||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.
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.”