Getting it right and staying with a host or a host family can be one of the most culturally enriching and interesting experiences of your life. It enables you to save money as it is one of the cheapest accommodation options available; learn about your host’s culture and the kind of food they eat, along with their free time activities etc; and more importantly to learn/improve the English language. However, as you are living with someone you have never met before and speaking a language that you are not native to, this may of course present challenges. You may have to learn to compromise and be open to new cultures. There is little point in travelling hundreds or thousands of miles to live in a culture that is almost the same as what you are accustomed to at home. Therefore if something seems unusual or irregular to you, you may have to learn to adapt in order to fit in with the host family you are staying with.
Here are some tips and advice to ensure your stay in a homestay is a success:
1) Contact your host family prior to arrival to let them know when to expect you.
It might feel strange calling or emailing someone you have never met to let them know what time you will be arriving at their house, however by contacting your host before arrival you are not only introducing yourself, but you are reducing the chance of any potential awkwardness when you arrive. By also letting them know the time your flight/Eurostar arrives in London, it will give them a good idea of when to expect you and allow your host to ensure they, or a close friend or family member can be at home to greet you.
2) Ask about house rules or routines.
Hosts will naturally want you to feel they are friendly and welcoming when you arrive, and therefore can find it awkward to talk to you about house rules as you arrive at the home. However, understanding how the house works and the families routine will really help you to settle into living with them. For example, if you know a member of the household goes to sleep at a specific time, you will know to avoid making a lot of noise after that time so as not to wake them up. Why not help the host out by making the first move and asking them about house rules and routines? In our experience, hosts would greatly appreciate this kind of thoughtfulness.
3) Let your host know about your life at home.
It’s a great idea to take some photos of your family, friends and home-town to show your hosts. Hosts choose to accommodate international students and interns (rather than take a lodger) because they want to experience different cultures and speak to people outside of their normal day to day life. Photographs can be a great conversation starter and are perfect for showing your host what your life is like at home.
4) Say hello and goodbye.
British people hold a value in greetings, so a quick good morning and a smile can go a long way. It might not be your culture to say hello and goodbye every time you come and go, and might seem a bit unnecessary; however, it will be the norm for your host. After all, you did come here to experience and embrace another culture. Also, saying please and thank you is generally expected in the British culture.
5) Bring a recipe from home and offer to cook.
Food is a great talking point; after all, who isn’t interested in good food? Don’t force your host to try anything too extreme though e.g. spicy food, as what is normal for you might be very unusual for them. Desserts and sweets are always a favourite! Don’t be offended if your host does not want you to cook for them though as not all hosts are adventurous when it comes to food, and some can be protective about their kitchens. Even if you do not cook, talking about food is a great ice-breaker.