Do you enjoy interacting with people from other cultures, exchanging ideas and learning about their cuisines and possibly exchanging language skills? If so you may enjoy and benefit from hosting international homestay students!
I began hosting homestays in 1997, shortly after I purchased my first home. The extra dollars helped finance much needed restumping and other urgent structural home renovations. Since then I have hosted students from China, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan, Indonesia and Taiwan. Most of my experiences with the homestays I have hosted have been extremely positive with the exception of two students who were extremely poor ambassadors for their fellow Japanese. Both proved to be very deceptive and dishonest, but luckily, I was able to resolve both scenarios at either the host school level, or by communicating with their parents. In one incident the police had to be involved, with the other, it was as much the fault of a phone company allowing a sixteen year old to open a phone account, as it was the student concerned. Both situations were highly stressful and time consuming. In one instance I found it necessary to employ a translator.
In addition to students I have also hosted some wonderful teachers accompanying groups of students on short term study tours and am currently hosting a delightful Chinese Language teacher intern for the best part of this year.
Homestays fall into two categories. Short term study tour participants, most often here for two weeks doing an organised study program and often weekend leisure tours, during their school holiday breaks in their own country. Longer term students or interns make up the rest and usually are here as individuals.
If you intend hosting international homestays, you will need to provide them with a room, wardrobe and storage space, as well as a desk and lamp. Good heating is essential. Generally you are expected to provide them with breakfast, a packed lunch and dinner. It is pretty much expected you will have wifi available to them. Set rules in relation to its use early on. A current national police check and safe working with children certification, if students you sometimes host are under eighteen years of age. It is useful to sometimes get them to have some form of dictionary or translator on hand, if you need to clarify or explain something important!
- Extra, tax free income.
- Some extraordinary young people participate in these study programs and it will be an enriching experience and privillege to have them in your home.
- Learning about different cultures.
- Opportunity for learning or consolidating languages like Mandarin, Indonesian or Japanese yourself.
- Opportunities to learn new cooking techniques and cuisines.
- Amazing gifts.
- Cutural exchange and networking.
- Older and interactive homestays are often a joy to have around.
- Some younger students really appreciate the experience they had in your home, as part of their learning about Australia and will wish to keep in touch.
- Some students can be hard to communicate with and wish to have minimal interaction with their host
- Some cultures send badly behaved and out of control students overseas, to save face at home. These students can then be as problematic for their hosts as they were for their parents.
- Some host organisations expect you to drive short term homestays to and from students, particularly in rural areas
- Long term under 18 homestays can be very hard to keep track of out of school hours. Communicating with their host institution and agents helps. Some will try to wag school. Their visas are conditional upon their attendance.
- Unless your homestay is able to cook, you will need to prepare meals that they can microwave in your absence if you are going out.
- Some homestays have an attitude that you are their maid and house-keeper and will be unwilling to participate even with the most basic of household duties, like clearing the table, let alone their room, or washing up!
- Some will leave your bathroom floors completely flooded, so have to be trained in Australian bathroom etiquette!
Food and Meals:
- Take your homestay to the supermarket to determine their likes and dislikes.
- Most have commented that they prefer my Western cooking to my attempts at Chinese or other dishes.
- Most homestays have loved barbecues, roasts and grills, along with casseroles and stews.
- Rice, pasta and noodles are generally appreciated regularly.
- Some cultures will not be used to salads, so introduce them slowly.
- Some will love to cook, but be very messy and reluctant to clean up afterwards.It is such a treat when you have a homestay who is an excellent cook and realises mess minimisation and cleaning up are all part of cooking.
- Many like two minute noodles for lunch. Leftovers that can be microwaved are also good and many appreciate sandwiches and rolls.
- I keep a fruitbowl in the kitchen they can help themselves from, as well as snacks like two minute noodles.
- I offer both knives and forks and chopsticks initially, but see part of my role as training them in European food etiquette, especially for longer term students
Who to approach if you want to host a homestay
I began hosting students through the Melbourne Language Centre. Most Universities and higher studies programs have international student programs and will be looking for host families and individuals. Many private and government schools also host both short term study tours and longer term students and intern teachers. Check their websites and offer to become a host.
Short term study tour students are the easiest to begin with. I find it best to host two, if you have the rooms, because they entertain each other and you maximise your profits. Their time is pretty much accounted for by their host institution and they are too tired at the end of the day to want to hit town in the evenings. I have hosted some wonderful thirteen to sixteen year olds on that basis. Longer term younger students can be more problematic, so really think about whether you are prepared to live with the stress of a teenager who has limited understanding of English. Their friendship network will be first and foremost to them and many will want to be out late using public transport to get home on a regular basis. Make it clear they need to let you know whether they require a meal in advance if they are going out. I always set a 9.30pm curfew for students of 16-18 during the Sunday to Thursday, and by the second last train of the evening on Friday and Saturday nights. With long termers, I used to stick a copy of house rules up in their bedroom. This covered things like curfew times, shower time limits, phonecalls and room cleanliness, as well as letting me know by a reasonable time if they would not be home for a meal.I also gave them a printed copy and went over it and got them to sign it. This was useful to show the institution, if the student was doing the wrong thing repeatedly.
These are usually long term students undertaking tertiary study in Australia, or like my current homestay, working as a language assistant and coach at a local private school. Technically they are adults and in terms of legal responsibilities much easier. I have had a few short term adult homestays accompanying student groups. Most of my adult homestays have been excellent. They have proved to be excellent ambassadors for their own countries and cultures, with the exception of one student, whom I described earlier, who now has an international police record.
As a teacher, it has been highly enriching professionally to exchange ideas and experiences with teachers from Japan and China.
Orientation and outings
I always begin my homestay's orientation with a trip to the supermarket and a dry run for the public transport they will use to get to their place of learning or internship. I take them on walks around the local area to familiarise them with shops, public transport, parks and leisure ammenities. I have taken a number to see native animals at the Ballarat Wildlife and Reptile park, which they adored. Generally, your homestay will soon develop a friendship network and be pretty much self-sufficient when it comes to pleasure and leisure activities.
Expect your homestay to follow house rules with smoking and alcohol or other drugs. Personally none of my homestays have caused problems in these areas. If a homestay gets sick, you will need to get them to the appropriate medical practitioner. They will not have an Australian Medicare card, so will have to pay for their visit.
It is not unreasonable to expect your homestay to keep their room reasonably clean and tidy. Personally, I like to clean their room to have reason to go in to their room on a semi-regular basis. This way you get a pretty good idea about whether your homestay is "doing the right thing" or otherwise, but every homestay is different. Really responsible and mature homestays should ideally be prepared to vaccuum, dust, empty rubbish bins and change their own sheets.
With short term homestays I pretty much do everything, as their English is often limited.
Homestays and your pets
Often, homestays will have not lived with pets before, as they come from countries where they ahve lived in tiny apartments. Many are very wary of dogs and will need help to gain confidence to deal with them. Make sure they learn about safely approaching dogs and train your homestay about rules and protocols relating to your pets. For instance, my cat was not to be let out at night. My dog is not allowed into many rooms in the house. Pets are not to be fed tidbits, or taken out of the house unless I have okayed it.
Homestays and phonecalls
Most homestays have mobile phones. Based on personal experience, insist they only make calls on their own phone, unless it is a genuine emergency. Give them your mobile phone number. Never give them your landline number, as one who had mine opened an account with another phone company for herself, but the bills came back to me, to the tune of hundreds of dollars. I had to involve the telephone ombudsman and threaten legal action against the company and concerned and my own service provider, for allowing a minor to take out a contract in the first place.
Homestays and visitors
- Make the students parents welcome to visit, but not to stay with you. Many do come to Australia for brief visits to see how their son or daughter is fairing.
- Set rules about overnight guests. I did not want any children conceived in my home by homestays.
- I always allow visitors, but insisted on meeting them.
- I expect my homestays to be polite with my own visitors and guests and make the most of opportunities for interacting with them, within my home.
When things go wrong:
- Contact the relevant institution and the student's agent, if they have one.
- I once had a homestay rehomed within a day of my incurring a serious injury
- I have had a couple of unreliable students "rehomed".