For many overseas students, embarking on a study abroad trip for the first time can be a daunting experience, and some secondary schools in Australia believe that homestay families can play a vital role in helping young students adapt to their new environment.
“We consider a homestay the best option for students who are away from their homes,” says Debbie Kemish at St Paul’s School in Bald Hills, QLD. “Homestay families relate directly to the student and assist them with adjustments to living in a foreign country. They provide a family setting for the young students to continue to grow and take an interest in the students’ learning and growth.”
Indeed, schools that offer homestays to international students often point to the strong relationships built up between the students and host family often the mother in particular as one of the most positive aspects of the experience. Homestays are not only an accommodation option but also provide a substitute family, with all the emotional and practical advantages that entails. Marnie Watts at Woodcroft College in Morphett Vale, SA, says, “The advantage of homestays for school students is that they are in a caring family environment instead of a large boarding house where there are few and always just on duty staff to care for them. Homestay families take the students to out-of-hours sport commitments and activities and also come to parent/teacher interviews at the school and treat them like their own children. The students experience a family home-cooked meal every night, and homestay parents are quick to inform us if the student is unwell, is struggling, stressed or homesick. They are also able to carefully monitor internet usage, etc.”
While the benefits for a student during a successful homestay placement are often immeasurable, the success of each placement is often down to the quality of the host family. Schools go to great lengths to ensure that their host families are a right match for the student. “Families usually approach us to apply to be a homestay family,” says Watts. “They need to fill in an application form and then go through a vigorous interview every member of the family and the home is also assessed. All adult members of the home also need to have a police check. Follow-up checks are made at regular intervals.” Watts also adds that often the families involved are already known to the school. “Some of the families are school families, some are school families who have left school and some are community families known to us,” she says.
Kemish at St Paul’s says that they employ a Homestay Coordinator in order to make sure that homestay families are aware of the legal requirements they must fulfil due to state legislation while hosting an international student. “She also inspects each home and gets to know the family prior to any student being placed with the family,” she adds. “We also continue to inspect homestays after the students are placed and conduct homestay meetings throughout the school year, to advise families of what is happening at the school and to provide any relevant information they need with respect to the academic and pastoral care of the students.”
Kristell Scott at Townsville Grammar School in North Ward, QLD, says that they offer both homestay and boarding options for international students. Homestay arrangements usually turn out to be successful, she explains, adding, “The students and their parents quickly alert us if there are any problems or anything is below par.” The accommodation provision is evenly split between homestay and boarding options, and Scott points out one disadvantage to homestays that needs to be considered by students. “[There are fewer] opportunities for socialising with other students their own age than in the boarding school,” she says. However, this may be outweighed by the family environment offered at a homestay. “All activities that their family undertakes, the students does with them,” points out Scott. “This can include many different things, but the student is never to be excluded.”
A significant advantage of homestay accommodation over boarding is that it can be offered year round for international students who cannot easily travel home in their school holidays. Margie McGregor at St Hilda’s School in the Gold Coast, QLD, says that all international students are required to board if they are not accompanied by their parents. However, she adds, “During the end of term holidays the boarding houses are closed. With parents’ consent, girls may choose to stay with Gold Coast families as part of a homestay service offered by Imagine Education, one of St Hilda’s preferred partners providing programmes in high school preparation.”
Forging strong bonds
An overwhelming sign of the success of a homestay placement is the enduring relationships that often continue between a student and their host family many years after they have finished studying in the country. Marnie Watts from Woodcroft College in Morphett Vale, SA, says, “They enter into family life and join family celebrations and really become part of the family. We have often had the situation where the international students have been asked to be part of a wedding party, for example, and even travelled back especially to do so. Our students overwhelmingly stay in contact with their homestay family long after they leave and go on to university. There is a short film on our website about one group of four ex-Woodcroft students and the way in which their ex-homestay mother helped them with their business at Glenelg.”
At St Paul’s School in Bald Hills, QLD, Debbie Kemish agrees that lasting relationships often develop between students and their host family. “Many of our past students continue to keep in contact with their host families and we believe that this shows the strong bonds that occur during their teenage years in these homes.”