Within North America, the founders of many homestay provider companies have experience hosting international students themselves. At Canada Homestay International for example, a company that partners with public school districts, private schools and language schools across Canada, Nathan Speedie reveals that founder Robin Wilson started accepting international students at the bed and breakfast she was running which eventually led her to change her business model. “As a mother, Robin felt compelled to do what she could to ensure that these visiting students had the kind of care and support that she would want for her own children,” he says.
Indeed, contributors believe that host families offer overseas secondary students that extra level of support that other types of accommodation might not. “The boarding situation is not ideal for many international students,” suggests Aiden O’Leary from Sara’s New York Homestay, with founders that hosted international students in Europe and wanted to bring the experience to the USA. “Students living so far away from their home and native culture often face the shock of entering such a cold and tread-the-water-or-perish atmosphere of a dorm. With homestays, our students stay with families whose parents have experience nurturing students of this age; they act as surrogate parents and as such are a much stronger safety net than anything a student will find on campus.” He adds that there are several different criteria potential host families need to fulfil, including a low crime rate in the area they live and the willingness of the host to ensure a welcoming atmosphere. “When we interview our hosts – first over the phone then in person – we strive to ensure we find places where we would not only feel comfortable living ourselves but would feel equally comfortable recommending a friend to stay there.”
There are other benefits to placing students with host families too. While Keith Mayer from American Home Life International (AHLI) – partnering with private day schools, language schools and community colleges – lists some of these as language acquisition and cultural understanding, Speedie adds that “there are so many small lessons that can only be taught through this kind of life experience. [Students] will be exposed to living English, and have many opportunities to practice speaking. However, this comes with responsibility; students will get more out of the homestay if they make an effort to interact with their family a lot.”
On a similar note, Patty Brownlee from Global Immersions Homestay in the USA says that “a large emphasis is placed on interaction between visitors and their hosts for all our programmes. The experience our visitors are seeking varies greatly and therefore we work hard to match the preferences and requests of each host and visitor.” The company also offers assistance to hosts, Brownlee adds, from cultural tips to newsletters and educational events. “All of our hosts must be within walking distance to public transportation for our visitors to be able to travel to their daily destination,” she adds. Brownlee explains that the initial host family application is followed up by a home visit and reference checks and that the most popular option is the standard homestay at US$320 per week, although a group homestay option is also offered.
Sara’s New York Homestay, meanwhile, is a full-service agency, according to O’Leary, and this includes an emergency contact that can be reached 24/7. He reports that the economic downturn has affected enrolments from countries such as southern Europe, while students from countries with a growing economy, such as Brazil or Korea, are increasingly choosing host family placements.
At AHLI, however, Mayer has seen interest from Asian and European countries. Host family recruiters are active in the private school and church communities in the local area, “which provides a base for recruiting families to host international students”, he says. “This past year I spoke with more agents interested in homestay programmes for their clients. Some mentioned that the boarding school accommodation may house many students from one particular nationality so these students are with other students from their culture for the majority of the time. They did not see this as a positive aspect.”
North American high schools also organise their own host family placements (see box left), and many cite the use of agents. Mark Efinger from the Academy at Charlemont in the USA says, “Agencies are extremely helpful in communicating with the students’ parents back home and sometimes in handling any difficulty that might come up. There are a number of students studying at different schools throughout the state, and the agents often schedule small weekend parties for the students together from various schools.”
Homestays at North American high schools
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