At GlobalYodel.com we love learning about places around the world through the perspective of the local. That's why we were excited to discover Homestay.com, a site that connects travelers with locals who have a spare room to rent.
To learn more, we sat down with Homestay host Esmeralda and her guest Tanja to talk about Homestaying in Harlem. Here are their thoughts on the experience:
Homestay Host: Esmeralda Frausto
Occupation: Marketing and sales.
Tell us about yourself: I am 37, originally from LA. I met my husband here when visiting and ended up moving here. I've been in NYC for the last seven years. I love to host international students and guests, and love to travel the world. Egypt is my favorite place.
Place you live? Harlem, New York
Can you sum up Harlem in a paragraph? Harlem is THE up and coming neighborhood in New York City. There are so many bars and lounges nearby. You can walk around and listen to jazz and gospel music. The vibe is amazing and part of that is due to all the different cultures creating this great energy. The food scene is vibrant. Harlem has it all. It's hip, has great food, and good shopping. You want it, you will find it.
What is your perfect day in Harlem? It would be a Sunday, and I would go to the local church and listen to gospel music. After that I would head to the Harlem Tavern to have brunch and mimosas and listen to jazz. Then off to St. Nicholas Park right next to Columbia University. Last but not least I would hit up the flea market on 77nd.
What is the best thing about living in Harlem? Location! You are within two stops of the Bronx and Queens, and it's easy to get into Manhattan. Best part is the music. Blues, jazz and gospel: it's everywhere.
What would be surprising about this place to an outsider? It used to be a horrible and dangerous neighborhood. Now it is so safe.
Why did you become a Homestay host? Before I moved to NYC I used to travel a lot. Since I've been here I got so busy and I started hosting guests. I can't travel like I used to because of an injury. I love learning about different cultures and languages, so I love hosting Homestays because it's like bringing the travel to me.
What is something you learned from your guests? Going with the flow is so important. And don't be scared of people.
What have been some of your most memorable hosting experiences? My guest Tanja's 40th birthday. She wanted to do karaoke, so I took her. She was blown away with the voices the people had. She was able to mingle with the locals, drink beer, and hang out. She had a great time and it was great to see her integrate into the culture, mingle, and get comfortable with the locals.
Do you have any advice for people interested in becoming a Homestay host? Spend time with your guests. To me it's all about truly finding out why they want to be here. Once you get to know them you can guide them better and help them have an amazing life-changing experience.
I had a student from Japan who was super quiet and shy, but once I took the time to get to know her, show her around and spend time with her, she started to open up. I found out she was a Geisha!
One woman from Croatia has come to stay with me three times. She has become a friend and part of our family. We email, Skype and will always be in touch.
These are some of the benefits of really taking time to get to know your guests.
Homestay Guest: Delli Compagni Tanja
Occupation: Doctor's assistant.
Describe yourself: I've always liked to travel, discover new cultures, and see how other people live, think and face challenges in other parts of the world. I've always seen this as a personal enrichment. I speak four languages and traveling gives me the chance to speak with the local people.
I like music and especially jazz dancing. I love going to the movie theater, reading, and riding bikes. Most of all I like just getting together with friends and having a good conversation.
Place you live: I live only a few minutes away from the center and old town of Berne, which is the capital of Switzerland. It is the fourth most populous city in Switzerland. The official language is German, but the main spoken language is the Swiss German dialect.
What do you love most about Harlem? The fact that in the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s, Harlem had an outpouring of artistic work unprecedented in the African American community. I think it has kept a certain energy. People are very friendly, outgoing, positive and creative. They love music and just having a good time, as do I.
What was your reasoning behind staying at a Homestay as opposed to staying at a hotel or hostel? I wanted the chance to engage with local people and experience the city and neighborhoods from a local's point of view.
How did staying at a Homestay affect your travel experience? It made my experience in NYC, in a way, complete. There were many benefits from staying and interacting with my host. In this short time she taught me many things and gave me lots of good advice.
Tell us about your experience being a guest at a Homestay. How has it been? I enjoyed staying with my host very much and I'm very glad to have met her. It wouldn't have been such a great experience without being a guest at Homestay. I treasure this trip!
Tell us something you learned from your host: That sometimes the best things in New York City, maybe also in life, you discover without a plan. Just go with the flow. The city offers so many precious opportunities to engage with people. Unexpected nice occurrences can happen every day if you stay open minded. Esmeralda, my host, was right. When we were on our way home, after our delicious dinner, we met two nice jazz singers on the sidewalk who spontaneously began to sing a song for me when they heard it was my last night in Harlem.
What was your most memorable shared experience with your host? On a Sunday when we attended a Catholic church service together. The gospel choir was amazing and the priest was very entertaining.
Do you have any advice for people interested in being a Homestay guest? If someone wants to have a different experience in a foreign country and likes to engage with local people, Homestay is a great opportunity.