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Amazon Exchange Program (AEP)


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CULTURE & HOMESTAYS

By living with host families and participating in daily activities, participants have the opportunity to really get to know local community members.  Living with families is the best way to learn about local customs, local needs, and activities in the communities.

Feedback from the pilot program in 2012, from faculty, community members, and local authorities demonstrate why homestays are an integral part of the Amazon exchange experience:

  • The president of the teacher’s association stated that it was the first time visitors had ever stayed in family homes and that it was a great opportunity for cultural exchange in the communities.  
  • The families and teachers reported that the home-stays were beneficial to the program, because it helped them get to know the visitors.
  • Local people said they felt more comfortable speaking with the professors, because they knew them from being in local homes.  
  • Local people stated that when groups of outsiders come and stay in the hotel they feel very separated from them.

Homestays

In the host community of Porvenir, each student will be assigned to a different local family, where s/he will live for about one month. Students are assigned to separate families so that they have the best opportunity for complete cultural and language immersion. However, houses are nearby their neighbors, and it is a short walk to any house in the community. Community members speak only Spanish and other native languages, so the ability to communicate in Spanish is essential.

Participants will be immersed in the subsistence lifestyle of their host families. Most families engage in a combination of hunting (various forest animals), fishing, raising of domestic animals (chickens, ducks, pigs, cows), and agriculture (rice, corn, beans, plantain, yucca, and sugar cane). Living with host families means eating local food, engaging in local customs, practicing your Spanish, and participating in daily activities. Daily activities could include helping to cook, fishing, working in the “chaco” (agricultural field), visiting local friends and family, playing “futbol” (soccer), etc. Living locally also means living without electricity, running water, flush toilets, and showers- a great lesson in living more sustainably, with much less energy consumption than U.S. citizens are used to!

Living with a host family means sharing your experiences. It is a two-way process that includes learning from your family AND sharing your experiences and knowledge as a U.S. citizen. For example, we can learn a lot from local community members about living sustainably, with less energy and materials. Everyone in the communities grows their own foods, all organically. Even children in these communities inherently understand their connection to nature, and why they need to protect the environment. We urbanites can learn a lot from indigenous peoples. However, our host families told us they would also like their children to learn things from us, like English! So something as simple as teaching our host family kids some English phrases is a great way to return the favor of hosting us for a month!

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