Hosting an International Student in your home for the first time can be quite a challenge as you just want them to feel at home, safe and happy. Sometimes with the lack of English being spoken it can be hard to know how they are feeling. On the first night of arrival I usually show my students straight to their room and settle them in. The Wifi code will be the first thing that they will be looking for and so I usually write this on a little chalk board in their room or give them the Password Fob from the Wifi box. This allows them to stay in touch with their families and friends as and when they would like to get in contact and at no extra cost to the bill payer which is very important.
Having internet access also allows them to go on Google Translate should they need any help in communication with their Host Family. I find that leaving little welcome gifts on their pillows really breaks the ice and raises a lovely smile. My welcome gift usually comes in the shape of a Chocolate or for the girls a pamper treat such as a Face Mask. My daughter and I are always willing to indulge in a pamper evening with our students and on the odd occasion the boys in the household have joined in too (just for laughs of course!!). Family introductions are done once they have been shown around the house and I write the family names down on paper as names can be difficult to remember on a short stay trip. I don’t think I have ever had a student that hasn’t loved the fact that my family dog is called ‘Scooby Doo’
A student’s room should be clean and comfortable and free from clutter. Having a space where they can store their suitcase once they have unpacked is very useful but not a necessity as some simply prefer to live out of their suitcases. The basic requirements would be a bed with a comfortable mattress (camp beds are not acceptable unless on an emergency basis) duvet and an extra blanket for the winter months. Please do not feel offended if they bring their own pillows/blankets as this is a common thing to do and helps them to relax and feel at home. Clothes can be stored in a wardrobe/chest of drawers or hanging rail if preferred. My student room does not have a television as I always like to encourage them to sit downstairs with the family instead of hiding away in their rooms. Girls will always need a mirror in the room and this will help minimise the time they spend hogging your bathroom mirror and delaying other members of the family from getting in there.
Use your time wisely, spend some time asking about their home country and native language to really find out about them and what makes them happy. I never really use menu plans as each student/nationality is very different when it comes to likes/dislikes and expectations about food. If you drop food into the conversation you will find out if there are certain things that they would not want to eat and if there is something they would like to try! Traditional foods such as Fish and Chips/Scones/Marmite may have been mentioned to them and they really appreciate a bit of English tradition. Love it or hate it, you just need to try it.
Family meals should be eaten together with your students around the table or casually on the sofa in my case. I like to use this time to find out what they have seen and or learnt in the day. A suggestion to have something like ‘You’ve been framed’ on in the background as laughter can ease any nerves or tension and helps you bond. Once the dinners are out of the way we like to get together and play a good old traditional board game. Not only does this help with English levels, it stops any awkwardness of your student not knowing what to do next. Of course, this is just an option and they might not want to participate in the latest version of Monopoly but at least you have tried to interact with them.
It can be very frustrating when a student mentions that their Host Family has not socialised much with them and that they feel unwelcome within the family. The experience of having a student in your home should be an enjoyable one for everyone involved. Happiness does not have to cost a lot and is easily achieved. Life is for living, caring and sharing, this is what it takes to be an exceptional Host Family and making a Host Student feel like a member of the family.