September 10th, 2008
Good communication between home exchangers is always important. But when you don’t share a common language with your home exchange partner, communication becomes essential for a successful swap. Don’t hesitate to raise any remaining issues that you might have and leave detailed instructions about your home before the swap begins. To give you an example, I sent a simplified version of our personal Home Exchange Guide (Google translated into Spanish) to the Spanish home exchangers a few weeks before the swap. That gave them enough time to ask further questions.
In return, little posts in English stuck to kitchen cabinets helped us to orient ourselves, when we arrived at their apartment. (It always touches me to find such thoughtful and caring signs left behind to ease the trip of the home exchange guests.)
Despite our careful preparations we still encountered a misunderstanding due to the language barrier at the last minute. The Spanish home exchangers arrived at the train station in Tutzing where we live and picked up our car. In the car, they found a bunch of keys among them car and house key - just as agreed (or so I thought). Our direct neighbors had an additional house key for emergencies…
The Spanish home exchangers arrived after a flight across Europe and a long train ride, only to find out that the neighbor who was supposed to have our house key was not home. Imagine the situation! Luckily, I had informed several of our neighbors of our expected home exchange guests. One of them called us on our mobile – meanwhile we were crossing and enjoying the vast Catalonian landscape on our way to the Pyrenees. It took only a moment to explain that our house key had been there all along.
At last, the way was cleared for a joyful stay of the Spanish home exchangers at our home!
September 1st, 2008
Have you ever turned down a home exchange offer because of communication problems? I am not talking about misunderstandings that can arise sometimes in communicating with a potential swapper. I am talking about the challenge of overcoming a language barrier.
No doubt, English is the lingua franca among home exchangers. With so many other languages spoken, especially in Europe, it could happen though, that you receive a home exchange offer composed in French, Italian, Spanish, or in another unfamiliar language.
Is it possible and advisable to do a home exchange under such circumstances?
A few years ago and with less home exchange experiences to count on, I always immediately and politely turned down such offers. Communicating is such a vital part of a successful home exchange. No wonder, I did not feel comfortable trying to arrange a home exchange under the circumstances.
And that is what I still advise today. If you are new to home exchange, get yourself familiar with the concept first, before tackling the language barrier.
Next, for the advanced home exchanger: How to successfully overcome a language barrier.
May 18th, 2007
OK, I admit it. I was getting a little nervous. After I hadn’t heard from our home exchange partner in over a month, a short note arrived last Saturday with the question what day we would arrive. Relief! That was the kind of news I had been waiting for.
Our email correspondence had been sporadic since we had both agreed to a non-simultaneous home exchange a few months ago; however, a few important details of our swap puzzle were still missing. Like exchanging addresses and keys!
I mailed back right away, asking for these details. No answer. I knew our partner was very heavily engaged at work and he was about to head out on an overseas business trip. Also, he had never done a home exchange before. In all of my correspondence with him, I had gained the impression of a reliable and trustworthy person. Things would work out, I just knew.
But today, just 9 days before our trip I decided to call for action. Where to start without even having a phone number? Do you sometimes type in the name of a last friend on Google to find out what happened to him? That’s what I did with his name and bingo!
It wasn’t easy to get connected directly with him over the phone. First of all, I called from out of country and secondly, I do not speak the native language well at all. Once I got through to his office staff, they would not give me his mobile number. Of course not! But within a few hours my phone was ringing and my home exchange partner was on the line. It took but a few minutes to put together the final pieces of the missing home exchange puzzle.
Once again, like so many times before when I had organized a home exchange, my intuition had not misled me. I knew I could trust this stranger.