November 2010 issue

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Home from home

When it comes to accommodation choices for language students, the benefits of assimilating into a homestay family are often weighed up against the convenience and safety of on- or off-campus residences. Jane Vernon Smith takes a look at developments in this area.

Along with the right programme, appropriate accommodation is a crucial factor in the success of any language travel experience. Some, like Bernard Zagdanski of US-based host family and residence accommodation provider, Sara’s New York Homestay, would go even further, suggesting that the choice of accommodation can be even more important for some than the programme itself. “We are feeling of late,” he says, “[that] the choice of homestay and other student accommodation [has] become so important for students and their parents, that sometimes, if not often, students will choose schools based on the homestay and the choice of other accommodation services they can provide.”

Because of the opportunities it offers for immersion in the target language and culture, host family accommodation is widely recommended, and has long been a popular choice. Another major benefit, as German agent Birgit Kirchner of Euro-Sprachreisen in Stockstadt-am-Main points out, is that this is still the cheapest type of accommodation available in most cities. Susan Svensson of US host family accommodation agency, Educational Services International, believes that there has been a recent shift in attitude towards host family accommodation among her 18-plus aged clientele. “It seems that more students choose homestay for cost and convenience, rather than for cultural exchange or language practice,” she observes.

Meanwhile, at Sara’s New York Homestay, Zagdanski has noticed a trend over the past 12 months away from host family accommodation in favour of private accommodation. This is the case particularly for students over the age of 21. Sara Homestay has been running a 100-bed residence year-round and, comments Zagdanski, “has increased the offering by about 200 beds during the summer, with practically 100 per cent occupancy”.

Other accommodation providers and language schools have also seen a rise in demand for student residences. At UK-based Britannia Travel, residence halls are the most popular accommodation option, according to spokesperson, Michele da Silva, and the company is contracting more rooms year-round in halls of residence, in addition to its own residence near London’s Canary Wharf. Britannia, which claims to be London’s largest student accommodation agency specialising in language students, also offers house/flat shares, hostels, hotels and host families.

While the majority of schools rely on provision that is owned and run by third parties, some also offer residences that they own and manage themselves. One such is the language school chain, Bell Worldwide, whose Bell Bedgebury Learning Centre in the UK offers its own full-board accommodation within the school’s 220-acre site. As spokesperson, Caroline Davidson, points out, “One of the benefits of living within a campus environment is that students have access to learning and recreational facilities at all times of the day. It also creates a thriving and dynamic student community,” she says.

At the Unite Group, which specialises in supplying one-bed flats, studio rooms and cluster flats at a range of prices, both for UK university students and foreign students, PR & University Relations Manager, Elisabet Sanchez, highlights a growing trend for premium accommodation. Students expect all the comforts of home,” she explains, “such as contemporary furniture [and] modern appliances – and [they] expect high quality.” Hence, the majority of Unite properties provide ensuite bathrooms and on-site laundry facilities, as well as security features, including secure door entry systems and CCTV. Meanwhile, its premium rooms provide contemporary furniture and a large study area, and, says Sanchez, some come complete with a wall-mounted flat screen TV (including TV licence), fortnightly cleaning service, modern hideaway kitchens, stone-effect flooring, communal student lounges and quiet study rooms.

Flat shares have been less prevalent in the USA, according to Christopher Malenfant, who opened ESL Townhouse there two years ago in order to tap into this gap in the market. Malenfant notes that the majority of requests from students are for single and double rooms in shared apartments. He has also seen a smaller, but growing, demand for private studio apartments, which the company began offering as an option for students this year. “Some individual students are willing to pay a higher price for complete privacy,” he observes, while “the demand for couples or for two friends to share their own private space is also significant.”

When it comes to hostel accommodation, budget dormitories are the most commonly requested option at UK-based agency, HostelBookers, notes Giovanna Gentile. Hostels have changed to keep up with modern demands. “Students expect value for money: dirt, grime and dishonesty are not acceptable, even at the cheapest properties. They look for quality and comfort, but above all, don’t want to spend a fortune.”

Clearly some locations are more expensive than others, and as Zagdanski highlights, prices are generally high in New York City, particularly in Manhattan, where most schools are based. “We try to lower the price by offering double rooms (even in homestays), and some students will take advantage of this, and sacrifice privacy for cheaper accommodation,” he comments. On the other hand, for agent Boelo van der Pool of Babel Idiomas in Malaga, Spain, price is important, but, he observes, “Quite a few customers are willing to pay more money for residential or apartment accommodation than for host family and half-board.”

Meanwhile, Kirchner is of the opinion that, while price is an important issue it is not the most important one. Today’s students want to be able to keep in touch with their friends and family at home, so whichever accommodation type they opt for, most will want to know that there will be free Wi-Fi available. This, as Davidson, observes, is now regarded as standard, particularly in residences.

In demand

Accommodation choice, for language students as much as for anyone else, is a matter of balancing the individual’s various needs and wishes.

Staying with a host family is widely regarded as the best way for students to immerse themselves in the target language. Accordingly, “Mostly our students prefer host family accommodation, in order to maximise their exposure to English,” notes Spanish agent, Beatriz Estraviz, Operations Manager at EMY Cursos en el Extranjero, San Sebastian. “If we are talking about juniors, nearly all parents choose this option. Adults in general prefer a host family as well.”

Generally speaking, host family accommodation seems to be the number-one choice for teenage students. As Bet E. Wolff, Executive Director at Argentinian agency, BEW Network, observes, “It is cosier, they are well looked after, food is home-made, there is close supervision [and] parents can set rules.”

When it comes to older students, on the other hand, many appear to be swayed by the greater independence offered by student halls of residence and flat shares. Sometimes, they may start off in a host family, but, when it comes to those in their 20s and 30s, comments, Wolff, “as soon as they can, they want an independent life: apartments, hostels, residences. They have friends, partners; they want to cook their own meals, stay up at night, set up their parties, interact with people from different cultures…and they want to keep it cheap”.

There is also a nationality-related dimension to accommodation choice, according to some providers. John Crick of Navitas English, for instance, says, “European students tend to want independent accommodation. Latin Americans tend to prefer to start off in [host family] accommodation, and then want to move to independent accommodation…; and Asian students prefer [host family] over independent accommodation.” This finding is supported by Caroline Davidson of Bell Worldwide, who reveals that “over 90 per cent of Japanese students based at Bell Cambridge…have opted for home stay so far in 2010, whereas over a half of Russian students stay in residential accommodation.”

On the other hand, Elisabet Sanchez of The Unite Group, believes that different nationalities have similar requirements. “First and foremost, they are looking for safe and secure, quality accommodation, as well as being in close proximity to university campuses, transport links and local amenities.”

Contact any advertiser in this issue now

The following language schools, associations and accommodation providers advertised in the latest edition of Language Travel Magazine. If you would like more information on any of these advertisers, tick the relevant boxes, fill out your details and send.






International Students House  

British Council  
English Australia  
Groupement FLE  
International House World Organisation  
IALC International  
Languages Canada / Langues Canada  
MEI Ireland  
Neas Australia  
Quality English  

Globus Education Agency  
IEFT- International Education Fairs of Turkey  

Cambridge Esol  

Dr. Walter GmbH  
Student Guard Insurance  

LTM Digital  
Student Marketing  

Cyprus Tourist Office  
Malta Tourism Authority  

Twin Group  

Academies Australasia  
Bond University  
Browns English Language School  
Carrick Institute of Education  
La Trobe University  
Language Studies International  
Neas Australia  
Pacific Gateway International College  
Shafston International College  
Universal English College (Global Village Sydney)  
University of Tasmania  
University of Western Australia  
University of Western Sydney College  

Ecela - Latin Immersion  

Ceran Lingua International  

Berlitz Canada   
Bow Valley College  
Braemar International College  
Camosun College  
Capilano University  
College Platon  
East Coast School of Languages  
English Bay College  
English School of Canada  
Eurocentres Canada  
Geos North America  
Global Village  
Guard.me Insurance  
International Language School of the YMCAs Quebec  
LSC Language Studies Canada  
National School of Languages  
Niagara College  
Ottawa International Student Programmes (OISP)  
Queen's University  
Saint Mary's University  
School District No. 42 Maple Ridge & Pitt Meadows  
Stewart College of Languages  
St Giles Colleges  
Study Abroad Canada  
Thompson Rivers University  
Vancouver English Centre  
VanWest College  

Cyprus Tourist Office  
Language Conquests  
The Language Explorer  
Xenion High School  

Tandem Santiago  

Mandarin House  

Intensa Spanish Language School  

Study Team Cuba  

IH Cairo  

Active Learning  
British Study Centres  
Bury Language School  
Cambridge Education Group  
English Language Centre Brighton & Hove  
English Studio  
Excel English Language School  
Hampstead School of English  
Hove College  
International House London  
INTO University Partnerships  
Kaplan International Colleges  
King's Colleges  
LAL Language Centres   
Language in Group  
Malvern House College London  
Quality English  
Queen Ethelburga's College  
Sedbergh School  
Spinnaker College  
St Clare's Oxford  
St Giles Colleges  
Study Group  
TUI Language   
Twin Group  
University of Essex - International Academy  
Wimbledon School of English  

Accent Francais  
Alpha B - Institut Linguistique  
College International de Cannes  
Ecole PERL  
Ecole Suisse Internationale  
Education En France  
Institut de Langue et de Culture Françaises - ILCF  
Langue Onze Toulouse  
Le Franc Parler   
LSF Montpellier  
Lyon Bleu International  
Media Langues Caraibes   
Paris Langues / Club CEI des 4 Vents  

GLS Sprachenzentrum  
International House Berlin - Prolog  
F & U Academy of Languages   

Media Langues Caraibes  

Academia de Espanol Probigua  

Cork English College /Language & Activity Holidays  
Dublin International Foundation College  
Galway Cultural Institute  
Horner School of English  

Alpha School of English  
Clubclass Residential Language School  
EC English Language Centre  
English Language Academy  
Feltom (Via Malta Tourism Authority)  

Habla Ya Language Center  

Derzhavin Institute  

EAC Language Centres and Activity Camps  
University of Stirling  

CLIC-IH Seville   
Malaca Instituto - Club Hispanico SL  
Malaga Si  
Inturjoven Spanish Courses  
Pamplona Learning Spanish Institute   

EF Language Colleges Ltd  
ESL Ecole Suisses de Langues  
Eurocentres International  

Hargrave Military Academy  
Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs  
Language Consultants International  
University of California Riverside  
University of San Diego  
Zoni Language Centers  

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