A Home Away From Home for Students – by Bob Hornal
Studying abroad is a powerful way to broaden your horizons and achieve both personal and professional growth. But for many students, it can also be scary, lonely and more than a little overwhelming. Many parents also experience anxiety about their child, even one old enough to attend post-secondary education, being alone and far away in a foreign land.
One option to bridge the gap between the comfort and security of home and the jump to an unfamiliar new country and culture is a student homestay. In a homestay, the student lives with a host family, as a member of that family. In many cases, the homestay “parent” will provide meals for the student, ensure their daily needs are taken care of, and provide some level of oversight or supervision, although some homestays are simple “room and board” arrangements.
One of the chief benefits of a homestay is the immersion in the local culture. Living with a local family provides a window into local customs, events and traditions you might otherwise never discover. Homestay students eat what the “locals” eat; share their daily life experiences, and, ideally, communicate in the local language. If learning a second language is part of the student’s goal, living with a local family is an excellent way to quickly develop language skills.
Homestays are also reasonably priced, even compared to a hostel, especially if they include “extras” like meals, laundry, transportation and participation in family events and outings.
Another, harder to measure benefit is the strong emotional bond that often develops between students and host families – bonds that often last a lifetime. There is both comfort and security in being embedded in a family that genuinely cares about your well-being and scholastic progress – someone who’s going to notice and respond if, for example, you fail to come home on time.
What kind of parent entrusts their child to an unknown host family, often an ocean away? According to Canadian Homestay Coordinator Laurie Crosby, these are parents anxious to broaden their children’s horizons and further their education, but also wanting to ensure they are in a safe and supportive environment. “Parents who choose homestays want their child to experience the world in a safe and rewarding way, saysCrosby. “Many people realize that we’re a global economy, and need to know not just the language of another country, but their culture and habits.”
And what kind of family opens their door to a stranger’s children? Host families are not usually motivated by money, but by a desire to break down cultural barriers, to broaden their own family’s horizons, and to provide a safe haven for a student far from home.
“If someone is primarily focused on the money aspect, I know they’re not the best choice for a host family,” saysCrosby, “I look for people who really want to experience the cultural exchange. That could be a single person, a senior, a couple, a family with kids – families come in all shapes and sizes.”
Crosby is fiercely protective of the foreign students under her supervision inCanada. “These kids are my kids when they come here, and I take great responsibility. I know how I would feel if I sent my kids across the waters to some strange country where they didn’t speak the language and I didn’t know the people where they were going to stay.”
So how does a Canadian family go about finding a good host family abroad? A good starting point is often the educational institution that the student is planning to attend. Many of them have programs to recruit, screen, coordinate and support host families for their foreign students.
There are also established agencies that specialize in arranging homestays and study abroad programs, both short-term and long-term, from high school to university. While home stays are not without their challenges for some students – a lack of independence, unfamiliar food, a different set of “parents”, and the initial culture shock of finding your place in an established family group, they are often an affordable and secure stepping stone between your existing and new educational worlds.
Bob Hornal has been a financial advisor for over ten years. In 2010, he set up BestQuote Travel Insurance Agency to make it easier for clients and visitors to Canada to research and purchase travel insurance. You can also reach Bob via LinkedIn