is a great idea. It pretty bad on their end that with other people complaining they didn’t remove her from the program. I would want to be in a nice family environment not with one ungracious old woman. Nice job on sticking with it though, it is so much easier to learn a language in that country.

  16. Wow that sounds like a horrible experience! I hope your next homestay is much better. I am actually having difficulties as a homestay mum, this is my first time hosting and its been 2mths so far and i am feeling quite uncomfortable as my homestay guest has suddenly become really ungrateful constantly complaining about the distance to her work, making comments constantly which imply her money is making us rich and we are getting a good deal despite the fact that we let her pay half the normal homestay rate as we were not doing this to make money and wanted an experience with a Japanese homestay guest. Long story short we have gone out of our way and she is very ungrateful. I wish she would leave if she finds it too expensive but the truth is she cant find a cheaper homestay that offer so much. She came to Australia with no money to do anything but that is not our fault. We take her for dinners and outings and pay for her all the time and yet she still complains shes bored or lonely and its too expensive. We are actually out of pocket as she continues to use heating for 12 hrs straight in her room, our power bill has over doubled. Im mentally drained from trying to keep her happy and being made to feel responsible for her holiday when she is a 22 yr old adult. Sorry for long post but this has ruined my idea of homestay but im sure there are many success stories.

  17. LOL about your host faling asleep at 6 in the evening and then being up at 3 in the morning – that’s what our old people do, it’s cos they cannot sleep normally (dunno why). My grandmom does it, and my great grandma did it as well (but she had animals that neede to be fed at 6 a.m. so it was expected).

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