Each year, thousands of U.S. families open their homes and hearts to visitors from all over the world. In a homestay, students can observe, learn and experience a new lifestyle and culture, while practicing English skills in a home environment.
Successful homestay experiences can help to ease homesickness for international students. Often students feel that they have found a second family who loves and cares for them. Many praise their homestay experiences because of the opportunity it gives them to improve their English skills, be immersed in American culture and increase their social skills. This experience can help students make a smooth transition into an American University or enable them to reach a future career goal.
Daily Living Experience
What makes homestays special is the daily experience of living with hosts who are eager to share their way of life. Hosts involve their guests in day-to-day activities and often introduce the students to their relatives, friends and neighbors. Homestay hosts also include their international student guests in social gatherings such as summertime barbecues, holiday celebrations, or trips to local tourist attractions.
Homestay hosts will reflect the diversity of the region in which they live. They may be single parents, retired couples, widows, widowers, or young families. They will come from different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. What they will have in common is a desire to share their homes and their time with international students.
Usually, international visitors enjoy staying with hosts who have family members of similar ages or with similar interests. The homestay coordinator will consider a student’s needs, interests and requests before matching the student with a homestay host.
Schools and homestay organizations can arrange short-term, semester or year-long stays. There are also programs in which students will live in the dormitory or residence halls during the week and then spend weekends and holidays with their assigned families.
Adjusting to the Household
Living in a homestay will always require an adjustment period. Most homestay hosts will give the student a list of simple house rules to help everyone live happily together. They may give guidelines about Internet usage, laundry, television viewing, meal times, keeping the bedroom and bathroom clean, and money matters.
For universities offering homestays, it’s important to set standards for approving hosts who will participate in the program. For example, at the University of Delaware, all homestay hosts living more than one mile from campus must provide transportation to and from campus every day of the week. Hosts must also provide each student with a private, furnished room which has a desk, a bed, clean linens, a bureau, a closet or wardrobe, and sufficient lighting. Students will have access to a shared or private bathroom as well. Homestay hosts are expected to make the students feel welcome in the home and provide an English-only speaking environment to help students improve their English skills.
The homestay coordinators carefully screen homestay host applicants to make sure they have a desire and passion for hospitality and an interest in other cultures. The coordinators will interview the applicants and visit them in their homes to determine the suitability of the living space and meet the family members. Annual meetings, phone calls, and emails keep the hosts up to date in order to maintain high standards of operation within the homestays.
Unfortunately, not all homestay matches are perfect. Occasionally, problems arise that cannot be solved. In these cases, the student can ask for another homestay or explore other housing options. The homestay coordinator will work closely with the student to ensure that the next homestay will be a good match.
Benefitting from Your Homestay
If you choose to live in a homestay, your hosts will be interested in your country and family. They may also enjoy celebrating your country’s traditions as well, such as the Chinese New Year. Be sure to bring photographs of your town, school, friends and family. You might even enjoy cooking a meal from your country together with your hosts. If you wish, you may also bring small gifts that are typical of your country.
There is no better way to gain special insight into U.S. culture, while simultaneously improving English language skills, than by participating in a homestay. It’s not only important to get high scores in English testing, but to also learn how to get along with people from all over the world.
Homestays provide students with a well-rounded education and great social skills. These attributes will put you on the top of the list for employment when you return to your home country! If you are willing to learn and have an attitude of openness and flexibility, you will have one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences living in the USA.
At the University of Delaware English Language Institute (ELI), there are over 200 homestays in the program. Many of these homestay hosts have been housing students for numerous years. We often hear that hosts have developed such close relationships with their students that they later decide to travel to the students’ home countries to meet their families, attend their weddings, and visit their “international grandchildren.”