Consortium for International Education & Multicultural Studies
Lodging - General Information
There are a variety of lodging options offered by schools around the world. University residences of a rather high standard are the norm in Britain yet seldom available elsewhere. Student residences are available in some cities. Most are converted houses or hotels with a broad range of amenities. Apartments are scarce and generally quite expensive. Most schools also offer the option of tuition only whereby you get the lodging of your choice.
Joining In: Most foreign schools provide a brief homestay orientation when you check in at the school and/or are transferred to your homestay. If not, talk to your host directly and ask what's expected of you. Courtesy and common sense should be your guide. Always ask your host when you have a question.
Meals: Food and meal times will be different. Some research on your part will help you get better acquainted. If your homestay includes meals, you should expect a range of possibilities from regional specialties to family recipes to sampling local treats. It's important to be flexible, as each host may have meals scheduled around many people. Breakfast may be very early, the main meal may be at midday with a very light dinner or an earlier evening meal (akin to a continental breakfast). Adjust and enjoy. Generally, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages are not served with meals.
Your Room: You should attempt to keep your room clean and tidy. Make sure you dust off all furniture including tables, dessers, and chairs. Ask your host for supplies you may need. Wash cloths are seldom used abroad and towels are frequently thin. (If that's an issue, consider bringing your own). Your host may come in and do some basic straightening up, or just weekly to change sheets. Don't leave valuables or money lying around where it can be a temptation to younger children. Items left locked in a suitcase or out-of-sight should not be a concern.
Laundry: Laundry service is rarely included. If hosts offer to do it for you, assume there is an additional cost. Sometimes it's easier to use a commercial laundry or laundromat. At commercial laundries, check costs first and ask if they separate clothes or wash everything in the bag together.
Keys: Most families will provide you with a front door key. This means you should be able to come and go as you please, within reason. You will be responsible for your key and if you lose it you will be charged for changing the locks and making extra keys. Always lock (avoid slamming) doors when leaving.
Telephone Service: Please do not ask to make long distance calls from your host's home. Check with your host to see if you may give their number to your family and friends, but they should only call you in an emergency. In some foreign countries, local calls are "time charged," which means that charges could be incurred even on incoming calls. Ask before making outgoing calls. Be brief and (if applicable) be prepared to reimburse metering charges. In some areas, there is a surcharge on collect calls and a hefty tax on long distance calls, sometimes exceeding 100%!
Guests: Please do not bring guests to your foreign home unless first checking with your host, as it infringes on the family's privacy. Never plan on taking guests of the opposite sex to your room.
Absences: If you will not be home for a meal, are planning on staying out late, or are going away on a day-trip with an overnight, please let your hosts know. Your family is concerned about your well-being and may worry about you.
Friendship: As each family is different, each student undergoes a different homestay experience. Usually friendly, enthusiastic students tend to create a friendly, positive atmosphere. In these cases, families often include students in social activities, family outings, etc.
Gifts: A small gift such as chocolate, ice cream, or a dessert to share at dinner always makes a nice gesture towards your family. If you have a good relationship, you might volunteer to wash dishes or cook a special meal. Some past participants suggest bringing a small present from home - hard candy, music cassettes, unusual local spices, lighters, etc. with logos of sports teams, pictures of your home, hometown, etc. (pictures make good conversation openers). Fresh flowers from the local market, or inviting your family to a movie or cafe can also be a welcome "thank you."
Generalities are problematic, especially when discussing homes which are all unique. However, to generalize... Homestays in smaller towns, less wealthy countries, and for longer stays tend to foster more personal relationships (tend to feel less commercial). Approaching homestays in a friendly, cooperative spirit significantly improves their outcome (like most things in life!). The more traditional the society, the greater likelihood of having extended family members and children in the household (and within countries traditional values tend to be stronger in towns than cities).
Arrival Times: Try to arrive at the host home during daylight - and definitely plan on being there before 9:00 P.M. Either before departure, enroute, or upon arrival at the destination airport, telephone the home to make sure someone will be there when you arrive (not at the store, on an errand, or out for the evening). If you're delayed enroute, contact them (or the emergency number for the school, if applicable) and advise your family of your new estimated time of arrival.
Payments: It is best to avoid discussing financing with hosts. For virtually all programs, your housing payment goes to the school and from there to the family. If there are misunderstandings, talk to the housing coordinator at the school.
Do not loan money or make investments. Families do not refund missed meals or weekends out of town. Appreciate that food and utilities generally cost more abroad than at home and foreign hosts are paid relatively little. Most participants recognize this and are prepared to accept local norms, conserve on utilities, and eat what the hosts eat. Be prepared to buy a few things on your own (some participants comment on getting different brands of soap, toilet paper, or a higher watt light bulb).
Conserving energy is high priority in most countries. Lights don't burn in rooms that aren't being used, air conditioning and central heating are rare (most rooms have individual heaters), and quick showers are the norm (not long, hot baths). Many areas are subject to water shortages. Some sewage systems are antiquated (resulting in toilet paper going in a dispenser, not down the bowl). Electric rates are often indexed (a little increase produces a whopping bill). Observe the different realities and adjust accordingly. Exercising conservation and consideration of these amenities abroad will be appreciated by your foreign host family.
Express an interest in the family and culture, and the family will extend themselves as much as possible to make you a member of the household. Making yourself familiar with the foreign customs and adapting yourself to their lifestyle and culture will help bridge the cultural gap between you and your hosts.
Occasionally students have complained that they had little contact with their family. Most foreign cultures have a great deal of respect for the liberties of all persons, and some families may be unsure if they are "bothering" students by trying to converse with them.
It is not reasonable that your hosts be expected to change their lifestyle or their daily routine during your visit.